Fall 3: Cutting Red Tape and Tossing Pies

Another month has come and gone since my last blog post, but it seems like only yesterday that we were getting back from Brazil.

PalliAssist, my palliative care app, has faced primarily logistic obstacles over the past month. The next step is to conduct a clinical trial showing the effectiveness of using the PalliAssist system, which unfortunately means going through a lot of red tape in gaining approval from Rice’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) to conduct the trial. Most of my work on PalliAssist over the past month has involved learning and beginning this process with the IRB and other preparatory tasks for the clinical trial.

A big focus of the last month for us has been the collection of unmet clinical needs. The goal here is to look for ways to improve the current standard of care, where we as engineers could design something to make that improvement. To look for these needs, I have been observing various procedures in hospitals and interviewing people I know that work in healthcare. By starting with needs finding, we are learning the importance of making sure the solution we may be designing is actually solving an important-enough problem. An engineer may develop a great solution to a problem, but if it’s the wrong problem, then the solution won’t be successful. Each of us will eventually have the opportunity to start a design project based on one of the needs we find, but I can talk about that in a later blog post.

One interesting trend I noticed was how many more needs I have been able to get from observations than interviews. In interviews, I ask people about the most time consuming and cost driving processes they do, and if there is anywhere else they see room for improvement. I have found that by simply observing procedures, as an outsider and someone specifically looking for needs, I am able to note many more than what the physician would have told me. There are likely several causes for this phenomenon, but what it has taught me is the value of being able to think critically about the limitations of my own work. Putting myself in the healthcare worker’s shoes, there are likely factors that affect my work that I don’t realize. Consistently challenging assumptions I have about the way I do different things, like is done in observations, may empower me to work much more effectively.

Getting into the holiday mood, Dr Richardson hosted us all at his house for a pie-baking competition, where we each entered our own pie. In preparation, I dropped my pie, causing it to deform but still remain in the pie pan. Making the best of the hand I was dealt (or the one I dealt myself), I marketed it as a “hand-tossed” buttermilk pecan pie. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recover to win the coveted best overall award. Nevertheless, it was a great night with the GMI cohort and the Richardson crew.

Getting ready to judge our pies

My “hand-tossed” buttermilk pecan pie

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Still learning..and having fun!

I’ve learned a lot since my last blog post, and I’ve had a lot of fun in the process.

I started auditing a class to learn AutoCAD, which is a really useful tool for communicating design ideas. I’ve always wanted to learn how to use CAD, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Tasha, Sanjana, and Chandler are also auditing the class, so we always seem to have a good time, even when we have no idea how to draw some of the designs. I also had the opportunity to take an Arduino FabShop at Rice to learn the basics of setting up the circuits and how to program the Arduino. I’m really glad I had this opportunity, and I hope I can continue to participate in more workshops to continue developing new skills.

My implementation project, TruVent, has been moving along, and we’re almost finished with our manuscript for publication, which will be a huge relief. We’ve also moved into the brainstorming and screening process for our second-generation prototype. Chandler and I hope to have a completed prototype by the end of the semester, which is just a short 3 weeks away (hard to believe—right?!). In order to reach that milestone, we will be doing extensive brainstorming, researching, and screening to narrow down our ideas to the ones that show the most promise. We will also begin low-fidelity prototyping to demonstrate our ideas and help us narrow them down to one that we will move forward with. Despite the short timeline, I’m excited to get to work and do some real designing, and it’ll be fun to create our designs, potentially using a 3D printer.

My other big project, which is focused on developing a device to detect retroperitoneal hemorrhage, has also continued to push forward. We’ve moved on to more of a business focus in the class now, which is definitely very interesting, but also challenging for me. I don’t know much about business models, financial models, and value propositions, so I’ve definitely had to rely on my MBA colleagues to explain a lot to me. Despite the difficulty in taking in so much new information in a short amount of time, I’m glad that we’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the business dynamics that come into play when developing a start-up company, especially since I’m interning for one right now and may work with a start-up after graduation in May.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m interning for Multisensor Diagnostics, which is a start-up company working to develop a device to monitor patients with chronic illnesses from home. For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing interviews with clinicians that have chronic disease patients to get a feel for how they currently monitor their patients and how our device could help them. Getting clinician feedback is always helpful when designing a new device to take to market, because you want to make sure that it meets a need that they have and they will actually want to use it. Last week, I attended TMCx Demo Day, which is an event that allows the start-up companies in the TMCx program to present their pitches to investors. I really enjoyed the event, as I was able to finally meet my boss in person and learn more about the company and the device. All of the start-ups are doing really exciting work, and it made me think about working with a start-up after I graduate. I think it would be exciting to to make a huge impact in healthcare and learn so much in a short amount of time. Despite the risk that comes with working for a start-up, I think it may be a really great opportunity for me, and it would definitely push me out of my comfort zone.

At the end of October, we traveled to Austin to attend the SWE conference, which was a great opportunity to network with the big medtech companies and hear some dynamic speakers, including the VP of General Electric. I talked to people from Medtronic, Abbott, Boston Scientific, J&J, Stryker, Becton Dickinson, and Baxter, which was a really great and exhausting opportunity. I’ve also had the opportunity to continue observations and needs finding at TMC. Last week, I went to Texas Children’s Hospital and got to watch two pediatric urology surgeries, which was neat, but also a little sad. The kids are just so young—it breaks my heart.

Despite all of the work we do, we’ve also managed to have a good bit of fun these last several weeks. We watched the Astros win the world series, dressed up for Halloween (a few times), and squeezed in a few brunches. I’ve also continued to play volleyball on the weekends with some other grad students, which is always a nice homework break! Lastly, Siri and I have also still been volunteering with Houston Pets Alive, which has been a lot of fun.

We only have three weeks left to wrap up our work for the first semester. I can’t believe how quickly the time flew by. I’m definitely looking forward to some relaxation time at home, but for now, I’ll be pushing hard to finish up the semester strong.

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Surviving October

The month of October was quite the experience. Halloween wasn’t even the scariest part of the month, the amount of logistical planning that went into our trips and projects were enough to get the blood flowing.

Reflection of Barretos Trip

Our trip to Barretos, Brazil could best be summed up in three words–tiring, perspiring and inspiring. It was nearly 40 hours of travel roundtrip from Houston to Barretos. Dr. Richardson, Anna, Ryan and I were able to work alongside our project mentors and walk through the process of teledermatology and palliative care. I was expecting  a little break from the Texas heat, but Barretos had other plans. It was hot outside, but that wasn’t bothersome because we were so enamored with what Barretos vision as a hospital is. The emphasis they put on taking care of the less fortunate and preventative care is a gold standard in my opinion. They are the largest cancer hospital in Latin America for good reason. The staff at the hospital were very hospitable and organized, and that allowed us to get some great feedback for our projects.

Barretos Cancer Hospital (Barretos, Brazil)

 

Prototype vs. $1200 Counterpart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ride-Along

As a part of our observations, we were given the chance to ride on a 12-hour ambulance shift with a Harris County unit. I was able to tag along on a Friday morning shift with the M92 unit and get some really good needs from the experience. While it wasn’t an especially eventful day (which I guess is a good thing), it was a good just to experience the EMS workflow and just how much of a fast-reacting job it is. The ability to respond with a calm demeanor in high stress situations was an amazing thing to witness.

M92 Ambulance Unit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas Children’s Hospital

A major issue within today’s healthcare system is the lack of pediatric medical devices. While companies flock to larger adult markets, the small market size of pediatrics is often not worthwhile for companies to operate within. Sadly, this leaves physicians with only the option of using adult-purposed medical devices on children. I was able to observe and talk to Dr. Chester Koh of Texas Children’s Hospital to better understand the needs that the pediatric space may need. While most of my observations consisted of circumcisions (which is the most common pediatric procedure), I was able to get some useful insights from our discussions.

Business Pitch

For our healthcare and innovation class, our group was able to compile a business pitch for our product. Of course, our product is still very much in a conceptual stage, but it was great practice to be able to develop a business model and value proposition for our product and try to expand on what makes our solution unique and innovative. Our team did a good job on the pitch, and we received great feedback on how to improve. It will be fun to see how this project progresses. We are at a junction in which we have to solidify our business model (to make sure we are catching the important streams of revenue). From a team dynamic standpoint, I do believe that each member contributed their fair share, and it was especially interesting to see the medical device industry from a business perspective.

Our pitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project Update

I am beginning cycle 2 of my teledermatology project. The main goals will be to develop a potential LBM for our device and also to carry out ordering and testing of sub-components. I looked at all the design feedback we received and will continue to brainstorm and CAD potential solutions to these problems.

Results from feedback session

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations

GMI has definitely been a little bit more stressful over the last few weeks, but we were able to compensate for that by watching the Astros bring home a championship. Although I’m a diehard Texas Rangers fan, the city of Houston has been through so much these last few months and there was a little voice (deep within the chasms of my brain) that was kind of rooting for them to win. Plus, it is always great to see Chandler get mad when his Dodgers lose.

They’re OK I guess

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Conferences, Careers, Consultika, CPR, and Costumes

I’ve had a busy month since my last post, from conferences to Consultika, from job searching to hospital observing, and everything in between.

Conferences and Connections

First, I traveled to Phoenix for the annual Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) conference. Then, later in the month, I went to Austin for the annual Society of Women Engineers career fair (SWE).

BMES conference in Phoenix, Arizona

The day before the BMES conference, I visited Gore Medical in northern Phoenix. Gore Medical was founded on the invention of PTFE, an extremely versatile plastic. They showed us (a group of us from Rice attended) several different types of PTFE; they varied from thin sheets to hard tubes depending on how they had been processed. Then some Gore employees gave us a tour of their facilities before giving a presentation nitinol, a nickel-titanium alloy. Nitinol is unique in its characteristics: it is super-elastic (springs back into place after being bent) and has shape memory (when heated, it returns to its original shape). They even gave us each a piece of nitinol wire and provided hot water for the demo. I was delighted when the wire I had bent into a spiral flung itself back straight. Tasha’s piece even flung itself into the coffee at the end of the table. It was exciting to see engineering in action. At the end of the day, I had the opportunity to speak with Gore employees and ask about the company itself. This was a very valuable part of the day for me because I was able to better understand Gore’s culture; Gore is team-based, not hierarchical like most companies.

Tour of Gore Medical facilities

At the BMES conference, I learned about cutting-edge research and products, made professional connections, and toured a Medtronic facility. I greatly enjoyed hearing about other universities’ research as I browsed their tables at the conference. Biomedical engineering is an exciting field that I am grateful to be a part of. Although the conference was mostly academic, a few companies attended as well. Of course they showcased their technology, including 3D viewing of robotic surgery (more on that in the observations section). Another great part of the conference was making connections with other universities and companies. Additionally, I met several more bioengineering students and professors from Rice at the conference. Finally, the Medtronic tour was intriguing as well. While touring their electrophysiology facility, we were able to see pacemakers, equipment, testing labs, and more. I even got to hold the world’s smallest pacemaker!

The world’s smallest pacemaker, Medtronic’s Micra, sits beside a normal Medtronic pacemaker.

Later in the month, I attended the SWE career fair in Austin. It was overwhelming just how many companies attended, over 300! I was able to visit with big companies such as Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and Abbott as well as smaller companies such as Engineering Mission International. Although many companies were not yet accepting applications for May graduates, I was able to network and make some valuable connections as well ask questions about the companies themselves. It was a great career fair and I walked away with intangible, if not tangible, benefits from attending.

Career Insights

During all of my networking, conference attending, and career searching, I have begun to narrow down what type of job I am searching for when I graduate in May. I would like a job in which I:

  • Design new products such as R & D or New Product Development
  • Am challenged by working on complex products
  • Am empowered to impact healthcare on a global scale
  • Interact with a diverse group of people
  • Travel for collaborations around the globe
  • Have flexibility to move laterally and vertically in the company

Of course, I don’t expect my first job to have all (or maybe any) of these things. But this is the direction in which I see my career moving. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know my passion is to improve global healthcare through my bioengineering skills.

Consultika Progress

Consultika, the app that I am working on for sharing patient information securely between doctors, has been progressing in leaps and bounds. Since our trip to Costa Rica, I have implemented the recommendations that I received from the physicians there. Additionally, I have added several features such as the messaging part of the app, searchable conversations, permanent photo storage, and a usability survey. I am also working with my contacts in Costa Rica to set up the clinical trial that we will conduct in the spring. While this includes what feels like mountains of paperwork, I am glad to learn how clinical trials work. It takes much more effort than I expected to design the clinical trial itself. We want to measure the app efficacy and safety because that is the FDA’s focus for medical devices, but what does that actually mean for an app? After many discussions with my sponsors, we decided to measure the app’s usability and data integrity. In short, this means a user survey and measuring the accuracy of data transfer. We will begin preliminary talks with the Internal Review Board (IRB) in Costa Rica this week. I am so excited for this new twist on my project!

Here are screenshots of some of Consultika’s screens: messaging, conversations, and patient data input.

 

CPR During Observations

As part of our coursework, we observe in hospitals and other medical settings in order to find needs. Needs finding is doubly beneficial: it helps me to identify needs and obtain clinical experience as well as providing some of the needs that will be developed by future student teams at Rice. So this month I observed a robotic surgery and rode in an ambulance for a day.

One day, I observed a robotic pediatric surgery in Texas Children’s Hospital; a bladder reconstruction for a two-year-old. It was fascinating to watch the intricate and tiny movements as the surgeon operated the robot with infinite skill. We watched on TV screens as the surgeon made incisions, rearranged structures, and sutured the patient. Without the robot, the surgeon would have needed to open the patient’s entire abdomen; with the robot, only four small incisions were needed. Modern medicine truly is amazing!

Robotic surgery, picture from Radiance Engineer’s Digest Blog

The day I spent with Harris County (Houston) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was one of the best days of needs finding that I have experienced. Not only did I gain respect for EMS workers (they work 24-hour shifts!), but I also found over 25 needs. EMS is a fast-paced career that requires stamina and quick decision-making, but it offers the chance to save lives daily. During the almost 14 hours I was there, we took five calls and transported four of them to the emergency room (ER). The most interesting call was a man lying in the grass shaking, unable to speak. After half an hour in the ambulance with him, we still didn’t know what was wrong. Another exciting moment was when I witnessed CPR in the ER. Suffice it to say that it’s a lot different than in the movies. What struck me most about the day was the efficiency of everything. From the ambulance itself to the equipment used, from the stretcher to the ER, everyone knew what to do and used whatever tools were available to do it. No one was standing around waiting to be told what to do or searching for supplies; they just acted. And that’s where bioengineering comes in, I can design the equipment and supplies so that they can act even faster to save even more lives.

Observing with EMS in an ambulance

Costumes and Champions

This month has been a whirlwind of work, but in true GMI style we squeezed in some fun as well. On Halloween we dressed up as the Costa Rican soccer team and made our project presentations a little more interesting with capes and jerseys. We also watched the Astros win the World Series. In non-sports talk, we watched the Houston baseball team win a championship and the city go wild.

Costa Rican soccer player wannabes

Sharing the tradition of pumpkin carving

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Houston, we have landed.

It isn’t uncommon to see in job descriptions for positions in the medtech industry with the words “Willingness to travel: 25%, 50%, etc.” That’s such an exciting prospect for someone like myself, being paid to travel the country and to collect the miles in the process. But the one thing that they always fail to leave out in the 3 word phrase is how exhausting travel can be sometimes – planning for the unexpected, exhausting all hotel and transportation options, finding ways to catch up on work once you do get back. The month of October was my travel month, starting with Costa Rica, then Austin, then Phoenix, then Austin again…let’s say I’m just glad to have my feet set back down in Houston for the next few weeks.

Especially with the stress of school work and projects, it is easy to lose sight of the primary goal of a professional Master’s program: learn and prepare yourself best to succeed in industry. Aside from all the schoolwork, one of the most important things to do when looking for an entry-level position is to network. It was an aspect of professional development that I never thought much of or capitalized on, but it has since been one of the most important outcomes of my travels this October.

My previous blog highlighted my time in Costa Rica, and from that time on we have been attending conferences for the primary purpose of networking. Given my time at both the Biomedical Engineering Society Conference (BMES) and the Society of Women Engineering Conference (SWE), I realized how important it was to have a structured career fair to facilitate my networking experience, which was the clear-cut difference between the two: BMES emphasized research, while SWE had a dedicated career fair with the (fingers-crossed) intent to hire.

Having been to BMES in the past to present a research poster, the experience was completely different when I traveled with the intent of searching for a job. I flew out earlier in the week with Tasha and Callie when we received the opportunity to visit Gore Medical’s Tempe site, which was a fantastic opportunity to understand the company’s culture and work life, as well as to network within the company grounds. Similarly, the next day we visited Medtronic’s facility, whose site specifically manufactures the microelectronics for products such as their newest and smallest pacemaker: the Micra. It was an incredible experience to see the inner workings of large medical device companies, which ultimately made the trip out to Phoenix worth it.

Checking out Phoenix’s NBA team…they’re swell

Gore Medical, AZ

However, the highlight of this month was experiencing my first career fair at SWE down in Austin. It was hectic. It was cutthroat. How do you impress a recruiter when there is a line of 40 other qualified engineers looking for the same position as you? From my short two-day experience, some of it comes down to luck of the draw – you just have to talk to the right people. For example, I met a field engineer who was working in the neuromodulation department at Boston Scientific, just as I had when I worked in Costa Rica this past summer. From the moment we identified that similarity, we cut right through all the typical screening questions and had an extremely informative conversation about how my knowledge would mesh well with Boston’s culture. It was from that 45-minute conversation that I had successfully networked with a person who can now offer a strong lead into the areas of medtech that I am truly passionate about.

We left space to the right for Ryan

In the end, here are some key takeaways I gathered from my experience at the career fair:

  • Smile and be engaged – passion carries a long way with recruiters
  • Talk to all the companies you are interested in, and those that you are not – it helps reaffirm the type of culture and company you can see yourself working for
  • It’s a dialogue, not an interrogation – realize that you come in with your own skills and expertise, and you are also looking for a company that can help you grow professionally
  • Follow up – they may remember you, but talking to a thousand people makes it difficult to recall everyone; don’t give them a reason to forget you
  • Research, research, research – know the company you are talking to; there is nothing worse than walking up and asking what they do… when you should already know
  • If you had a bad experience with one person at a company you like, go to another person – try and try again.

Just a classic trippy Austin piece of art

It’s nice to be back in Houston (I definitely missed my bed). Traveling around the country was challenging, but it helped me grow professionally in its own regard. I learned a lot from going out and experiencing it firsthand, something that would not have registered if I had simply heard it through word-of-mouth. I am following up on contacts that I made during my time there, and it has helped me understand how to approach people in a manner that will make me more memorable. Now we are hitting crunch time, in both work and in the job hunt, but we do find some times to have fun. We have an upcoming pie contest, we all celebrated Halloween together, and we even have debates about whether the photo below is blue & grey, or white & pink…thoughts?

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Groovy Sharks, Electric Mustaches

Did that title get your attention? Good! I got it off a random word generator.

As I’m sitting on my couch writing this blog, I’ve had a lot to reminisce about the month of October. I went to Brazil and met the doctors and nurses who will be using my app, and received valuable feedback as I move forward with the finishing steps. I also went to two engineering conferences- BMES in Phoenix, Arizona and Society of Women Engineers in Austin, Texas. Both conferences were great networking opportunities, and I got valuable advice on how to be a more competitive applicant for jobs (applications will pick up starting in January/February, since I graduate in May). In addition to 3 weeks of traveling, I had a Matlab biostatistics midterm that I completed in a hotel lobby!

I traveled to Brazil to collaborate with Rice University’s global partner, the Barretos Cancer Hospital, to get some feedback on my app. Before I arrived, I created an hourly-breakdown schedule, interview guide, and a visual survey to make better use of the clinical feedback session (which was essentially a clinical trial minus the things that require IRB approval). After managing my first “Almost-Clinical Trial” I learned that people are busy, things can get confusing, and more structure isn’t always best! I planned the feedback session to be in 3 phases of “learning, doing, and surveying”. However, nurses have busy schedules- and I rolled with the changes. Instead, nurses learned and used the app while giving feedback simultaneously. I learned my Instruction Guide was extremely tedious- nobody wanted to read 7 pages of words and look at all the pictures! I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t visited the hospital in person, and I’m currently redesigning the instruction guide into a quick, slide show-esque video.

One significant struggle I encountered while designing the app was the automatic email function. Ideally, when a nurse completes a record it will notify the doctor, and vice versa when a doctor completes a diagnosis. This is easier said than done! I did my best to address the problem on my own- I watched instructional videos, consulted Google forums, and met with Rice REDCap specialists. But sadly, I wasn’t able to resolve this problem before the trial in Brazil.

At this point it was time to bring in the experts. During my time in Brazil, I was able to meet with the Barretos REDCap director and lead biostatistician of MD Anderson in person, and Skyped in additional specialists. During our meeting, they identified two possible areas affecting the automatic email function. I’m extremely appreciative of their help and for the Barretos IT team, who is currently working on updating and installing plug-ins into the REDCap system. I don’t think I’ll be saying this about emails again, but I’m looking forward to writing and receiving some REDCap emails!

Thanks for reading, and I’m excited to share my progress with you in a month. Time to enjoy all things pumpkin-spiced and get back to work!

 

Pictured below: A Brazilian sunrise, a Brazilian breakfast, a Brazilian dinner (delicious!!!),  a tour of a Barretos Cancer Hospital educational mobile unit, and the Costa Rica soccer team for Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Connecting the Dots

Where to begin? How about not with DialOasis? While a lot of my time is spent on my implementation project, there is so much other stuff going on with the GMI program and my life. So instead of focusing on DialOasis like my last two blog posts, how about let’s talk about everything else, ok? Let’s go!

SWE Conference

The biggest event of my October was the annual Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference which was held in Austin this year. This conference is the largest conference and career fair for women in the world. I think I heard there were somewhere north of 13,000 people in attendance, everyone from college students searching for jobs to lifelong SWE members and professionals. The conference was an amazing opportunity to network, talk to recruiters, and meet fellow women engineers. The highlight of SWE for me was talking to members of all the big MedTech companies at the career fair. I spent all of Friday at the fair and although I was nervous at first as I am not one for formal interviews, I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed practicing “selling myself” and learning about all the various companies. In attendance were almost all the big MedTech companies from J&J and Medtronic to Baxter, Stryker, and more.

GMI Cohort at SWE

Activated Project

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but I am sure Chandler has, I am also working on a project called Activated. This is a class project where we are essentially going through the steps of the innovation and startup process. The projects are a collaboration between us GMI students, MBA students, and physicians in the medical center. Chandler and a few other MBA students comprise my team. Physicians brought us unmet needs (one of those buzz words) and our team was tasked with improving the care of patients who experience cardiac arrest outside of the hospital. Since the beginning of the semester, our team has talked with a number of physicians, EMTs, and administrators in emergency services. From talks with them and our own research, we realized that our original need was not the real need at all. As a result, our project has morphed from cardiac arrest to a way to fix the 911 system as a whole, helping identify non-urgent calls so unnecessary ambulances are not dispatched.

The project has definitely stretched me to think in new ways that I didn’t get in my undergraduate education. Continual needs refining, collaborating with physicians, and learning the business side of things—it’s a lot of practical, hands on experiences. I knew going into GMI that it would be heavily project and real-world based, but I didn’t realize just how much.

Needs Finding

Along the lines of collaborating with physicians and refining needs, another aspect of GMI is that we get to do needs finding (as I referenced above). Needs finding is basically a fancy word meaning we get to go out and observe clinicians in the field, determining where improvements can be made because where there are shortcomings or “needs” there are often solutions (e.g. medical devices). This past month I had the opportunity to view surgeries at Texas Children’s Hospital as well as go on ambulance rides with EMS. These experiences are eye opening because I get to see all the crossover with what I am learning. The ambulance rides, in particular, were insightful for my Activated project mentioned above. It was reassuring to verify that the need we finally settled on for Activated was actually a relevant, prevalent unmet need for EMTs.

Internship

One last section, I promise. My internship. This semester I am interning at a medical device company in Houston. This is where everything comes together. I’m getting to apply what I am learning in my classes at an actual company. It’s so exciting and exactly what makes the GMI program so exceptional. I’ll learn something in class and a few days later, that topic will come up at work and I won’t have to just sit there clueless. I’ll know what’s going on and can actively contribute. For example, needs finding, CPT codes (which have to do with medical billing and coding), FDA approval, and clinical trials– all of these topics have come up at my internship. It’s exciting when I am able to put into practice what I have learned. It’s all about connecting the dots and tying the knot.

 

 

 

 

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It’s hard to believe that we’re already more than halfway through the semester! The month of October really flew by. Based on the feedback we received from Roy and Ronald at Invenio and from Monica from Hospital Liberia, we had quite a few things to consider for our redesign of the DialOasis “cuartito”. We also learned of the various steps that we will need to take before we can begin a clinical trial, which we are still aiming to start next semester.

“To-do” list based on our conversations in Costa Rica.

After coming back from Costa Rica, we took the time to compile a list of various tasks that we would need to complete in order to continue moving the project forward. As you can see, there is clearly plenty of work for us to finish! In this last month we took the time to decide what changes we wanted to make to the design. We brainstormed, completed Pugh matrices, and expanded on our artistic abilities via sketching to come up with our proposed changes. Based on feedback from Costa Rica, we knew that we needed to a) cut down costs and b) make the unit easier to build. We decided to try constructing the walls out of tarp instead of individual panels, which past teams have considered but didn’t end up selecting. Our work before the end of the semester will include developing the finalized CAD models of this design so that we can start building!
This past weekend we had the opportunity to attend the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference held in Austin this year. I was very excited to attend as I was not involved with SWE during undergrad, and had no idea what to expect from the conference. With over 13,000 people in attendance, needless to say I was blown away with what I saw! The career fair was similar to a tech expo, with representatives from almost all of the major medtech companies and plenty of freebies! The conference was a great chance to network, but also allowed me to catch up with other women engineers from Michigan and Baxter that I hadn’t seen in a while! This last month flew by, and I have a feeling November will as well.

GMI-ers take SWE!

 

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Juggling Act

Being a part of GMI means learning how to juggle travel, class work, projects, and now job searching concurrently. October was the month I had been anticipating for a while and I can’t believe it’s finally come to a close! Starting from the weekend my team and I went to Costa Rica through this past weekend when we returned from the Society of Women in Engineering Conference, every weekend except one was spent traveling.

I mentioned in my last blog post that Dr. Richardson, Callie, Abby, Siri, and I made a short visit back to Liberia, Costa Rica. The goal of the trip was to meet with several key people who are helping in the progression of Callie’s Consultika project and Abby and Siri’s DialOasis project. It was intriguing to learn how we would need to implement and seamlessly weave these products to fit in to how the current Costa Rican medical system functioned. This could be applied to how we received funding to run clinical trials for DialOasis or how we would make Consultika (a consultation application) a vital asset of every physician’s daily work. In order to have our projects be receptive to KOL’s (key opinion leaders), we needed to collaborate with as many entities as possible- this meant talking to different doctors and nurses, various associations that funded certain populations, and even the CAJA (social security of Costa Rica). Our meetings during our trip yielded several of these important connections and interactions that have brought these projects one step closer to the final product.

Having fresh coconuts in Liberia before heading back to Houston!

My project, Stent-X, does not have ties in Costa Rica, but I have been consistently working on various aspects of it this month. Since our last porcine animal study, we have run a cadaver study and another porcine study. It’s always crucial to be able to see how your project will fit in a pre-clinical setting to best cater its features to a clinical application. These trials have provided a lot of valuable data and lessons that have helped guide our next steps moving forward. In my part of Stent-X, I have been working on the redesign and creation of a nitinol facet to aid in the magnetic removal. I read several articles about the material and it wasn’t until I actually spent hours in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen working to create one representative prototype. This emphasized the importance of getting hands-on practice sooner rather than later because I learned much more than I had read about nitinol. After one week, I had a optimizing my method in working with the nitinol and I am still refining it for different variables.

Working on creating a nitinol prototype.

Beyond implementation projects, two important conferences fell into the month of October. Conferences are a great way to network and meet recruiters for companies you want to work for. In mid-October, we attended the Biomedical Engineering Society Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to the conference, a few of us attended an informational forum at Gore where we learned about their company’s culture, products, and campus. Their culture was very unique in that they don’t have a hierarchical structure of leadership, but rather a lattice structure. In addition to visiting Gore, we also visited Medtronic in Tempe, AZ. Through our campus tour, we learned their specialty was very focused on the micro-electronics of their products. In the end of October we attended the Society of Women Engineers Conference in Austin, Texas. I highly recommend this conference for its job fair! You will have the opportunity talk to several large Medtech companies like Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Abbot, BD, Stryker, J&J, and many more.

Rice University representation at Gore!

 

Back at Rice University, the semester is already winding down! With only one month left before finals, many big project deadlines are approaching. I know it will be another busy month, but I am happy to be able to stay local!

Until next time!

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Fall 2: Back from Barretos

A lot of the work I did at the beginning of this month involved implementing some improvements to PalliAssist, the app I am developing for palliative care providers in Brazil. As I mentioned in previous posts, the only legitimate programming I had done before this semester was in MatLab, which is fundamentally different than anything used in app development. Learning the new languages has been exciting because it has been driven by a need to make the required revisions. While I enjoy learning in classroom settings where you get the theory and background for a holistic understanding, learning something so that you can solve a problem immediately at hand gives me a greater drive to do it quickly and effectively.

After learning these languages and make these changes in the time that I was given, I have definitely gained confidence in my ability to learn new skills. A big part of my success, though, came from the help offered by past PalliAssist contributors and others. When faced with challenges in the future, this experience will be one I can look back on to be reminded of my ability to succeed despite lacking some skills, as well as to remind me of the value of getting the right people to help.

After making these changes, I got the opportunity to travel to Barretos, Brazil to meet the doctors I had been working with for PalliAssist. There were so many aspects of the trip that made it worthwhile! Meeting face-to-face with the doctors allowed us to work and communicate much more efficiently. They gave me a tour of their palliative care facility to give me a better understanding of how this app would be used. I learned that this facility in Barretos is the largest cancer hospital in Latin America and how they have been able to use innovative sources of income to increase their quality of care. We even got to see 18-wheelers being transformed into mobile surgical units that provide care to people in remote parts of the world.

Many of our collaborators at the Cancer Hospital in Barretos

Getting a tour of the mobile surgical units in Brazil

Being able to see the palliative care facility first hand renewed my motivation for this project. While she was giving me the tour, Dr Juliana described how this app would enable them to treat far more patients. Because this is the best place to receive palliative care in the country, people often travel long distances to get there. Some patients are treated and sufficiently stable to be released, but their families do not want to risk taking them home because, if their condition worsens, they may not be financially able to bring them back to Barretos. Thus, these families would rather their loved ones finish their lives at the hospital to ensure they don’t have to suffer unnecessarily. Other patients are those who have been readmitted because they were taking their medication improperly. The communication facilitated by PalliAssist will enable these patients to receive higher quality of care at home, keeping them from having to come back to the hospital. This is important because the palliative care facility is often full, meaning if PalliAssist is able to allow more people to receive care at home instead of in the hospital, more people will be able to be treated at the hospital.

After seeing the facility, we also had a meeting with the director of the hospital. He shared with us his vision to see the hospital expanding across Brazil and collaborating with hospitals across the world. With this vision, he reminded us of the importance of our work and the need to finish these projects so that more projects could be started to fulfill that vision.

These were the reasons I wanted to enter this field of work. I chose to be a part of the GMI program because I want to learn how to contribute to increasing the quality of care in underserved global markets. These conversations with Dr. Juliana and the director of the hospital have given me a boost of energy to complete PalliAssist with excellence.

For the sake of balance, it has been important for me to set aside some time each week for things other than work. One aspect of this that I have particularly enjoyed has been my involvement with the club tennis team. We played in a tournament here in Houston this weekend and won our draw! Along the way, we beat two teams from the University of Texas, which was especially satisfying as a Texas A&M alum. Being a tournament for college students, the prize for winning was something they would actually compete for — a free t-shirt.

Team Rice Cake takes home the gold in a tennis tournament hosted in Houston!

GMI continues to give me experiences and skills that are preparing me for an exciting career. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

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