Start of the Semester

In my brief glimpse of what a job in industry felt like, a recurring thought really put the upcoming semester into perspective. Although the responsibilities and great projects I worked on were fulfilling, I couldn’t help but miss the student life.  Yes, even with the stresses of tests and projects (and lack of money), college was such a great microcosmic environment in which I could meet new people, learn about so many different things and really hone my career skills. With the emphasis that the GMI program puts on project-based learning, not only could I apply the skills I gained through my internship, but I can actually further develop those skills to ultimately prepare me for the real world (the second time around).

The Calm Before the Storm

I felt like I was getting settled in at Rice. I met some new people, learned the daily bus routes, and could walk around campus without having to constantly look at the map—and then Hurricane Harvey happened. Fortunately, I was able to drive back home to Dallas (as a precaution), but I had not anticipated the storm to be as bad as it was, and it seemed as many Houstonians felt the same way. Watching the selfless acts that people were doing in helping each other helped me recognize a couple things:

  1. “Plans don’t always work, but planning does” —Dr. Richardson
  2. We often overlook the lack of medical solutions in disaster-situations

The relief efforts that the city of Houston conducted was an amazing thing to witness (even some of the GMI students were able to help out). Although people had not planned on the storm being as severe as it was, there were decisive and coordinated efforts in mitigating a lot of the risks associated with the aftermath of the storm. Yes, the storm kind of made the semester a little bit more challenging and I may have to relearn where I am on campus, but the inspiration I gathered from the people of Houston has given me something that really can’t be learned.

from: abcnews.com

Time Management

To be successful with the coursework that the GMI students have, I realized that time management will be essential moving forward. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I was pretty good at making mental notes of when assignments were due, but graduate school is a whole other experience. This week, I found myself planning my entire schedule a month in advance. My younger-self would question my sanity, but as I learned from my internship experience, planning will help keep you productive and on top of tasks that are interdependent on each other. With working on a couple different projects (implementation and design) as well as balancing other class assignments, extensive planning is something that, I found for myself, is very necessary.

Projects

As I had previously mentioned in past blogs, my implementation project for the year is the Barretos Teledermatology project. With Anna working on the Redcap side of the project, my goal and focus revolves around the dermatoscope device and how to manufacture it in Barretos. Not only will this involve design for manufacturability improvements, this will require an effective business strategy in allowing this project to transition from Rice ownership to an actual distribution model in Brazil. A joint goal Anna and I are currently focused on is to conduct a clinical trial regarding the effectiveness of the RedCap App. Being that we are using RedCap both for our front-end and back-end, it is a crucial aspect of the project to ensure that the app is effective, intuitive and secure. With our projected trial to be conducted in mid-October, we have to make sure we can arrange all the logistics in Barretos to allow for a clinical trial to be executed.

A recent iteration of the prototype

In our Medical Device Design class, we were pitched various needs observed by cardiologists from St. Luke’s hospital. Among the very interesting projects that we were able to hear about, the one that I thought was peculiarly intriguing was an issue relating to drug-eluting stents (DES). Usually after a DES is implanted into a patient, doctors will prescribe dual antiplatelet therapy (DAPT).  This is typically a mix of aspirin and Plavix, which the patient will take for at least a year. Prolonged used of blood thinners obviously has considerable health risks, and so finding a method in which that can be reduced would be beneficial to the patient. One of the reasons patients are required to take DAPT for so long is because the doctors will wait to ensure that the stent implanted is fully endothelialized. Full-endothelialization of a stent prevents adverse immune response to the foreign material in the body, and thus the rates for thrombosis or restenosis decrease significantly. For the upcoming semester, our team will focus on coming up with an innovative solution to this problem.

Posted in Joshua | Leave a comment

September: Intro to REDCap Teledermatology Implementation Project

This past month has been the maiden voyage of many things: graduate school at Rice University, living in Texas, and my implementation project. I’m still not used to the beauty of campus at Rice- I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of walking down the arched stone hallways or amongst the giant mossy trees. But one thing that really defines a GMI student’s experience at Rice is their implementation project. I’m excited to share with you the details behind my implementation project and my reasons for choosing it!

My implementation project involves designing an app to help safely transfer photos and data of suspicious skin lesions to doctors at Hospital de Câncer de Barretos, in Barretos, Brazil. The project has been active for the last two years (a Rice senior design team and previous GMI student contributed), and I’m expected to put the finishing touches on the project. The project is fueled by the necessity to safely and accurately diagnose people with skin cancer who can’t easily travel to the Barretos Cancer Hospital. My app (combined with Josh’s mechanical phone device) would be implemented in satellite locations around Brazil, where nurses can bridge the gap of diagnosis by taking consistently accurate pictures of skin lesions and sending the photos via the app to the dermatologists at the cancer hospital.

There are two reasons behind why I picked this project for my year-long implementation. Reason one: I wanted a challenge. My computer skills are lacking due to a bad mental attitude toward technology. This attitude originated from poor professor/classroom experiences. With technology playing a rapidly growing role in the medical device world, I knew I had to break this mental barrier.

Reason two: I wanted to experience the later-end of medical devices. I’ve experienced roles on the front end (R&D engineers) and in the middle (Quality/ Process Development engineers), but I had yet to experience the end roles such as Clinical/Field engineers, sales, and marketing. With this project in its later stages, a large part of the project will involve the interaction with and training of large numbers of nurses and clinicians on my product.

Because of these reasons, I felt like this project would be the perfect fit for me. I’m looking forward to mastering the platform of this app, called REDCap. Once that learning curve is complete, I plan to make some edits to address feedback collected by a trial run from last spring. I’m looking forward to making some good progress before I make the trip down to Brazil in October!

Posted in Anna | Leave a comment

Starting School

After returning from Costa Rica, I didn’t know exactly what to expect for this semester. Would it feel like undergraduate, just different classes? What was Rice like? How would my project go? I had so many questions, only time and experience would answer them.

Rice University’s beautiful campus

After Hurricane Harvey disrupted classes for a week and devastated parts of the city, I started to settle into “normal.” But what is “normal” for a GMI student? Normal is taking 14.5 hours of classes: statistics, communications, projects, and career advising. Normal is busy but making time to play flag football and get involved in a church. Normal is joking that “everything is going to be fine” with teammates when everyone’s body language screams stressed. Normal is the feeling of elation when the app you’re building finally takes a picture correctly. Normal is the beautiful Rice campus where students band together for common goals and competition takes a back seat. Normal is Dr. Richardson meeting one-on-one to offer guidance and resources for projects and classes. Normal has exceeded my expectations of the work required, knowledge gained, progress made, and fulfillment reaped.

Consultika’s patient data entry

My favorite part of normal life are the projects that I get to work on. Currently, I am working on two projects and mentoring a third. My primary project is Consultika. It is a phone app intended to aid gynecologists in Costa Rica in remotely diagnosing rural patients. It falls into a category of health care called telemedicine. It was designed by previous Rice students and now I am bringing their design to life by engineering the app’s functionality. When completed, Consultika will be able to send messages and pictures, collect patient data, receive patient consent, and more. I am enjoying working on an app because I am learning tons about how to make an app. This is important to me because I believe that apps and computer technology are the future of healthcare.

Presenting our calculations of market size for the heart biopsy device

My second project is a team project with Anna, two MBA students, and a medical fellow. We are working on redesigning the device that collects heart biopsies. Currently, the device is shaped like a catheter with a set of jaws at the end (see picture below). We are striving to implement something that will allow doctors to better see where the jaws are located in the heart to increase the safety of the procedure. And my third project consists of a team of three senior global health students from Rice who are working on a gynecology training device. I am their TA and so aid them how I can and will be grading their papers. Mentoring is a new role for me and I am eager to learn through it. Additionally, their project loosely relates to Consultika because they are both gynecology projects which helps both of us.

The current heart biopsy device

Apart from my projects, I am taking classes in bioengineering statistics, engineering communications, and bioengineering career exploration. In my statistics class, we program the computer to analyze data to give us insight into many bioengineering concerns such as the accuracy of a test or the probability of a false positive. I love my communications class in which we are practicing our presentation skills and learning tips and tricks to improve them. We are also learning how to analyze the audience in order to shape our messages to be more relevant to them. And in my career class, we get to listen to and interact with someone from a different company each week. The goal of this class is to expose us to various jobs in bioengineering and to help us obtain a job after graduation.

The Texas Medical Center skyline at night, one of my favorite sights

In addition to my classes, I am growing personally in many ways. I am learning how to manage my time; Dr. Richardson requires that we submit a timesheet each week with seventeen hours spent on GMI work outside of class time. This is helping me to organize my schedule and challenging me to schedule in time to rest as well. Moreover, for Consultika, I am managing my own project. This is forcing me to prioritize work to be done and also to be proactive in obtaining the resources I need. I am also transitioning from being a college student to being a functioning adult. This includes things like furnishing my apartment, developing a professional network and (wearing something besides t-shirts to do so), making friends through events and groups outside of school, and scheduling my work alongside time to rest. As an undergrad I was able to avoid most of these, but no longer. I am beginning to feel like an adult.

Helping clean up houses after Harvey

Posted in Callie | Leave a comment

What a Whirlwind

I thought I had gotten past the inclement weather when I graduated from Rochester, where Timberland boots and thick winter coats were a testament to the blizzards and bitterly cold winds that passed there for most of the academic year. Given, I am still acclimating to the humidity every time I walk outside in Houston (which is quite a lot since my classes are across campus from one another), but at least there is air conditioning in every building. And then…enter Harvey.

You have all probably seen the coverage, but as quickly as Hurricane Harvey came, it was immediately engulfed by news of Irma, Jose, and Katia. It affected everyone in different capacities, but it was unifying to see every Houstonian helping each other out once the storm had passed. Volunteer shifts to help the less fortunate were packed, and I was lucky to help a family move furniture out of their house to a new location. It was great to see #HoustonStrong live up to its name.

Unfortunately, Harvey did shut down school for an entire week. Having just put in a week of classes under our belt, it was frustrating that our “beginning of the school year” momentum was snapped by over 50 inches of rain, putting us a week behind in a one-year program. These types of situations are out of our control, so the best thing is to have a positive outlook about this. Thankfully, classes resumed normally a week after, and it was as if we had a fresh start to the year again.

Learning how to properly seal a mask over a mannequin

In just the few weeks I have been working, I quickly learned that time management is much more difficult when you set your own deadlines. As I mentioned in earlier blogs, my implementation project is called Truvent, which is developing a bag valve mask (BVM) that can provide feedback and data to physicians as to whether they are making a tight seal. This is one of the biggest issues with this product, where a poor seal can prevent the victim from receiving adequate ventilation when they are not breathing.

Basic flow chart of the bag valve mask in an emergency setting

As part of the program, I have to set my own deliverables and deadlines over four cycles (two each semester), developing a specific work breakdown structure (WBS) for Cycle 1. Though it takes careful thought and consideration to determine timely and manageable objectives for the next month, it has helped me thus far to stay on track for each week and to accomplish all my tasks. Personally, I know that I am good at staying on track up to two weeks at a time, which is why it is important to constantly update my progress as the year carries on.

The main objectives for my first cycle are to analyze the clinical trial data conducted earlier in the year. Under the mentorship of Dr. Steven Boggs, Dr. Suman Rajagopalan, and Dr. Richardson, we are using this first set of data to help influence the direction of the redesign for the product and the market we aim to penetrate. In conjunction with conducting a market segmentation and product road map, we can properly scope our need statement and ultimately choose the path of Truvent.

Truvent began 3 years ago, and as the newest members of the team, I am understanding how important documentation can be. Though there is some previous literature and documentation of the work conducted up to this point, there are still gaps in knowledge that Karlee and I have had to fill since there is no documentation behind it, slowing down our progress. Aside from our main objectives to progress the project, I am committed to providing as much detail behind our research and processes, which will not only help me, but for all future parties who work on this project.

You think darkness is your friend…

 

Given that, classes have been busy but exciting. Though I feel the most invested in my implementation project, I am excited for my innovation project, which is searching for a quicker way to activate basic life support (BLS) services in cardiac arrest patients. Believe it or not, in highly stressful times such as trying to resuscitate a victim of cardiac arrest, people forget the simple steps such as calling 911. There are methods out there that have tried to reduce this time, but to little success. No one will ever really feel prepared if they see someone experiencing a cardiac arrest event, but if the chart below is not very helpful, then maybe this video will be!

With these two projects alone, most of my days are packed, even though I only have classes two days a week. There is much less hand holding for these projects than I experienced during my undergraduate years, but as a professional Master’s program, this is the transition I need to prepare myself for industry. Looking ahead, it looks like most of my weekends are going to be packed! I’ll be traveling back to Costa Rica next weekend, Phoenix in a few weeks for BMES, and Austin for the SWE conference. Lots to talk about next time!

Until then, pura vida mis amigos.

 

Posted in Chandler | Leave a comment

The End of an Incredible Summer

 

On the morning of our flight out to Costa Rica, way back in May, I was a bit of a mess. I had known this day was fast approaching, but I still hadn’t quite wrapped my head around the fact that I would be leaving Houston for the entire summer. I haphazardly tossed everything I thought I might need into some suitcases, said my goodbyes to friends and family, and prepared to embark on this journey with 7 strangers.

When I chose to join the GMI program, the Costa Rica experience was a huge draw for me. However, as the time to leave came closer and closer, I found my hesitation growing. The month of May was a whirlwind of emotion – I graduated from college, prepared for the huge changes that were to come, and moved to a new country, all within the span of a couple of weeks.

It was difficult to handle the magnitude of everything I was experiencing, and as a result I found myself feeling something I’m not very familiar with – fear. I like to consider myself to be pretty bold and daring, but during those weeks I found my nerves and hesitation getting the best of me. I knew I had chosen GMI for a reason, but I was also worried about whether the program was the right fit for me, and whether I would be able to succeed.

We arrived in Costa Rica and those first 24 hours were a whirlwind. I was surprised by how comfortable I felt in this new environment. Being in such close proximity with the other students, we got to know each other very quickly. I was surprised by how well we all got along, and over time I got to really understand and appreciate everyone’s unique backgrounds and insights. Dr. Richardson selected an awesome group of students for GMI, and working with them made the Costa Rica experience so much better. Having a strong support system was incredibly beneficial throughout the summer, and right off the bat I noticed how willing everyone was to go out of their way to help each other succeed. By the end of our first day in Costa Rica, my fears were all but forgotten.

Looking back on the summer, I think the most beneficial aspect was the amount of exposure I had to the field of innovation, implementation, and the medical device industry as a whole. A huge reason that I wanted to pursue a Masters degree in bioengineering was because I was looking for the opportunity to learn more about where I fit within this industry. GMI exposed me to every aspect of medical device development, starting from the very beginning of needs finding all the way through the regulatory processes. This was immensely valuable because it gave me the opportunity to discover my interests and how they can translate to the field, and also get a feel for which phases of the process inspire me the most.

This summer taught me a lot. From needs finding to project implementation to interning at Boston Scientific – everything we did had an important goal, and working towards it shed light on my strengths, weaknesses, and passions.

During needs finding, I was enthralled by the opportunity to work in hospitals with doctors, nurses, and patients who were as enthusiastic about our program as we were. Our collaborators in Costa Rica were more than receptive to our ideas, and gave us valuable insight at every step of the way. I really enjoyed the clinical aspect of this work. I loved being inside of hospitals, seeing procedures, and using my knowledge of engineering and design to identify where processes could be improved. I’ve always had a passion for medicine, and during these visits I really felt like I had found a niche that allowed me to blend my passion for medicine with my desire to design and create.

When we went to Guanacaste to work on DialOasis, I again faced new challenges that pushed me to develop as an engineer. When we selected our roles for the project, I really wanted to be on the design team so that I could improve my mechanical design skills. We wanted to optimize our design in order to make it easy to assemble, functional and as intuitive for the user as possible. This presented us with interesting design challenges. I had the chance to bounce ideas off of my teammates and learn from them. I learned that I really enjoyed the opportunity to be hands-on and learn through trial and error. Even just from this short time working on the project, I found myself thinking more and more about how design of even simple objects can be modified to improve assembly and usability.

Finally, the internship! The internship was an awesome way to learn more about the medical device industry and the different roles that engineers play throughout the development process. Through working in Process Development, I had the chance to take on my own project from the earliest stages and work with other engineers. I sought guidance from more experienced employees, and learned how to communicate my ideas and questions in a professional setting. I also brushed up on my technical writing, and learned how to sift through huge stacks of documentation to identify relevant information. The internship broadened my technical skill set as well as my soft skills, and these abilities will be critical during the coming year as I take on GMI projects, grad school classes, internships, and job searches.

Since returning to the US, I’ve found myself missing Costa Rica a lot. This summer was one of the most formative experiences of my career as a student, and it was only the beginning of GMI. I am so excited to work on implementation and design projects for the next year, and I can’t wait to see where these projects go. I truly feel blessed to be a part of such an inspiring and inventive program, and to be surrounded by students, professors, and collaborators who are so driven and talented.

Houston has always been my home, but this summer I found another home in Costa Rica. I will be forever thankful for this summer and all of the opportunities, friendships, and knowledge it gave me. Pura Vida!

Posted in Sanjana | Leave a comment

Hasta Luego Costa Rica

And just like that, our short time in Costa Rica is over. Ten weeks ago, I had many reservations regarding my trip. I had never been away from home for such a long period of time (and in a different country for that matter). My high school Spanish was rusty, I had graduated a couple weeks before, and I had just met 7 complete strangers with whom I was going to spend the rest of my summer. However, even amid all those reservations, I can definitively say that my experience in Costa Rica was one of the most fulfilling experiences, both professionally and personally.

Recap

Our cohort accomplished so much in a short amount of time. It was really encouraging to see how well the personalities on our team meshed together. There is always the concern of clashing personalities and tensions arising in a group setting, especially being that our cohort would constantly be around each other, there was the chance that we could wear each other out. I can confirm that we all still like each other even after 10 weeks. In fact, it was very nice seeing familiar faces here in Houston during orientation. Although we may have different ambitions and outlooks on life, when it came to working on projects, we all wanted to ensure that our work helped others. That is a great sign for year to come! Just to reflect upon the work we did in Costa Rica, here is a brief recap of our summer:

  1. Needs Finding with TEC Students
  2. Observations at Hospital Mexico
  3. Medical Device Innovation Course
  4. Needs Finding at Hospital Liberia
  5. Working on DialOasis in Guanacaste
  6. Medical Device Implementation Course
  7. Internship at Boston Scientific (Coyol)

I have learned more in this 10-week span than I could have imagined. I will try to encapsulate my experiences as effectively as I can to paint the picture of my summer in Costa Rica.

Needs Finding with TEC Students

Our first glimpse of the medical device market in Costa Rica started here. We spent time learning about the concept of needs finding (or insight-informed innovation). We were assigned to groups in which we could work on various projects (that the TEC students will implement throughout the upcoming year). My group worked with a high school student who suffered from cerebral palsy. With his family living in the more rural setting of San Marcos, there were unique challenges that they had to endure. Two other students and I were able to see these conditions firsthand, and it really opened our eyes to the amount of improvement that could be made. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Be thorough with observations, even the little things can make a big difference
  • Examine who the stakeholders are, and understand all perspectives to a problem
  • Be earnest in talking to stakeholders, they will give more input if they feel you are invested in the problem
  • Having diversity within a group can be utilized as a strength
  • There are often external issues that exacerbate the problem (prioritize what are primary and secondary issues)

Our Project with a Cerebral Palsy Student

Rural School in San Marcos

Observations at Hospital México

Now that we had received instructions on how to tackle issues and problems with specific projects, it was time to implement the mindset of “insight-informed innovation” at a local hospital. Hospital México is the largest hospital in Costa Rica, and it was a prime spot to observe opportunities for innovation and improvement.  Our cohort was able to observe different medical procedures (bone marrow aspiration, cardiac catheterization) and ask the medical professionals performing them their thoughts on the procedures and how they could possibly be improved.  Here are some takeaways from our experience at the hospital:

  • Observe as much as you can (people’s mannerisms, instances of heavy foot traffic, building conditions, general logistics of hospital, etc.)
  • Don’t assume that the issues of a hospital are due to lack of equipment or resources
  • The hospital does not utilize an EMS, patients carry their medical records around
  • You may need to schedule an appointment 6 months in advance, and if you miss it, you may have to wait up to a year to get another one

Medical Device Innovation Course

Our next step revolved around the front-end innovation in medical devices. The Rice students were tasked with finding potential projects for which to make low-fidelity prototypes. The function of a low-fidelity prototype is not to necessarily imitate the function or form of a potential device, but rather get an illustration across of what your idea is. We were given common arts and crafts materials and although our device looked silly, it helped effectively communicate our idea of a device to help children with cerebral palsy move to and from a wheelchair. Here are some more takeaways from this course:

  • Even the craziest of ideas can be viable solutions. In brainstorming, let your group members individually write down a plethora of ideas.
  • Developing key criteria by which to judge your designs is key in picking the most effective solution
  • Understanding the costs associated with implementing a design is essential for an Engineer to understand.

Our Lift-Assist Rendering

 

 

Our Low-Fidelity Prototype (yes, that is a stick-man)

 

Needs Finding at Hospital Liberia

After our initial time in San Jose, we went up to the more rural province of Guanacaste and visited a hospital in the Liberia area. This was a much smaller hospital than the one in San Jose, and the issues that they had to deal with were of a different subset. Issues such as kidney failure and HPV are more common in that region than others, and so understanding how we could best improve the healthcare for this hospital could have a long-lasting impact on the community. Here are some key takeaways from our trip there:

  • There is a high-likelihood you will have HPV at some point in your life
  • Peritoneal dialysis is the most common form of treatment in Guanacaste (compared to hemodialysis, which is more expensive)
  • Leftover paraffin from biopsy samples are used to make candles
  • Doctors enjoy using WhatsApp to send pictures of malignant tumor histology

Breast Cancer Histology

DialOasis

As mentioned before, the need for dialysis in Guanacaste is significant. Those who have the resources to conduct peritoneal dialysis at home save a visit to the hospital every day (they can spend most of the day in the hospital due to their condition). Some of the poorer families lack the sterile environment in their homes to be able to conduct in-home dialysis. This is the demographic that we wanted to focus on with the DialOasis. Creating a sterile, portable system that could be implemented within patients’ homes would save countless hours of time and restore some quality of life. Without a sterile environment, infections with peritoneal dialysis is likely. Patients must go through a stringent hand-washing and sterilization process to ensure that this does not occur.

With the previous year’s GMI cohort already having done the design work on the “cuartito”, it was our job to optimize the design to make it as durable, portable and modular as we could. With the collaboration between Rice and Invenio, we were successfully able to source materials, assemble the room, and test the device in a hospital setting. Here are some key takeaways from this experience:

  • When working in collaborations, make sure to clearly define roles and dynamics between the collaborators (especially if in a foreign country)
  • Understanding the resources available in a region is key to identifying sustainability long-term
  • Initial testing of product is all about the creation of a “façade”. This is to gauge the consumer’s interest in the product
  • Designing for manufacturing and ergonomic efficiency are key in further developing this project into the clinical trial phase

Medical Device Implementation

In school growing up, my concepts of engineering revolved around breakthrough research and intricate designs and machinations, however, rarely are you taught about the reality of implementing a product from conception to market availability. There are numerous hurdles you must overcome and consider before you can go forward with innovation. We took this course to better understand those aspects and how we can better prepare for it. To emphasize our project-based learning approach, we were placed in groups to put currently available medical devices through these criteria. Here are some key takeaways from this course:

  • Understanding the need for PDPs (product development processes) and analyzing the current trends in the medical technology industry
  • The importance of developing a concrete IP strategy
  • Learning about the roles of quality (risk mitigation, validation and verification, IQ/OQ/PQs, ISO 13845 adherence, QSR, QMS, QA, QC, etc.)
  • Learning about the roles of manufacturing (LBM, Design for Manufacturing, Design-to-value)
  • Learning about the regulatory processes involved (FDA approval, 510(k) vs. PMA, Predicate devices, etc.)
  • Learning about sales strategy (product vs. service, knowing your customer, product distribution, value-proposition, ICD/HCPCS codes)

Internship at Boston Scientific

In the last six weeks of our Costa Rica trip, Boston Scientific provided us the opportunity to intern at their company. We were divided up into different divisions (R&D, Quality and Manufacturing) to broaden our understanding of what an Engineer does. Being that this was my first time working in an industry setting, it was a great exposure and glimpse of what the industry looks like. However, since we were in Costa Rica for this internship, there were some unique experiences to be had during the course of our time there. There is a certain dynamic you expect with typical internships. You expect it to be a lot of learning and listening to much more experienced Engineers, however, in my experience, my coworkers genuinely viewed me as someone who could provide a unique insight and perspective to their processes. I grew up in a completely different environment than my coworkers did, and with that, I could be a fresh set of eyes in examining problems. The internship was an eye-opening experience for me in more ways than one, and here are some of the aspects which I learned from my time at Boston Scientific:

  • Having time management and communication skills is crucial in finishing projects in an effective manner
  • Immerse yourself in company culture and learn as much as you can from your fellow co-workers
  • Be prepared to read company policies and procedures – it is a necessary evil
  • Be patient with others. You will have days where there is not much to do and you will have days where you have a lot to do
  • Be ready to do work that others may not want to do, it shows that you are willing to put in effort and time for the good of the company
  • Understand that you are establishing a personal brand. Conduct yourself with the future in mind
  • Networking is important, especially for entry-level Engineers such as myself

My Name Spelled in Spanglish

Readying Myself for the Next Chapter

These past few months have really taught me so much. The relationships I made in Costa Rica are ones that will be missed. Costa Rica is a country full of beauty, kind people, and immense potential for medical innovation. With a flurry of MedTech companies already established there, Costa Rica will nonetheless be a hub of innovation and that is truly exciting. I cannot think of a better place and better people to have had shared this unique experience with. It’s now time to look forward towards the new projects that I will have for the upcoming year, but of course I cannot forget just how awesome this Summer has been. Hasta luego Costa Rica, pura vida!

I Wish Houston had these Views

Until Next Time

Posted in Joshua | Leave a comment

El Fin (of Summer)

Where to begin? Just a little over three months ago I remember receiving an email from GMI with our flight confirmations to Costa Rica. That’s when it all set in. I felt nervous, excited, eager, and ready- all at the same time. My expectations for the summer were nestled in the countless blog posts I’d read from last year’s cohort and yet I discovered my experiences fostered something even greater.

In these past 10.5 weeks we were able to learn and directly apply three core topics in the medical device industry through a Costa Rican lens. What made this experience much more valuable was immersing ourselves in Costa Rica’s culture and forming relationships with the people we interacted with during our work and travels. Our time was split into three phases: 1) Needs Finding in Clinical Settings, 2) Medical Device Design, and 3) Medical Device Implementation.

  1. Needs Finding in Clinical Settings: From our talks with Paul (from John Hopkins) to our hospital observations throughout Costa Rica, I knew that this front end part of Bioengineering was what I was most passionate about. By front end, I mean the “what” and “how” of the process in improving patients’ health and clinicians’ needs. It was intriguing to see how the dynamics of hospitals in Costa Rica differed from hospitals in the United States. We often take for granted all the technology that is easily accessible here in the United States, so having the opportunity to apply that knowledge to an emerging market like Costa Rica simply takes creativity. The entire focus of our program is Global Medical Innovation and this can have a wide range of interpretations. To me, its core roots stand in sustainability and integration into the market. Currently many medical device industries give outdated technologies to countries in lesser conditions; however, these countries don’t have the right tools or money to maintain these devices, thus leading to lack of use. Instead, as engineers, by having a clear image of how medical procedures currently operate and collaborating with doctors, we can open the doors to seek innovative solutions in a way that best fits the stakeholders’ needs. The possibilities of improvement in the medical setting is endless and I hope to be able to delve deeper in this realm in the future!

    Hospital Mexico Pacemaker Procedure

  2. Medical Device Design: Our course with Dr. Wettergreen and Dr. Richardson highlighted the importance of low-medium fidelity prototyping, even in the medical device industry! I loved working with my hands to create a solution with pipe cleaners and pom poms that is representative of an idea drawn on a sticky note, like the Teddy Air my team and I built. I can only imagine how useful this approach is in an industry setting where time and money are of the essence. We then took this low fidelity prototyping to a full force prototyping of DialOasis. Here, we built a dialysis room for chronic dialysis patients to have in the comfort of their homes using local materials and help from a local university. The most gratifying part of this project was receiving real patient feedback through their verbal comments and body language during our showcasing at the local hospital.

    My team and I for Teddy Air.

    Teddy Air. Filters pollutants around your child!

    Sweat (and some tears) went into manually building this sink.

    Side view of dialysis room (cuartito).

  3. Medical Device Implementation: In this phase we were fully merging with working professionals in the implementation course we took and in our internship at Boston Scientific. These interactions clearly conveyed the multitude of steps involved in the production of a medical device and each step is equally as important in the development of a product. My involvement in the Process Development department was unique in that I was a part of the exploratory group, which included mining for new ideas to be utilized at the Coyol site. You quickly learn that you don’t always hit gold but rather find areas with promising potential.

Looking back on the last week at my internship at Boston Scientific, I was able to make significant progress! Stressful, yes! Oh, how I wished I had more time, but sometimes it’s important to find a balance in all aspects of a project during significant progression, and that includes documentation. As a reminder, this last week I was all set up to start developing the process of

Material prepped for building prototypes.

building the stent prototypes. All my supplies and equipment were organized and set up. Starting on Monday, I spent all day from 7am-5pm (with the exception of a lunch break, of course) building the prototypes and figuring out how to specifically do each step- basically what worked and what didn’t. Eventually the process became more refined and I had a good approach. My hours at work flew by and it seemed as if I wasn’t working at all! Tuesday and Wednesday were very similar in that sense; however, I began to focus more on photographing and documenting all that I learned through this process. Thursday was dedicated to analyzing the results I had and considering future directions based on the issues I ran into. This is the week I truly felt like a full Process Development engineer in steering my own full project and I really understood the importance of its separation from R&D, although they are still intertwined.

In the beginning of my internship I created two main project goals for myself and in the end I surpassed one goal and gained momentum on the other. Goal 1 was to convert a stent prototype design plans into build plans. In this project I had not only created the build plans but also began building the prototypes and cultivating the process. Goal 2 was to optimize the use of a material for the stent prototypes. Here, I compiled a bulk of information on the use of this material and in the final couple weeks I tested its functionality based on its characteristics.

 

Beyond my goals I participated in numerous other tasks and projects:

  • Characterization of guide wire material using FTIR
  • Characterization of guide wire material using a wire scrape test
  • MATLAB in developing a material use process
  • XMind in analyzing design plans
  • Clean room procedures
  • Material requisition forms
  • Building rotatable snare prototypes
  • Creating documentation of prototype formation
  • Updating Redlines
  • Technical Review Meetings
  • Presented to English-learners class

    At my cubicle in Boston Scientific.

    Clean room attire.

     

    Last day at Boston Scientific.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more valuable experience at Boston Scientific these past six weeks. My boss was fantastic in that he was also a mentor to me and guided me in the right directions in times I needed help, while still giving me full autonomy and independence. I interacted with several engineers and employees throughout different departments. This collaboration helped me understand the tiny details and undercurrents that facilitate a living, breathing company.

Costa Rica and its culture really grew on me during our time here. I know I will miss the Pura Vida lifestyle, where life is much simpler yet filled with purpose. I will miss its beautiful beaches, volcanoes, and luscious forests blooming with biodiversity. I’m thankful to have experienced it while working with the medical industry, as I got the best of both worlds.

Beautiful Bajos del Toro.

Cloud forests!

Now, if you’re currently reading this and want to be a part of GMI next year, ask yourself two questions. 1) Are you passionate about the global aspect of medical device industry? 2) Would you be prepared to go through an entire 10 weeks in a foreign country at a back to back pace? If your answer to those questions is yes, then APPLY! This past summer in Costa Rica was the most transformative and informative time period in all my years of education. Applied learning can take concepts to a whole new and in-depth level. I can only imagine how much more my skill set will expand these upcoming 10 months as we work on our design and implementation projects!

Some recommendations for future GMI’ers:

  1. 90% of Mondays-Fridays will be business casual, so be prepared in terms of your wardrobe!
  2. Bring an umbrella because it is the rainy season when you go.
  3. If you plan to cook (you are likely have a kitchen most of the time), bring spices because spices are expensive in Costa Rica.
  4. If you are in Manufacturing or Process Development at Boston Scientific and you are a girl, make sure to bring flat shoes and some nylon socks to wear under if any skin is exposed for entering the Clean Room.
  5. Be proactive in your internship. Your time is short, given all that you can learn.
  6. If the same transportation company is used- you will soon learn that Hector is the MVP (most valuable player) haha. We really appreciated him when he was assigned our driver!
  7. For weekend trips, hire the same transportation company that drives you to work everyday. They are reliable and affordable if everyone in the group joins in and splits the cost.
  8. If you enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, look up the nearest Feria del Agricultor. They are farmers’ markets all over Costa Rica.
  9. Take advantage of your weekends and visit the beautiful country you are in! You will learn Costa Rica is not very big and weekend trips are feasible.
  10. Take time and reflect on what you are doing each day. It will go a long ways.

As always, pura vida!

Posted in Tasha | Leave a comment

End-of-Summer Reflections

Adios Costa Rica!

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.

Birthday Celebrations

End-of-Summer Reflections

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.

Posted in Ryan | Leave a comment

Week 11: If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late (to go back to Costa Rica)

It has been 11 weeks in Costa Rica, and my time here has come to an end. I’ve observed hospitals, stood in on medical procedures, built a prototype room for dialysis, and worked in teams with Costa Ricans varying from undergraduate students to seasoned professionals. At Boston Scientific, I worked on 3 projects and authored a test method validation protocol. I was fortunate to have enough time to see 6 beaches, a volcano, green mountains, a zoo, waterfalls and natural hot springs. I leave for Houston with a greater appreciation for Costa Rica, the quality and process development of medical devices, and the medical technology industry as a whole.

So Anna, was it worth it?

Yes! I’d sat in lectures and read articles about the booming potential of globally emerging markets, but I didn’t have a true appreciation for it until I was actually working for a medtech industry in an emerging market. Emerging markets are developing countries with a high demand for health care such as Costa Rica, India, China, Japan, and Brazil. Working in Boston Scientific showed me just how large this global opportunity is, and the exciting steps currently underway to transform healthcare into affordable and viable options for those who need it. Necessity breeds innovation, and emerging markets allow medtech industries to bypass western models and create new solutions.

How was the internship?

At the beginning of this internship, I honestly didn’t know what a Quality and Process Development (QAPD) engineer’s role was, but now I have a great understanding and respect for the position. A QAPD engineer must expertly communicate and work with many departments. In my experience, I worked with manufacturers, external vendors, shipping, and R&D in both Costa Rica and the United States.

Essentially, a QAPD engineer takes R&D’s designs and ideas and makes them a reality, resolving all the problems that happen along the way. I’m very appreciative of my manager, Ana Maria, who explained in lecture format a medical device’s journey through a QAPD engineer’s hands at the beginning of my internship. This gave me a good foundation of truly understanding the “How’s and Why’s” behind the role, and lessened the learning curve when working on my 3 projects.

Is it really all that they said it would be?

I could have pursued working in the medtech industry immediately after I graduated in May 2017, but I’m extremely glad I didn’t. Knowing what I know now in just 11 weeks easily saved me 3-5 years of working in different positions and slowly exploring the medtech industry for the role that was right for me. Not only has this investment in GMI saved me valuable time in my future career, but it’s made me more confident about my career direction (something I’ll dive into in a later blog post). This program isn’t cheap, but I believe with 100% certainty that this investment in myself will return as an investment in the future company who takes the chance to hire me. One thing I really appreciate about the GMI program from the moment I met Dr. Richardson and Sheretta was this: they are open about what they like and what they want to change in the program. Because of their great communication and transparency about their intentions with the program, nothing came as a surprise. And by surprises I mean there were no disappointing changes, no sudden drops in organization, and I felt like every moment of my time was maximized to its full potential. As an engineer, I truly appreciate this about the GMI program. As I close the Costa Rican chapter of the GMI graduate program, I look forward to the rewarding work ahead working on my implementation project and taking classes to further my skillset! Thanks for reading!

I hiked dog mountain this summer! So much fun with 900 wagging tails. The casado pictured later was hands down the best meal ever after the long dog-filled day.

Posted in Anna | Leave a comment

Rise Above the Challenge

Blink. I consume my first meal in Costa Rica – Subway’s Wednesday ‘Sub of the Day,’ the Pizza Sub.

Blink. We are scribbling furiously in our notebooks as I hear the gargled call of what sounds like drowning during a bronchoscopy procedure.

Blink. I am building an award-winning bijaj.

Blink. More Subway.

Blink. Josh just laughs as I hysterically try to rid the scorpion residing by my bed.

Blink. Smile. Happiness engulfs me as peritoneal dialysis patients glean over the finished DialOasis prototype.

Blink. I pass through the glass doors on my first day at Boston Scientific.

Blink. I pass through the glass doors on my last day at Boston Scientific…and Costa Rica.

Despite the laidback ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle that I have come to embrace over the past ten weeks, it seems that my time in Costa Rica passed by faster than the blink of an eye. In some regards, it did. But to take a step back and to look at what was accomplished each week through the GMI program in Costa Rica, it falls nothing short of exemplary.

I still vividly remember how eight strangers converged upon a classroom one day at the end of May, and not only 30 hours later were they shipped off to work side-by-side in a foreign country. I was still mispronouncing most of their names, and I constantly mixed up Sanjana and Tasha every time I tried talking to one of them (I told them it was on purpose…it wasn’t). It was chaos for a person like myself: I had no idea of what we were setting out to do, we were foreigners in a foreign country…it was sink or swim.

Sure. We were destined to run into problems, but we as engineers solve problems for a living. From the moment we stepped down in Costa Rica, this manifested itself in various forms. Whether it was overcoming the language barrier, putting our final presentations together for our short courses, or finding the driving motivation to guide us through our internships, the one thing that helped us succeed to the end was the team’s ability to be there for one another.

Though this may seem trivial, I cannot emphasize this enough. To have met Josh, Anna, Karlee, Sanjana, Tasha, Ryan, and Callie a day before we traveled to Costa Rica, one misstep from the beginning could have influenced the overall dynamic of the team. But, if there is a singular reason why our trip to Costa Rica will remain as one of my favorite summer experiences, it is because we worked well with one another, and this leads to my point for any future GMI groups traveling to Costa Rica: be open to try. Everyone has different goals and interests (Callie loves to hike, Karlee loves the beach, Tasha loves to travel, Ryan loves dominos), so take full advantage of the new opportunities. The team relationship is critical for success in this trip. It worked for us, and it can work for anyone.

Over the past ten weeks, we have been writing blogs that have described our experiences, lessons, and visions throughout our time in Costa Rica. Though the entire summer may have seemed like a blur, each week taught me something new. On one end, I have a stronger understanding of the implementation process of a medical device, which requires more time and effort than the innovation process that we are often taught. On the other, I learned a whole lot more about my work ethic, and how to utilize my strengths effectively within a medical device company setting.

As an engineer, the most invaluable feature of an immersion program such as traveling to Costa Rica is learning beyond the classroom. From day one, instead of using our pens to copy notes down from a PowerPoint slide, we scribbled furiously to capture our observations at local hospitals. In class, I could always refer to slides or notes if I missed some crucial information; in the hospital, I had to rely on my shorthanded notes to elaborate an entire problem. It was tough at first, but there were tactics that I learned in the moment to help me succeed – things such as writing the time stamp of the observation down, or focusing more on a physician’s actions than his/her words, which can often be biased or incomplete. I learned more about a patient’s dialysis treatments from seeing the procedure in person, whereas much of the literature online could not provide a complete analysis of the problem.

However, there are times where the classroom gave us important insights and information that would translate well in the field. Taking part in 3 different (needs finding, innovation, and implementation) short courses in Costa Rica, I realized that the part I enjoyed the most was learning through teaching. Whether we worked with students from local universities or with engineering professionals, they relied on the GMI students to perform. This could be seen as a challenge or as an opportunity, and so I took the opportunity to provide my insights while actively learning alongside them during the lectures. Given, I did learn more about IP, manufacturing, and all other disciplines that I had not previously known, but I gained the most when I led my team through the exercises that solidified our understanding of it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During my internship with Boston Scientific, setting goals and developing a timeline to achieve them gave me a better structure for my work week. As a person who prefers a stricter adherence to a schedule, I learned firsthand that plans never work, but planning always does. These words, emphasized by Dr. Richardson, reflect the true nature of the medical device industry – whether it is innovation or implementation, there will always be hiccups along the way. By setting realistic goals and allowing for flexibility during these rough patches, you can still achieve your goals in the end. This was especially apparent to me during my internship, where my work to develop a fully-independent variable model of an IPG battery took much longer than I planned. However, since I had structured my time to work on from the beginning of the internship, I allotted more time in the end to reach a point where I was satisfied with my work.

Simply put, the summer in Costa Rica offers more than just an introduction into medical devices and its global impact. As a professional master’s program, Rice’s GMI bioengineering track is the jumpstart you need to be ready for any professional interaction within the medical device industry. It is easy to overlook the facts, where 85% of all medical devices in the world can only be afforded by 5% of the world’s population. This number alone leaves a lot to be desired, and that is what we at GMI look to change. This manifests itself in implementation projects, in design projects, in global ethnography – it is only as valuable as the change you can see. As biomedical engineers, we look past the individual and see the group; rather than changing one person’s life, we create ways to affect millions.

Seeing past the educational value, this experience has given me substantial insight into my goals and interests, where I now aspire to bridge the gap between the customer needs set forth by the marketing team of a company and the realistic specifications that can be designed by an engineering team. Even further, I am interested in understanding the entrepreneurial side of medical devices, which will help influence my course selection as I begin my fall semester at Rice this upcoming week. In effect, through my experience in Costa Rica, I can now cater my education to my experience, rather than catering my experiences from my education.

As I close this chapter of the GMI program, there is so much left to learn. However, my time in Costa Rica has taught me so much, and I am truly grateful for the experience. In fact, as a short summary, here is ‘Chandler’s 4 short lists of 4’ that may help future cohorts (or anyone, really)…

Valuable internship skills…

  • Be confident – if you do the research, you become the expert. They tasked you with learning that knowledge because they didn’t know it previously.
  • Really define your SMART goals – they set the precedent for your work.
  • Always pursue more – 6 weeks is short, so make them count.
  • Extend your network – meet with other departments, learn what they do, see how it all fits.

Most important lessons when in a foreign country…

  • You are the foreigner, try your best to speak their language.
  • Embrace the food (rice and beans, beans and rice).
  • Understand and embrace the local customs and traditions.
  • It’s easy to compare anything to your own home, but the world is different, so see this as a whole new world.

Favorite places to visit…

Suggestions for future GMI cohorts…

  • Bring your own spices
  • Don’t go overboard with business casual clothing
  • Take advantage of every weekend, you won’t regret it
  • Always carry an umbrella with you

Pura Vida, mis amigos.

 

To read my weekly takes during my time in Costa Rica, press here.

Posted in Chandler | Leave a comment