Our time in Costa Rica has come to an end. We have returned to Houston, and are preparing to begin our Fall classes. This week, on top of my typical summary of the past week’s activities, I’ve also included some end-of-summer reflections to sum up my time in the wonderful country of Costa Rica.
Week 11 Summary
Most of my last week at Boston Scientific consisted of tying up loose ends. To ensure my coworkers would be able to continue my work, I presented reports and presentations summarizing all my work and recommendations moving forward with my projects. I also had the opportunity to receive a performance review from my supervisor and conduct an exit interview, where we discussed my experience at Boston. I really valued the feedback I got from my supervisor, especially my areas of weakness, so that I might have a more directed approach at my own professional development!
As a part of our final week, I got to celebrate my birthday! Despite plenty of clues which should have tipped me off, my coworkers and fellow GMI students were able to surprise me at work with a cake and short party. I literally had no idea what was going on until I walked into the conference room where they surprised me! Beyond the birthday celebration, I enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the friendship we had fostered over our 6 weeks at Boston.
As I take time to reflect on my summer in Costa Rica, I find that I had 3 overarching takeaways from various experiences and conversations.
The first takeaway was getting a glimpse at working in the field I hope to build my career in through our work on DialOasis. See my Week 4 blog for a full description of this project, but in summary, we built a prototype of a room that could be set up in patients’ homes to provide them with the sanitary environment necessary to conduct dialysis. This prototype was designed by previous GMI students; our job was to build it and get feedback from local healthcare providers and patients. Having the opportunity to work on this type of project is why I joined the GMI program. I want to work on widening access to medical technologies to underserved markets. As technology continues to be developed for the wealthier populations of the world, I would love to play a part in ensuring that health issues in other underserved, less-wealthy populations are also being addressed. Working on DialOasis allowed me to do that. There wasn’t much that was technologically exciting about the project — it was basically a portable room with accessories. Nevertheless, it was what this population needed. If this product is fully implemented, 200 people in Costa Rica will be given their family life back, and the national healthcare system will be able to reinvest their savings to improve other aspects of their system.
While I realize my experience working on this project is limited to two weeks, I think working on DialOasis gave me more realistic expectations for working in my desired field. The biggest challenges seem to be in communication rather than solving technical problems, although I’m sure there are plenty of technical problems. Understanding customer needs across cultural barriers and working with local manufacturers or engineers to ensure the solution will be sustainable can be very difficult. Communication is generally a challenge for engineers without language barriers, so this experience has shown me how much I need to continue to develop these skills to be successful in a global workplace. The work itself may not always be that exciting, but that doesn’t mean the work won’t be meaningful. I hope to continue widening these experiences through working on my own implementation project, software that would increase the quality of life for hospice patients in remote areas of Brazil, and be given the skills needed to contribute to healthcare systems around the world.
My second takeaway from the summer was a recognition of the talented and trained professionals that exist outside the U.S. Up until this summer, I had not worked with people outside the U.S. in a professional setting, and was honestly unaware of the amount of training and education that foreign engineers possessed. In my experience in Costa Rica, I met many skilled and experienced people. I met students and professionals who were excited to learn about medical innovation through the classes Dr. Richardson put on. I met someone who started the first R&D group at Boston Scientific in Costa Rica, and who, because of his success, has grown his team from 1 to 20 people. I met people who studied in both Costa Rica and the U.S. and were able to describe similarities and differences to me, and I’ve seen the skills and determination that enable many professionals in Costa Rica to have successful careers and contribute to the success of their country. I’m sure education standards for engineers vary from country to country, but I’m glad for this opportunity to become familiar with at least one other country’s standards so that I can have more realistic expectations working with engineers from other countries in the future.
My last takeaway this summer was how personally draining it can be to live in a country of a different language and culture. Things as simple as not being able to make small talk with the bus driver seemed to be a burden after a while. I loved the opportunities to learn more Spanish and learn more about a different culture, but I was glad to come home to family and Texas at the end of ten weeks. These experiences will hopefully give me more realistic expectations as I consider new job opportunities and generally working across language barriers.
All in all, I had a great experience in Costa Rica! I feel more equipped to enter the increasingly global industry of medical technologies through my experiences with a wide variety of different people. One semester down, two more to go.