A University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health physician and health policy expert who devises mathematical models to assess the impact of medical decisions will receive one of the highest accolades offered by the professional society he joined more than 30 years ago as a medical student.
Mark Roberts, M.D., M.P.P., professor and chair, Department of Health Policy and Management, Pitt Public Health, received the Career Achievement Award of the Society for Medical Decision Making (SMDM) on Tuesday during its 36th Annual North American Meeting in Miami.
The SMDM’s members include scientists from a variety of disciplines including decision science, psychology, health economics, operations research, biostatistics, clinical epidemiology and informatics. The award recognizes distinguished senior investigators who have made significant contributions to the field of medical decision making.
“I am very honored and humbled by this recognition,” Dr. Roberts said. “This professional society built me into the researcher and academician I have become, and I am delighted and amazed to join a group of Career Achievement Award recipients that includes many of my teachers and mentors.”
“Dr. Roberts is an ‘evangelist’ for introducing sophisticated modeling techniques from the field of industrial engineering and operations research to the field of medical decision making. He has a gift for translating the key aspects of a clinical problem to an industrial engineer and being able to explain the subtleties of complex modeling to clinicians,” said Myriam Hunink, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the SMDM Awards Committee. “He has made major contributions in the area of end-stage liver disease, the national liver allocation system and the optimal timing of living-donor liver transplantation.”
Dr. Roberts has been an active member of the SMDM since 1984, served as its president from 2008 to 2009 and has held other leadership roles with the organization. He joined the faculty of Pitt School of Medicine in 1993 and has held the chair of Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management since 2010. He studied economics as an undergraduate at Harvard College and completed a master’s degree in public policy and health policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government while attending medical school at Tufts University. His unconventional background allowed him to bring quantitative methods and modeling techniques to the study of medical decision making.
“My late father used to joke that I went into decision sciences because I can’t make them,” Dr. Roberts said with a laugh. “That inability to stick with one field has proved to be a very good thing, though, because it gave me a broader perspective for my research.”
His talk at the award ceremony focused on the importance of “out-of-the-box” thinking and the value of multidisciplinary approaches.
“I won a prize for the best postgraduate student paper presented at the 1989 SMDM meeting and was very proud to think that my colleagues and I had found a brand new technique that could build better disease models,” Dr. Roberts said. “Then someone told me that industrial engineers had been doing the same thing for decades. We probably could have saved 18 months of work if we’d crossed campus and talked to an engineering student. That taught me not to be so insular, and I hope to get that message across to young researchers.”