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Wunderkind Wright sets sights high

Lakeridge grad involved in medical information network at Harvard has goal of reducing deaths due to medical errors
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Adam Wright’s world has changed plenty since he graduated from Lakeridge in 1999.  Now he’s the youngest instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Adam Wright had just gotten his degree from graduate school last summer and he was concerned about just where he should go.

'I was wondering what career path I should take,' Wright said. 'I looked at New York, Indiana. There's not a lot of programs, maybe 12 to 20, in the field I want to be in.'

It must be admitted that Wright ended up doing pretty well for himself - Harvard Medical School, where at age 26 he is the youngest instructor. Not bad at all for a Lake Oswego guy who graduated from Lakeridge High School in 1999.

'Wunderkind' is the word used to describe Wright by the Oregon Health and Sciences University, and it is a term that would abash this humble and modest young man. But OHSU doesn't throw out such descriptions easily, and Wright certainly fits the bill.

Of Wright's potential, Dr. William Hersh can speak with much authority. He is head of the OHSU Department of Medical Information Clinical Epidemiology.

'Adam is one of the best and brightest we've ever had in our program,' Hersh said. 'He's not only smart, he's politically savvy. He's got involved in some national initiatives, and he's getting some good mentorship at Harvard.

'The sky is the limit for him.'

In June of 2007 Wright became the first person to ever receive a PhD in biomedical informatics from OHSU. This marked not only a key milestone for OHSU, but it could mark a turning point in solving one of the most serious, yet under publicized, problems in American medicine: Thousands of deaths resulting from medical error.

'There are 90,000 Americans who die each year due to medical errors,' Wright said. 'That's incredible. That's a larger number than there is for some types of cancer and other diseases.

'I am driven to bring that number down. I want to use computer technology to spot errors. It can be something as simple as forgetting a period on a prescription for medication. The result can be a giant overdose that causes death.'

This is not too great a task for someone of Wright's intellect and character. Of course, he put his brain to good work at Lakeridge, becoming a National Merit Scholar and sparking the school's National Science Bowl Team to the Oregon state title and a trip to the national title tournament. Yet he was also deeply involved in student life, serving as ASB vice president.

On the side, at age 14 he started his own information technology consulting business, called Metricare Corp.

Wright's high school academic heroics earned him a place at Stanford University, where he became a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

Obviously, Wright could have gone anywhere to grad school, but he chose OHSU because it was a pioneer in the field of biomedical informatics. It was there that Wright set his sights on devising a nationwide health information network, and he showed how to do it in his prize-winning doctoral dissertation.

In an interview with a student publication, Wright said, 'The natural solution to closing this (information) gap seems to be content-sharing, having the successful sites share their content with the rest of the hospitals and providers.'

Instead of doctors using their overworked memories, they could rely on a system.

'There is tremendous potential here, not only to reduce errors of commission but errors of omission,' Wright said. 'A lot of what we know about prevention and screening is very difficult to remember simultaneously. A network would remind physicians to tell their patients when they are overdue for some preventive treatment.'

Wright's medical information network won't happen overnight. First he must pay his dues as a young medical teacher, develop research programs, achieve tenure, write papers, etc.

'I'll be expected to get grants to cover my research and pay my assistants and staff,' Wright said. 'There's also the teaching component with graduate students.'

Still, Wright won't be ignoring the finer cultural things in life while living in Boston. After all, Fenway Park is located just down the street from where he lives.

He also frequently visits his parents, Hal and Diane Wright, back in Lake Oswego, where he connects with old friends and patronizes the Farmer's Market and Festival of the Arts - 'the Lake Oswego stuff I grew up with.'

Truly, Wright doesn't forget where he came from.

'Living in Lake Oswego has a lot to do with what I am,' he said. 'What the school district, especially the high school, taught me about independent thought, investigation and curiosity carried me through school, college and now my job.'

Lake Oswego did a wonderful job of preparing Adam Wright for the future. Now, he finds himself at a very special place. He can be one of those people who truly changes this world for the better.