Medtech Short Course – Lessons Learned, Friendships Formed

“Imagine solving a widespread public health dilemma by simply getting people to wash their hands more.  We are team All Hands On Deck, and that is what we are doing today.”

This was part of the opening I gave for Helping Hands: the smartphone app that Razi, my Costa Rican teammates, and I (All Hands On Deck) presented at the end of last week’s medtech design short course. If made into a reality, Helping Hands – an app for touchscreen smartphones and tablets – would guide kidney dialysis patients through their daily routine of peritoneal dialysis, but with a caveat: patients must indicate that they are washing their hands properly in order to receive reward points for correctly following the dialysis procedure. Patients would do this by putting soap on their hands, scanning them in front of the device camera, and then proceeding with the handwashing and dialysis.  After several weeks, they would have enough reward points to earn food or toiletries for free from a partnering grocery store.

This might sound like an intuitive and effective idea (or perhaps not; after all, Razi’s and my team didn’t win any design awards), but the road to the finished product was anything but easy. There were many back-and-forth discussions, debates over different ideas, and the occasional need for an executive decision that not everyone agreed on (of course, this is normal and healthy for any design team). During the brainstorming and early prototyping stages, we considered a smartwatch, an interactive instructive voice system, automatic soap dispensers, and other ideas, but ultimately we settled on the app. With that said, I think all of us were quite happy with the end product and, in addition, I think we really enjoyed meeting and working with one another!




Team All Hands On Deck. From left to right: Razi, Maria José, Luis Diego, Natalie, and me.

The prototype of the home screen for Helping Hands

If I had to summarize some of the main my takeaways from this short course, they would be the following:

  1. There are some parts of the engineering design process that I still am completely new to, including quality control, manufacturing, and risk evaluation. Some of these are fascinating to me, like manufacturing.
  2. Trial-and-error and “getting your hands dirty” are two of the best ways to learn and make progress on a design project.
  3. Networking is both important for your career AND fun. I loved meeting the other Costa Rican students, and I’m glad they’re part of my professional circle now!
  4. Pugh matrices. I did not know these existed before.
  5. There is always room for improvement in being a strong public speaker. We learned some great techniques this week.
  6. …there are many other things I learned, but I’m not sure I have enough room in this blog for all of them!

Adding onto #3 – after the presentations on Friday, I had the chance to meet several Costa Rican professionals from the medtech industry who had come to network with the Rice and Costa Rica students. One was a mechanical engineering professor from TEC (Costa Rica Institute of Technology) who told me about his research in biomaterials and his love for teaching. At the end of our discussion, he gave me his business card and offered to give the other GMIers and me a tour of his school! Another person I met was my future internship supervisor at Boston Scientific. Dr. Richardson introduced the two of us, and I immediately felt a positive connection. We talked in both English and Spanish, and he told me a little about the project I’ll be working on. Speaking of this, tomorrow is my first day as an intern at Boston Scientific, Coyol, and I could not be more excited. I can’t wait to meet with my supervisor again and “get my hands dirty” on the project!

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