Terrie Reed MSIE 1982: Breaking Down Barriers in Health Policy

Emily Scott
3/2/2017

When Terrie Reed graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in social work, she started to think about her various interests — in systems thinking, health care, social work and policy.

She spoke with University Professor Judith Liebman about her several interests, and the conversation led her to a new career path.

“She connected a lot of dots that I never saw, and said ‘that all sounds like an industrial engineering degree,’” Reed said.

Reed was accepted into the industrial engineering master’s program, which introduced her to the connection between healthcare and industrial engineering and inspired her to use this knowledge and experience as a basis for a non-traditional engineering career path.

Today, Reed is the senior advisor for unique device identification (UDI) adoption at the Food and Drug Administration. For over 10 years, she has had an essential role in moving the adoption of this system forward.

Until 2013, there was no national or international regulation specifying a requirement for UDI of medical devices, like there is a national drug code (NDC) to identify medications.

Reed led the development of a database repository, called AccessGUDID, that keeps track of standard device identification attributes, such as model numbers, sizes, device manufacturers and other critical information.

“UDI had never existed before,” Reed said. “My industrial engineering degree and experience provided a foundation for my role in the development of the UDI System.”

She said her industrial engineering perspective has allowed her to value the notion of design or system thinking as part of this public health role.

With UDI, she is always in the process of understanding key aspects of the product life cycle of a device. Her role involves dealing with all participants in device safety and supply chain — the manufacturers, healthcare providers, medical device registries and the patient.

“I have to consider what’s in it for all of those groups, and how this will benefit them,” Reed said. “As a single person trying to affect the entire structure of healthcare — I can’t do this alone or even as part of my FDA team.”

She draws on skills she learned from industrial engineering courses — such as coordinating efforts between groups, improving efficiencies, and reducing duplication — to find the best way to do this.

Reed said she values the idea of cross collaboration, something that has benefitted her efforts in UDI adoption.

“A lot of that systems thinking from those early days has probably influenced my desire to concentrate what I do on breaking down silos between perspectives and supporting people to have rich conversations around what UDI means to them,” she said.

Building off this idea, she said that she has been actively involved in setting the foundation for a learning UDI community that takes all stakeholders into account.

“I think what I like the most is when I can articulate and get other people to visualize how we could improve something, and they all get on board and share the vision, and move something forward,” she said. “We’re building this really large UDI adoption community, and it will take a community to make this change.”  

Today, the AccessGUDID database has over 1.3 million records, whereas just a few years ago, less than 100 people had ever heard of UDI, according to Reed.

As more people gain awareness of UDI, Reed said their goal is making it as useful as possible to all stakeholders, and this means bringing conversations together so everyone can benefit.

She thinks of it as breaking down barriers, an idea that has been prevalent throughout her career.

“My introduction into Industrial Engineering was based upon the insights of a U of I professor who didn’t allow barriers to get in the way,” Reed said. “I think back on Dr. Liebman advocating for me to get into the industrial engineering program and saying ‘let’s give this person a chance.’ I’ve taken that experience to heart, because I was able to use that opportunity and turn it into a successful career that seeks to improve public health from a systems point of view.”

Looking back on her career, Reed sees herself as always being in a role to advocate for change, coordination and collaboration.

She has valued not labeling herself as having one role or another, but rather, being open to new roles.

“I rarely say, ‘oh, I can’t do that,’ or, ‘that’s not something an engineer does,’” she said.

This mindset can be traced to her time at Illinois, when her varied interests didn’t stop her from pursuing a new career path.

“Something I learned very early in my career is to think about the things — the work, classes, internships — where you really feel energized by what you’re doing, and to go towards that,” she said. “Pay attention to what really motivates you.”

In Reed’s case, following her motivations led her to a career she could’ve never imagined.

“I’m proud to say I went to the U of I,” she said. “I liked how interdisciplinary the industrial engineering program was at the time, and continues to be. I think that was really helpful to see what was possible.” 

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