Introducing Theodora Wingert, MD, Director of Perioperative Informatics Research
May 1, 2023
Where were you born and raised? What were you like as a kid?
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. Growing up, I’d spend the summers swimming in the lake every day and getting super muddy playing soccer. I loved being outside and being around green and water and family. Not too much has changed!
What did you study in college?
My majors were Public Health and Molecular and Cell Biology, but I loved that in college I got to take art history, Greek mythology, philosophy, and psychology classes all at the same time as the more practical premed classes.
How did you develop an interest in clinical research?
I’ve always loved learning and asking why. My family always put a huge emphasis on education and knowledge, so being able to contribute to the world’s understanding of health and disease and to improve things for the next generation has always been put on a high pedestal.
As a CA-1, asking why led me to a research project. The mentors I was working with at the time were able to write code and capture the relevant data in the electronic medical record. I was like “Hey I want to be able to do that!” So I ended up learning to code and pursuing informatics.
What do you enjoy the most about working at DAPM?
The people. We have so many people here in our department who have become like family. Dr. Swati Patel has been my mentor since my third year of medical school at UCLA. She took a massive chance on me as a medical student and invited me to go to Peru with her and several other pediatric cardiac anesthesiology faculty. I have had so many amazing people invest in me here. Paying it forward and helping uplift the next generation is really important to me.
What is your role within the Bioinformatics Division, and what have been your favorite bioinformatics projects?
I oversee all the research that involves informatics within the department and with outside collaborations. I also manage the informatics for our Smartscreen Pathway, which is an automated preoperative screening tool we use to identify higher-risk patients. There is a lot of informatics housekeeping that makes sure the lights stay on, and we are continually improving everything we do in research, quality, and administrative informatics operations.
The most exciting projects for me are tackling new data sources. It’s like finding treasure. You start with tables that initially don’t look like much, and then by the end, you’ve got a goldmine of amazing, meaningful data. We’ve been able to bring in decades of echocardiogram data, blood bank data, and staffing data in our Perioperative Data Warehouse. These efforts really take a village—it’s a lot of back and forth, and each person on the team is nothing without the others. Teamwork really does make the dream work, and I really love our team!
What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
Running is my happy place. I practice pediatric anesthesiology, so there’s definitely a mental weight that comes along with what I do and see every day. Running helps my mind rest, reset, and recharge. Also, as much as we can on weekends, my husband and I love checking out new parks and trails with our boys. I love the delight our boys take in finding worms and frogs and bugs and mud and streams. And there are so many interesting and beautiful places here in Southern California—I feel like we’ve only seen a tiny fraction. Lately, we’ve been exploring different spots in the Santa Monica Mountains. The wildflowers after all the rain this year are crazy beautiful.
Tell us a little about your family (and any pets).
My husband and I have three boys: Lucas (6), William (4), and Elliot (1), a cat, a dog, and 3 lizards. Last weekend, my oldest son Lucas, for his science experiment at school, tested whether the lizards liked crickets or mealworms better. That pretty much sums up our house!
What has been your favorite vacation destination so far?
We went to Belize this past fall. Being able to be that close to nature and all the amazing animals and plants there—for the kids to experience that was pretty amazing.
What is a piece of advice you have for any budding researchers or clinicians?
I have two! One, to reference the movie Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming!” Some days, things may go amazing, and you’re a hero; other days, not so much. Just keep showing up and doing your best. Two, your path can be messy and bumpy, and that’s ok. You’re allowed to have phases and unanticipated changes in direction. There’s beauty in the chaos.
There are so many phenomenal people in our department who do incredible things beyond the amazing things they do at UCLA! We don’t always hear about them all, so I love that about the HumAnes of UCLA series.