Intern Insights: Experiences in the Design Vault

A Reflection of MS1

In medical school, it is easy to lose the fire of creativity or the drive to dare. The sheer amount of material that needs to be transferred from textbook to brain to exam is all-consuming. And often, a lecture-based format leaves little room for academic freedom and time outside of studying. Your goals are dictated by the specter of exams and burn-out comes to stare you in the face more often than you would like. While it paints a comical image now, I was flaming out spectacularly after every exam by the end of my first preclinical year. It is fair to say that I had lost my joy of learning.

One of my goals for this summer was to rediscover my enthusiasm for medicine. I knew that I wanted to be at the intersection of medicine and technology. I love new toys and I wanted to be a part of development of these tools. When I heard about the Summer Design Program at Jeff, I was intrigued by the philosophy that formed the foundation of its curriculum. It was an environment built to foster self-directed projects and team-based problem solving—two ideas that I have not even thought about since I graduated college. Most importantly, failure was seen as a part of the problem-solving process and not a result. I saw the design lab as an opportunity to learn how to marry innovation and design to clinical medicine.

 

Make Medicine Cool Again: Disruptive Innovation in the Delivery of Healthcare

3D printing a mandible

3D printing a mandible

Disruptive innovation has long enveloped the world of technology and business. Incubators are constantly looking for the next app to change the world; college grads are snatched off the streets by Facebook and Apple to develop the next big thing. This philosophy, borne out of Silicon Valley, has been a powerful driving force of change that has shaken major industries and institutions.

When I first joined the Summer Design Program at Jefferson, I did not expect to be this quickly involved in the disruptive innovation of healthcare. I worked primarily on a 3D printing project in collaboration with the otorhinolaryngology department at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. We were particularly interested in a procedure performed during mandibular reconstruction that was time-consuming. Using 3D printed models of patient mandibles, we were able to speed up the procedure while maintaining clinical outcomes. It was surreal to hear that our models were being used to replace the traditional methods that a surgeon would follow during the operation. At this point, I realized that we could fundamentally change how this surgery is performed at our institution in the future.

 

What I’ve Learned

The two months of this intensive research program have been a time of growth and reflection. Here, I’ll try to list some of the things that I feel have been most helpful to me:

1)      Embrace being uncomfortable: There is never enough time to have enough training or background before you do something. At some point, you will have to just jump into the deep end and learn to swim on the fly. Often times, this is when you learn the most and have a more fulfilling experience.

2)      Talk to people: This is obvious but something I always forget. The people around you are a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from. Make connections and make friends! You will be surprised with what you may learn.

3)      You know yourself the best: Med school is an echoing chamber where everyone knows everyone and everyone is essentially trying to achieve the same thing. What others are doing may not be for you! Trust in yourself and you will be fine.

4)      Have fun! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In writing these out, they seem too obvious in retrospect. But, they are all things that I lost along the way of finishing my first year of medical school. I guess, sometimes, the most self-evident things are the easiest to forget.

image_uploaded_from_ios_1024.jpg

Looking Ahead

Right now, I’m probably feeling what the majority of my classmates are feeling as the second year of medical school approaches — excited but slightly terrified. Hopefully, I can continue with the work that I started this summer with the design program. At the very least, it will provide balance to the academia that awaits.

 

-- Denis Huang