Micaiah McDonald

M.S. Biomedical Data Science

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M.S. Data Science

M.S. Biomedical Data Science

Ph.D. Biomedical Data Science

Micaiah McDonald enrolled in the Meharry SACS M.S. Biomedical Data Science program soon after receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Alcorn State University.

In just one year she has gained an excellent academic and research record with a deep commitment to addressing health disparities and promoting health equity. The Direct Relief Fund for Heath Equity has helped make this success possible.

“It truly is a blessing to be accepted for the scholarship and to have the title of Direct Relief Scholar,” she says. “It has helped me both academically and financially.”

During her first semester, she met Aize Cao Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical data science, at the SACS Fall Open House. That conversation eventually turned into an exciting opportunity for McDonald to become a research assistant in Dr. Cao’s lab.

“We started working in March 2024 with research on maternal health and COVID-19, then by time the NIH R25 program began, Dr. Cao wanted to change the research focus to maternal health with Natural Language Processing and Social Determinants of Health,” she explains.

Her work is supported by NIH R25 and Dr. Cao’s HRSA grant. She is collecting patient data and using Natural Language Processing to identify Social Determinants of Health among pregnant or postpartum women with substance use disorders. She has a personal connection to this issue and plans to continue exploring it through her capstone project.

“My family has had struggles with maternal issues, so I wanted to do research with maternal health,” she explains.

The project is introducing her to real-world applications of machine learning methods like natural language processing while also giving her hands-on work that reinforces classroom concepts. She is also gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by underserved communities and has strengthened her ability to making a positive impact in her community.

Her academic advisor, Todd Gary, Ph.D., director, external research and development partnerships, encouraged her to apply for the NIH R25 program, a prestigious summer research opportunity in biomedical data science. She became one of three Meharry SACS students who were invited to be NIH R25 Scholars. She is spending 10 weeks in Nashville continuing her research through Dr. Cao’s mentorship with the added benefit of access to NIH resources.

“I applied because I wanted to continue to build my portfolio and work with Dr. Cao and the other faculty in person,” she says. “I am so excited to be in the program, because I am not only focusing on myself, but I’m also looking at this as a career opportunity.”

The program also includes several seminars covering education and career pathways, research topics and methods, professional skills, and the latest advances in biomedical data science. 

“I have met several faculties, including someone from Yale and the director of the Clinical Informatics Department at Vanderbilt,” she says. “I have learned about their research and why they chose to do what they’re doing now. It has really opened my eyes.”