OpenMRS welcomes with open arms

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recently, I had the rare privilege of attending the annual Implementers meeting of OpenMRS, my Google Summer of Code mentoring organization. Thanks largely to the conference sponsorship by Google, OpenMRS was able to fund my week-long visit to Kigali, Rwanda. I traveled over 4,500 miles to meet with core OpenMRS developers, other volunteers, implementers (people with both IT skills and health care experience who work to deploy OpenMRS in their hospital, clinic, laboratory, etc.), service providers and researchers who had gathered there for the conference.

Arriving at Kigali, I was amazed at the diversity and fellowship amongst the community, and of how happy they were to accept me as one of their own. I took part in a pre-conference hackathon and visited the OpenMRS Implementation meeting at Rwanda’s TRAC Plus health clinic. I listened to why implementers from Village Health Works used an Access database for their Burundi clinic, and to Dr. Joaquin Blaya’s work with Interactive Voice Response. Eduardo Jezierski, the CTO of InSTEDD, talked to me about their work in Haiti, while Christopher Bailey of the World Health Organization spoke of his experience working with developing countries.

I also enjoyed a Chinese meal with a group of US-based developers for the AMPATH program in Western Kenya. I visited the Kigali Genocide museum, played cards with a group of research scientists, academics and other developers and spilled my drink all over a director’s laptop. I had dinner with OpenMRS co-founder Dr. Burke Mamlin, brought a drink for co-founder Dr. Paul Biondrich and had breakfast with an MIT graduate who explained why he quit building space satellites and an engineering career to enroll in medical school.

My participation at the conference was an eye opener for several reasons. First of all, it helped me make the transition from Google Summer of Code student to full fledged community member. I stopped being just an offshore volunteer, and understood my organization for what it really was. I saw my project as a community, a group of vibrant, talented and extremely capable people with a wide range of interests in software development, research, medicine, health informatics and public health. I understood that OpenMRS is not “just” OpenMRS, but a massive network of implementers, developers, healthcare workers and other organizations. I saw the dedication and professionalism of community members and their sincere concern to help make the world a better place. I also realized how community members were supporting themselves while enjoying what they do by serving as consultants, developers and service providers.

One of the goals of Google Summer of Code is to encourage students to contribute to open source projects. I believe that my experience at the conference highlights something that is an important part of the Google Summer of Code experience – helping students integrate into their project’s community so that they are more likely to stay involved long after the program deadlines have passed. I think program administrators could help facilitate this transition from student to community member by introducing more flexible methods of student evaluation and by giving more weight to community participation in the evaluations.

By Suranga Kasthurirathne, Google Summer of Code student and OpenMRS community member