Meet Michelle Lerman

Michelle walks us through her journey to Syapse, why what we do is so important, and her transition from Strategy to Product Management.

2021/06 6 min read

Michelle Lerman

What brought you to Syapse?

I am passionate about healthcare and improving care for patients. Early on I thought the best path was to pursue a career as a clinician. However, there was a wrinkle in my plan. I was terrified of blood. I would become woozy at the sight of it, even thinking about blood made me uneasy. I took pre-med courses and also became a certified EMT as well as a phlebotomist drawing blood to overcome this fear. It didn’t work. While my dreams of being a clinician were dashed, my love of healthcare remained.

Another interest of mine is ‘the intersections of things’. I’ve always been fascinated at the point where two colors mix together and where two disciplines converge to make something new. Working in the Brandeis Health Psychology lab, I saw how the intersection between social, behavioral, psychological, and biological factors can impact health. It also exposed the disparities in which patients are included in research and disparities in health outcomes.

After college, I joined a healthcare strategy consulting company to understand the prevailing forces impacting clinical care and healthcare product development/adoption. Our teams partnered with senior executives and investors to realize growth opportunities worldwide for healthcare technologies, products, and services. There I stood at the intersection of life science and technology, watching the 21st Century Cures Act unfold. For the first time, the government put an emphasis on the role of patient’s real-world data to drive inclusivity and impacts of the real-world on patient treatment. It was then that I saw companies were taking this seriously, and I fell in love with Syapse. I could not help patients as an individual clinician, but I could work to one day impact millions of patient’s lives for the better.

Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment during the recruiting process when you knew you wanted to join Syapse?

I had my first “aha!” moment when I learned about how Syapse was focused on the intersection of real-world data and cancer care seeking to improve outcomes for all patients. I started to see how trends from every step of my own journey were related to the work being done at Syapse. It became clear to me that Syapse was positioned to address many of the challenges in healthcare and research that I had been interested in throughout my professional life.

I was also drawn to the Strategy team given their high impact at Syapse and the superb leadership of Alissa (Winzeler-Cotton). Hearing Alissa talk about the mission and vision illustrated the opportunity at Syapse to positively impact research and patient care. She has also been an amazing role-model and mentor.

What motivates you day to day?

I am motivated by hard challenges that have a big impact — such as connecting the comprehensive patient journey to improve patient care. To me, it’s like putting a puzzle together. It could be figuring out how to measure the completeness of mortality data, bringing in another source for biomarker data, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) or natural language processing (NLP) to extract high quality data, etc. Working through the individual puzzle pieces is intellectually interesting and also contributes to the bigger mission which is my driving force.

What makes Syapse uniquely positioned to help successfully solve these problems?

If I had to pick one thing, it would be our ability to bring together the right stakeholders both internally and externally to work on really complex challenges. Within Syapse I work with a group of extremely talented and diverse individuals — including engineers, data scientists, analysts, epidemiologists, Certified Tumor Registrars, informaticists, oncologists, molecular pathologists, product leaders, program leaders, business leaders and others. We also collaborate closely with the broader healthcare ecosystem.

As we like to say at Syapse: #oneteam, #dreamteam

How would you explain your job to your relatives?

It can be hard to describe, I like to say that I’m a “Jill of All Trades”. I have the privilege of partnering across the organization on really interesting questions, strategies, and product development. In particular, I am focused on shaping our data strategy. This includes thinking about how we develop patient cohorts, defining requirements for our data platform to support stakeholder use cases, and identifying opportunities to more effectively connect data across the patient journey.

What has surprised you most since joining Syapse?

I was most surprised initially by how much goes into developing high quality data — everything from navigating the complexity around how data are captured, identifying the right pieces of the patient journey, ingesting data to processing data and creating knowledge; then there’s merging data across multiple sources and measuring the quality. It’s not trivial. The other thing that has surprised me is how much of an unmet need there is for this work. I knew this was valuable but didn’t realize just how big the opportunity is to leverage real-world data to impact and improve patient care.

I hear you have some exciting news! Can you share with us?

Yes! I’m excited to share that I joined the Product team at Syapse! I joined from the “Strategy, Research, and Medicine (SRM)” team which I have greatly enjoyed and have learned a lot. During my time on SRM, I worked closely with the Product team and became interested in product management. The opportunity to do a trial period on the Product team arose, which fit perfectly with my interests. It was a great experience to get a deeper understanding of our data platform and drive the implementation of strategies that I helped to develop over the past three years. Now it is official, and Syapse leadership had an important role in making this type of opportunity available for me.

Lightning Round

As Syapse’s resident pun expert, how about a favorite joke?

How do you know if a joke is a dad joke? The punchline is apparent.

If you could become an expert in anything instantly what would it be?

Probably informatics because they can take complex data and create organized knowledge.

Is there anything new you’re learning right now?

Oh yes, lots! In my role, I am learning more about engineering processes, databases, and our data pipelines. I am also learning more about informatics and data science — there is so much more to learn! I’m appreciative of all my colleagues who are so generous with their time to help me learn as well as for the wealth of online resources.

When COVID is over, where’s the first place you want to travel?

Earlier in COVID I would have said somewhere tropical, but at this point I seriously can’t wait to visit my family. My brother and sister-in-law just had their third child who I am excited to finally meet. I also can’t wait to give my nephews, brother/sister-in-law, and parents many hugs!

What has been your favorite quarantine meal to cook?

I’m not much of a cook. I’m basically addicted to Soylent. It is a caffeinated ready to drink meal in one very efficient bottle. I try to cook veggies sometimes too. For some silly reason when the pandemic started I decided to hoard brussels sprouts in case they sold out. I had what seemed like a lifetime supply of brussels sprouts. Not a surprise, brussels sprouts never sold out.