Dr. Gabriela Mustata Wilson earned a PhD in computational biochemistry from the University of Houston and an MSc in molecular biology and biotechnology from the Free University of Brussels in Belgium. With numerous articles published in prestigious journals, she brings solid academic rigor and scientific expertise to the field of pharmaco and health informatics. She is currently the chair of the Health Informatics and Information Management and Associate Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Southern Indiana.
I always wanted to work in a field where I could help people live healthier lives. I thought that I could only do that by becoming a nurse or a doctor, but figured out early on that seeing blood or memorizing things, was not something I was interested in. So the only other career choice that was left for a young woman living in an Eastern European communist country was to become a chemical engineer.
I finished my degree, but never felt the passion for that field or imagined myself working in a factory making plastic bottles. I got married to my high school sweetheart, and once we graduated, we left our native country with one suitcase and a few hundred dollars in our pocket in quest of a different life with better opportunities. We ended up in Belgium, and while working different poorly paid jobs, we both decided to get into graduate school. I chose to do a Master of Science in molecular biology and biotechnology, and after taking a few classes, I became passionate about the discipline. This was the first time when I touched a computer and learned how to use the Unix and Linux operating systems or code in Fortran or C++. I decided to continue my education with a PhD degree in computational biochemistry because my dream was to one day discover a blockbuster drug and become rich and famous. I took my husband’s advice (i.e., the only place where I could get a top-notch education was in the U.S.) and got accepted into a computational biochemistry program. So, once again, I packed more than just one suitcase, got a little more money in my pocket, and left my husband behind to study in my childhood dream country that a few years later became my HOME.
I graduated with my PhD, and after a few interviews, I landed a job as a computational scientist for a drug delivery company. Being in an industrial environment, I experienced the pressure to improve the operational efficiency of drug development. This task could only be achieved through the extensive use of new technologies that allowed the integration of any information collected during discovery, preclinical and clinical development.
A few years later, I moved into the academic world as a pharmacoinformatics specialist. My main job was to design drug molecules and assess toxicity, drug-drug-interactions via modeling and simulation. It was during this time when I realized that the long-term use of therapeutics could have significant effects on our health. So I became very interested in the health informatics aspect of this process that involves evaluating and comparing drug candidate characteristics, and how do they impact human life. The rest is history.
These three motivating factors never changed for me, except that with age, I feel so much happier giving something than receiving something.
I try not to forget how I started my career and the challenges that I encountered along the way. I share my story with my students because I believe young people should know that nothing in life comes easy, and that is important to continue to fight for what you believe in.
Moving from Romania to Belgium and then to the United States at a young age was not an easy thing to do. However, this change in my lifestyle gave me a desire to meet different categories of people and experience various lifestyles and cultures. It also gave me the ability to view issues with an open mind and relate to someone else’s opinion without sacrificing my own. It allowed me to comprehend what someone is saying, as well as look beyond linguistic or cultural barriers.
Many people who know me, might believe that I don’t currently have any challenges in my life, but I do – as a wife, a mother, and in my full-time job. We all do, and we should not be afraid to recognize that. However, with age comes wisdom, so what I have learned over the years is that I should not take myself so seriously, worry less, and accept and embrace that I am perfectly imperfect, that I am flawed, and that I make mistakes.
I have always treated my career as a series of stepping-stones and believed that with every single project I complete, contact I make or every role I take, it is an opportunity to enhance my skills and experience. My advice to others is to take on roles to develop skills, be open and seize career-making opportunities as they occur rather than sticking rigidly to a mapped-out career. I would also recommend finding mentors to guide you at each stage of your career.
I am so proud that during my terms as President, Indiana Chapter of HIMSS, we received the Chapter of the Year Award – a testament to our chapter’s professionalism, dedication, and unique value that we provide to our members. It is hard to describe the inner satisfaction that we all gained in knowing that through our collective efforts we have made the Indiana Chapter of HIMSS an outstanding one.
People who take risks inspire me. Starting something I have no idea how to finish, witnessing people go for something new – anything that looks doomed to fail gets my heart and creativity pumping. As one of my students said to me recently, I like to ‘make gold out of nothing.’
I never heard about the concept or benefits of mentorship, particularly when it comes to career until I moved to the U.S. For a long time, this made me feel like I was missing out on something — like I was an orphan child. It felt very similar to not having my family with me or having my child grow up with grandparents living so far away. So similar to how I was able to make my own American family, I started making my ‘family’ of advisors by building a network of incredible individuals that I highly respect not only for their expertise in various fields but most importantly for their integrity, diplomacy, and service to others.
Trust in your abilities more than anybody else. Life is full of challenges and hardships, and you will always have people around you who would try to stop you or what you are doing.
My hobby is French gourmet cooking, so when I need a break or after a stressful week, I like to put together exquisite lunches and dinners for my family and friends.
My favorite song is Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will survive”
My favorite movie is Cast Away – you get the point. :)
Become the president of a university or the CEO of a company where I can create an environment in which everyone is biologically wired to trust and collaborate with each other.
Belgian Artisanal Chocolates. They are the best in the world!
I would not be where I am today if I didn’t join HIMSS. I still remember the first year attending a HIMSS conference. I felt so lost and so overwhelmed by the number of presenters and attendees. I wanted to participate in every single session so I could learn more. The following year I started to get more involved by joining Indiana Chapter of HIMSS and a couple of years later, IN HIMSS Board of Directors. This year, I joined the HIMSS North America Nominating Committee.
This provided me with the perfect opportunity to connect with others and enjoy the support of a very well-established and respected organization. Every day I feel so very blessed to lend my talents and skills to such a remarkable organization and to volunteer alongside such caring and talented people.