Alumni Spotlight: Gerald Bortis Helps Transform Healthcare

April 9, 2019

By the end of high school, Gerald Bortis knew he wanted to study computer science at UCI. He joined the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) and earned his B.S. in 2005. He had already decided to continue his education when he received a job offer from the company he worked with for his capstone project. Rather than choose between industry and academia, he earned his M.S. in ICS in 2007 and his Ph.D. in software engineering in 2016, all while working as a software engineer at Mirth. Through his work, he quickly recognized the power of technology to transform the healthcare industry; through his education, he gained the knowledge necessary to help realize that transformation. As vice president of software development at NextGen Healthcare, Bortis now leads teams in developing systems that manage electronic health records and that aggregate and share healthcare data. The School of ICS recognized his achievements and positive influence on healthcare in February, inducting him into the ICS Hall of Fame.

What led you to study computer science at UCI?
I attended Troy High School in Fullerton, California, which had a program called Troy Tech that introduced me to advanced topics in programming and digital logic. From a young age, I was interested in technology, and by the time I graduated from that program, I knew what I wanted to pursue. UCI already had a strong reputation in computer science, and I was especially interested in the new informatics program that included topics like human-computer interaction and software engineering.

What led you to pursue your Ph.D. in software engineering?
I had initially applied to the Ph.D. program because my goal was to become a professor at a university and run my own research group. The same week I was accepted into the program at UCI, I received a job offer at the company that I had done my capstone project with. Wanting to keep my options open at the time, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. and work nearly full time as a software engineer. I had assumed that I would eventually transition completely to working on my Ph.D., but I was having fun and learning so much both in my professional and academic worlds that I decided to just continue doing both.

Did you always have an interest in healthcare?
I knew that I wanted to work for a company that builds products that contribute to making the world better, but healthcare was not a focus for me. When I joined Mirth (WebReach at the time) in 2005, the company was focused on healthcare software, and one of the first projects I worked on involved making data exchange between different healthcare systems easier and more reliable. As the project became more popular and I attended various conferences, it was exciting to see how our clients were able to do their jobs more easily, and make healthcare more efficient. That’s when I realized the power of technology to transform the healthcare industry.

How is technology changing the healthcare industry?
It is changing the industry by making it easier for both care providers and patients to access data to make the right decision at the right time. Doctors can now see patients remotely on their mobile phones and quickly prescribe medications for common problems. Patients can see their primary care physician or a specialist or go to an urgent care clinic and have their data readily available. Organizations can use data analytics to look across their entire population and identify individuals who are at risk of serious health conditions and can take preventative action. I’m proud to be able to apply what I learned at UCI to this industry to make a positive impact.

How has your ICS education helped you throughout your career?
My ICS education has provided me with a breadth of knowledge about software engineering, which I’ve applied throughout my career. The courses that I took as part of the informatics program gave me a background in human-computer interaction, and more broadly, a way to understand the social impact of technologies in areas like healthcare. I find myself thinking often about how to keep the users in mind as we make design decisions in our products, and it stems from that education. I also appreciate the survey portion of the Ph.D. program that exposed me to such a wide array of topics, ranging from testing and requirements to design and abstractions. So much work has been done in those fields that I can draw from, like conference proceedings, in my own work.

Can you share any memorable ICS moments or tell us about a favorite or influential professor?
One of my fondest memories in ICS is my process of applying for the Ph.D. program. I wanted to learn more about the professors and their research projects, so I scheduled four meetings in one day. At this time, they each had an office in the ICS2 building, so I remember meeting with one professor, having a great conversation about his focus areas and projects, and then walking across the hallway and doing the same with another professor. I left that day feeling inspired by the research that was being done, and it was how I ended up working with my eventual adviser, Andre van der Hoek.

Dean Marios Papaefthymiou (left) inducts Gerald Bortis into in the ICS Hall of Fame.

What was your reaction to learning you were being inducted into the ICS Hall of Fame?
I was excited, humbled and honored to be recognized and included in this group. I appreciate the work that both UCI and ICS do to keep alumni engaged and to recognize their growth, and this is a great example. It is an accomplishment that I’m very proud of, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of the ICS story.

Any words of advice for ICS students?
Get to know the ICS faculty and take advantage of the frequent presentations and speakers. There are so many interesting ideas and projects, you never know what opportunities a conversation may reveal.

Shani Murray