One of the many reasons I fell in love with the Global Medical Innovation program was, as I have mentioned many times before, the amount of involvement it has with Costa Rica. Not only that, I was also lucky enough to be assigned an implementation project that requires close ties to the Costa Rican healthcare system. Another reason I chose this particular Master’s program is the fact that it is a professional master’s, meaning a lot of the opportunities we get revolve around guaranteeing we get an integral balance of academia, industry and social responsibility. All these points were condensed in a wonderful 13 day trip that very conveniently fell on our mid-term recess: I had the chance to attend BMES in Minneapolis, as well as visit my homeland for my implementation project.
As I am sure Michael has already explained, both of us attended the Biomedical Engineering Society’s Annual conference a few weeks ago. Once we got there, we joined Dr. Richardson, Jorge, Guiselle and Prof. Ricardo Esquivel – Guiselle’s father and director of the Medical Device Master’s program at ITCR (TEC) – for what would be almost 5 days of ongoing presentations, posters, panels and luncheons in one of the medical device industry’s largest hubs: Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Being my first time in Minnesota, I got to enjoy the cooler weather of the Twin Cities for the first time in my life. This added to the fact that I had never been to a conference this large ever before either, so it was a very pivotal experience for me. After a very pleasant (albeit unnecessarily early) flight and check-in at the hotel, we registered for the event right at the Minneapolis Convention Center; the hotel was very conveniently located a mere couple of blocks away, plus it was connected through the downtown area’s Skyway – a series of elevated indoor pathways that connect buildings for pedestrian access. In the afternoon we visited one of Medtronic’s local sites in Mounds View, about a 30 min bus ride north through suburban Minneapolis. The plant tour was very complete and well planned – I could draw several parallels from my internship in Boston Scientific but I could also see numerous differences in corporate culture as well as the clear competitive products in their vast portfolio of offerings. Since technically the event did not start until the next day, that was it for that first Wednesday (Oct 5th).
The following days were slightly more homogenous. I attended a few panels and presentations, mostly related to medical device innovation, mobile health and development of low-cost solutions in developing settings. I also looked around the many panels from different institutions and companies – I was unaware so many universities were involved in the BME trade. Of course, there was a Rice stand there as well; in retrospect I wish I could have helped more but most of the time it was managed by PhD students and professors who have been at Rice and in Houston way longer than my meager 10 weeks. I also got to walk around downtown, trying some local restaurants and spending the little free time I wasn’t either at BMES, keeping up with the classes I was missing or getting ready for Costa Rica.
On Sunday (Oct 9th) I made my way back to Houston early in the morning, but I didn’t even leave the airport as I had my connecting flight in the evening. The few hours I had to kill went by quickly and I met up with Dr. Richardson at the gate. Even though we were not seated together in the flight, we were still in adjacent rows but we each had our business to tend to during the flight. I must also add, I had only flown around that time of the year once before (fun fact: it was my first time at Rice back when I was invited as a prospective student to spend the weekend in my high school days) and it was possibly the shakiest landing I’ve ever experienced going back to Costa Rica. Thankfully we were there on time and I met with my family whom I stayed with the entire week.
The following day was a busy GMI day: two meetings at Hospital Mexico with Dr. Vargas, Dr. Villalobos and Dr. Rodriguez that would serve as both checkpoint for my project as well as to determine the next steps for the semester. By lunch we were back at the main reason Dr. Richardson was there: the CINDE Life Science Forum 2016 I mentioned in my previous post. It was a very carefully planned event, I was impressed with the attendance and the attention to detail they had. Honestly I was not expecting such a wonderful event to take place in Costa Rica, but I am glad I was proven wrong. I stayed for some of the speakers I was interested in listening to – especially Dr. Mata and his work on biomaterials at Queens University in the UK. The following day I attended Dr. Richardson’s speech which was, as expected, a reminder of how lucky I am to be in such a brilliant program under his awe-inspiring ideals. Since the afternoon was mostly industry tours which I had not signed up for, I spent the afternoon at my family’s business.
The rest of the week consisted in some catching up with family and friends but also balancing the workload I had from my missed classes. I did meet up once more with Dr. Rodriguez only this time she got us an audience with Dr. Azua from the Cancer Treatment and Prevention Strategic Unit at CCSS. Setting up presentations in Spanish on such a short notice was somewhat hectic but nothing I could not handle. After such a fruitful meeting, most of my week consisted in researching for my project, working with my family and making room for some well deserved rest during the weekend.
Coming back to Rice the following Monday was a sudden return to reality, but I am energized from such a varied learning experience in the past few weeks. The workload can be overwhelming at times but we have learned to cope both individually and as a team. I can’t wait for the rest of the semester; it feels like we’re getting ready for the holidays already but that cannot happen before we finish all our assignments. On a final non-GMI side note, we did some pumpkin-carving (a first for me!) at the Fallhalla event last weekend – it was surprisingly a lot of fun, I hope I can get involved with more events here at Rice!