It’s hard to believe that this summer is over already. Our experience in Costa Rica seems to have flown by, but at the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago that the 8 of us were sitting in the BRC at Rice as complete strangers. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned this summer is how much you can learn, accomplish, and grow in just two and a half months.
This week was focused on wrapping up all of my projects and tasks and reflecting on all that I have learned over the course of my internship. I finished my project focused on DA Feedback by summarizing the results of the team brainstorming session, discussing those results with Guiselle and my boss, creating various templates and tools for the team to implement, and creating a list of tasks that can be divided up among the team in order to start making strides towards improving the department. I also had meetings with one of the project managers, manufacturing engineers, and sales/clinical specialists this week to learn more about what they do. These meetings really helped me to understand how different all of the various departments are within the same company and got me thinking about where I might fit best.
In last week’s blog, I mentioned that Guiselle and I might get the chance to give the second session of the Innovation Culture Project before I left, and it turns out that I was partially correct. On Monday afternoon, I found out that I would be giving the Needs Finding lecture on my own—the very next morning. As you can imagine, I was a little caught by surprise, but luckily, I already had the presentation finished and felt confident with the material. Giving the lecture was a really great experience for me, because it gave me the opportunity to talk about something that I really enjoy about this field and allowed me to practice my presentation skills in front of a room full of professionals.
My last accomplishments for this week include one last manufacturing line tour and portions of two complaints analyses. On Wednesday, I got to do a line tour of one of the company’s guidewires. The team will be implementing a material change for this guidewire as a new project, so we got to see how it is currently manufactured. This was a really neat experience, because despite how simple guidewires seem, there are a lot of steps that have to be taken to make them (and make them well), inspect them, and then package them. Earlier in my internship, Guiselle taught me the complaints analysis process, and this week, I got to practice part of the process with two of BSC’s guidewire products. Additionally, this week I was able to attend a second live case, where we got to watch a physician implant a stent in a patient requiring coronary intervention. This case was particularly interesting, because the patient had a nickel allergy, and traces of nickel are typically found in stent products. It was interesting to think about designing devices for people who have those types of allergies, because it’s something that I had never thought of before.
To wrap up my entire experience at BSC, I summarized everything that I have accomplished and learned—6 weeks condensed into 6 pages—and had one last one-on-one meeting with my boss. On our last day, the team took us out to a farewell lunch, which was yet another kind gesture they’ve done for us. One of the best parts about this summer and my internship was getting to know all of the people that I’ve worked with and becoming friends with them. They are an extraordinary group of people, and I will miss seeing them every day.
At the beginning of my internship, I established several goals for myself:
- Complete my assigned portions of the Design Ownership Transfer (DOT) checklist for the cardiac catheter product that incorporates intravascular ultrasound imaging
- Complete a project scope draft for a micropuncture device used to gain intravenous access
- Attend a line tour for the first product
- Learn at least two interesting facts about each of my DA coworkers
- Learn at least two new Spanish phrases each week
- Learn the roles of other departments at BSC
I’m happy to say that all of those (with the exception of one that was modified halfway through) were completed. I finished the document review portion of the DOT and completed a line tour for that product, plus I did a second line tour and created a summary of all of my notes from my reading. For the project scope draft, the project got set back a bit, but I shifted my goal accordingly and was able to create a list of questions for the team to consider when implementing the new product on the market. For my personal goals, I was able to learn several interesting facts about each of my team members, learn more than two new Spanish phrases each week (unfortunately, I’m still not fluent—hopefully someday!), and learn the roles of the Neuromodulation team, R&D Packaging, Manufacturing, Sales and Marketing, and Project Management. Accomplishing the goals that I set out at the being of this internship was a great feeling, but it’s even better knowing that I was able to achieve much more than that by the end of the six weeks.
In addition to the ones I was assigned my first week at BSC, I also got involved in many other projects and activities:
- Providing feedback for the onboarding process
- Participating in the second innovation session
- An FMEA modification
- A Usability Engineering Plan update
- The DA Feedback project
- Documentation summaries for organizing the company’s document storage system
- Complaints analyses
- Clinical trainings
- Live cases
Looking back at all that I’ve done, I am really thankful that I was given the opportunity to work on such a diverse group of tasks and get involved in several activities to learn more about the industry. I am also glad that I was able to do some work that was helpful for the DA team, but I wish I could have contributed more. Despite being at BSC for only a short amount of time, the experience and knowledge I’ve gained, as well as the new friendships I’ve made, are unbeatable. I am eternally grateful to Guiselle for being the best mentor I could have asked for. She continuously went above and beyond to help me learn and enjoy my experience, plus we became friends in the process, which is something that I will always value.
One of the aspects about this internship that I enjoyed the most was getting to learn how a large medtech company functions and hearing how various employees view their work. Some of my lessons learned from my time at BSC include:
- Manufacturing plays a huge role in the success of a device on the market. Throughout my education, most of the focus has been on the importance of R&D and designing the device, but manufacturing is a key factor to consider when designing a new device.
- Documentation is key. Having good documentation is important for a company’s quality system and being successful in the market.
- Projects don’t always come from engineers. Many projects come from other people in the company, such as the marketing department.
- Minor changes to a design can have a huge impact on manufacturing.
- Onboarding is more than just reading and doing online trainings. It encompasses everything from getting to know your coworkers to learning the company’s systems to understanding what the company stands for.
- Innovation comes in many forms, and it is possible to innovate in a big company.
- There is always room for improvement, regardless of how well you and your team are performing. Also, improving upon your strengths is equally as important as improving your weaknesses.
- Analyzing complaints is crucial for sustaining your product and making sure the product is safe for use in patients.
- Understanding what it is like for a physician to use your product is a key factor in the design process. If it is difficult to use, they likely won’t buy it.
- Packaging plays a huge role in the success of a product on the market. It is the first thing that the customer interacts with. Also, mistakes in labeling can kill someone, so it is crucial to avoid those mistakes.
- If you can’t keep a device on the market, you can’t do new product development, which is why sustaining engineering is so important.
- It’s important to never rush a product to please the market—the patient’s safety always comes first.
- Excuses explain, but do not justify. This one will stick with me.
This summer has been the craziest two and a half months of my life, but also some of the best. I’ve learned more than I thought possible, and I have grown into a better person. It’s hard to believe that we were able to learn the entire product development process before the half-way point of our time in Costa Rica, but I’m glad that we did. We learned to identify unmet needs, invent solutions to those needs, and implement products on the market, and Dr. Richardson even managed to squeeze in enough time for a sprint with a completed prototype—all in just four weeks. I especially enjoyed the needs finding portion of the summer, because observing procedures and physicians is very fascinating to me. It was really interesting to see the differences between the Costa Rica and United States healthcare systems, and it made me really understand how fortunate I am to have such great access to healthcare, without having to wait years for an appointment or wait in lines that stretch out the door. I also really appreciated the short courses that focused on innovation and implementation. The innovation short course taught me that having short deadlines, despite feeling rushed, are good for a team to continue to progress forward and not waste any time. It also helped me understand the usefulness and importance of low-fidelity prototyping. It is possible to get an idea across using popsicle sticks, felt, and glue, and that’s something that I wouldn’t have appreciated before this summer. The implementation course was a really great experience, because we got to work with and learn from professionals who are already working in the industry. That course taught me how much work actually goes into a product after the design is complete. Prior to this summer, I had always thought that the design of a product was the long, difficult part of the process. Now I know that there is so much work that is required after that step is complete, and it’s important to understand and appreciate those components as well. It also gave me a firsthand look at the importance of continued learning throughout your career, no matter how long you’ve been in the business. Although this was just a brief introduction to the biodesign process, it is nice to have a little bit of a jump start for the upcoming school year. I’m looking forward to diving into these topics and implementing them in our projects.
Looking back at all that we’ve experienced since arriving in Costa Rica, I have a much better understanding of what ‘global medical innovation’ actually means. Coming from the United States, I feel like we sometimes get separated from other parts of the world, and we don’t realize how nice we have it. In many other countries, the medical technology that we have developed and now use for our healthcare is unavailable, because they can’t afford it. Throughout my education, I was taught the importance of cost and how it should be minimized, but seeing firsthand how much of an impact it has was an eye-opening experience. One of the lessons that I will take away from this summer is that just because it works for us in the States, doesn’t mean it will work anywhere else. It is important to consider the impact a device will have on a global scale, so that people everywhere have access to affordable, quality healthcare.
I am very grateful to have been exposed to this culture, because it has helped me grow into a better version of myself and has taught me to be more flexible and keep a positive mindset even in frustrating situations. One of the aspects of the culture that I enjoyed observing is that Costa Ricans don’t really complain much. They work hard, get the job done, and have fun doing it. I enjoy the Pura Vida lifestyle and will miss the go-with-the-flow attitude that Costa Ricans have. The opportunities I have been given this summer are unparalleled, and while I’m excited to go back home, I am sad to be leaving this beautiful country and the people that I’ve gotten to know and befriend.
Costa Rica, I’ll miss you. Until next time!