June 13, 2024
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PhD graduate uses systems engineering principles to improve healthcare

Nazila Bazrafshan, PhD ’24, says Watson College was 'perfect fit' for her career goals

Nazila Bazrafshan, PhD ’24, is working on process improvement for Cooper University Healthcare. Nazila Bazrafshan, PhD ’24, is working on process improvement for Cooper University Healthcare.
Nazila Bazrafshan, PhD ’24, is working on process improvement for Cooper University Healthcare. Image Credit: Provided.

Growing up in Iran, Nazila Bazrafshan, PhD ’24, had long planned to further her education in one of the best universities in the U.S. When she learned about Binghamton University’s industrial and systems engineering program, she knew she found the perfect fit.

“The very first day that I arrived in the U.S. was a dream come true. I was filled with pure excitement as I embarked on this new journey, far from any hint of fear,” she said. “I had achieved what I had worked so hard for, and I was incredibly passionate to begin the program.”

Bazrafshan earned her industrial engineering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in her home country, then found the next step in her journey at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering.

The Watson Institute for Systems Excellence (WISE) appealed to her because of its unique partnerships between academia and industry that place students into industry settings to research real-world problems. She was especially drawn to the healthcare field, and WISE has fostered relationships with hospitals and the healthcare industry for more than 20 years.

At the beginning of her third semester, she began working as a graduate research associate at WISE within Cooper University Healthcare in New Jersey, and she later was offered a full-time position and continued to work there as an operational excellence specialist while continuing to pursue her degree.

“I can’t emphasize enough how instrumental the WISE program has been in preparing me for my career and contributing to my professional growth,” Bazrafshan said. “While pursuing my PhD program, I had the opportunity to work on real-life projects, which have been implemented and utilized at Cooper University Health.”

Her research interests include the application of operations research and machine learning in healthcare. Her prior studies involved chemotherapy treatment planning and designing clinical trials, and her PhD dissertation focuses on the optimization of outpatient chemotherapy appointment scheduling templates in infusion centers.

To improve appointment scheduling at infusion centers — where patients get chemotherapy or other infusions — Bazrafshan developed the optimal scheduling template that accounted for uncertainty about daily demand.

“My dissertation proposed an integrated optimization and simulation framework to improve outpatient chemotherapy appointment scheduling template in an infusion center, which resulted in maximizing resource utilization and significantly reducing patient waiting times,” she said. “The findings of my research can help infusion centers to design a new scheduling template or modify the current one.”

Throughout her academic journey, Bazrafshan received summer research fellowships and the 2022–23 Krishnaswami Srihari Scholarship in Graduate Excellence, established in honor of the Watson College dean and a SUNY distinguished professor in the SSIE Department. She also won a Graduate Student Excellence Award in Research from Binghamton University in 2024.

She has presented at numerous conferences and seminars, and she has contributed as a peer reviewer for two conferences. Her research contributions include a book chapter, three peer-reviewed journal articles and four peer-reviewed conference papers. She has two manuscripts under review, with six more in preparation.

Professor Sarah Lam, the SSIE Department’s graduate director, served as Bazrafshan’s PhD advisor. She has nothing but praise for Bazrafshan’s research and dedication.

“Nazila is one of the best students that I’ve worked with — very intelligent and very disciplined,” Lam said. “She has grown tremendously from when she started the graduate program.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Bazrafshan appreciated the support she received from Watson College and the SSIE Department — not just academically, but on a more fundamental level. She loved the “listening hours” that the SSIE Department held with students, staff and faculty via Zoom, offering informal opportunities.

“The listening hours really touched my heart,” she said. “It was during the summer at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, so everything was down. We stayed connected, sharing thoughts and spending time together chatting and laughing— that was a memorable time.”

The Zoom hangouts also gave Bazrafshan a chance to share her work as an artist. Among the paintings she created was one of SSIE Department Chair and Distinguished Professor Mohammad T. Khasawneh, which she recorded as she did it and sped it up as a cool video showing how it all came together.

“Nazila is an incredibly well-rounded individual, offering both hard technical and soft skill sets,” said Khasawneh, who is also the WISE director. “She brings a distinct aesthetic sensibility to all projects, and it’s probably not surprising that she is also a gifted artist. We are glad that Nazila found a place where she didn’t have to ‘fit in a box’ and could explore and expand all of her gifts and talents.”

Bazrafshan added: “Life is art, and art is life. No matter what we’re doing, in one way or another, everyone at some point is attracted to art.”