No experience necessary - How IU School of Medicine and AIM are training future innovators
Adam Warrick Aug 23, 2020
The efficiency of modern medical practice pays tribute to a myriad of individual contributions which have enhanced our ability to understand the human condition and to cure what ails us. While many of these contributions have come in the form of expanded scientific understanding, many have come by way of improved tools at the physician's disposal. Two centuries ago, the French physician Laennec realized that there must be a superior means of auscultating the vital organs than placing an ear to the chest. He identified a barrier to patient care and overcame said obstacle through practical ingenuity and creativity. Having undergone many iterations since 1816, the stethoscope has immeasurably advanced the field of medicine and continues to save countless lives.
Like many who elect a career in medicine, I also considered a career in research. While I feel that active medical practice is better suited to my personality, I see the immense value in the development of new technologies and improving the standard of care on the front lines. I want to provide direct value to my patients and see immediate results, however, I also desire an impact on patient care more broadly. To this end, I have been on the hunt for new and exciting opportunities to make my mark on the future of healthcare. This hunt is what led me to become involved with the Advancing Innovations in Medicine student interest group (AIM).
My first meeting with AIM was a workshop centered on rapid prototyping and device development. Attendees were first placed in teams and cases were then assigned. My team was tasked with brainstorming a comprehensive system for elderly individuals which would autonomously seek support in the event of a fall. Team members posed wearables, motion sensor arrays, and even machine learning technologies as possible solutions. This initial stage of planning relied heavily on the creativity and problem-solving skills of the group as a whole. Through this process, I began to realize that anyone can be an inventor. A technical background may be helpful at times, but it is certainly not required to be a valuable member of the team.
Over the course of my education, I have had very little formal exposure to engineering and design. As a neuroscience student in Bloomington, Indiana, coding and electronics are not in my wheelhouse. I would not even know where to begin writing a python script and the thought of interpreting a circuit diagram makes my palms sweat. However, this lack of knowledge was not a barrier for involvement with AIM. I was able to jump right in with a group working on self-contained, rapidly deployable EKG for use in neonatal resuscitation. I learned many of the basics on the fly and rapidly applied new knowledge to the task at hand. At each meeting I found a collaborative learning environment; members are willing to both learn and teach as required to achieve a common outcome. We get our hands dirty.
As a future physician, I hope that I can identify problems in my clinical practice and implement lasting solutions. This will certainly involve forging relationships with new collaborators and learning skills which are not traditionally viewed as useful to medical practitioners. By choosing to pursue a career in healthcare, I have committed to a lifetime of learning. This commitment is not exclusive to clinical skills and knowledge of pathological processes. Rather, I think that a well-rounded breadth of inquiry will help me to find fulfillment and better serve my community.
Certainly, any physician who has been around the block a few times will tell you about how things have changed since they got their start. I recently read the account of a family practitioner claiming the only pharmaceuticals at his disposal were penicillin and morphine when he set up shop in the forties. While obviously a joke, there is no doubt that the past eighty years have transformed the state of healthcare through novel therapies and technological advancements. Playing an active part in this continued advancement is an obtainable goal and would be a highlight of a medical career.
Now in my second year with AIM, I have transitioned into the role of clinical liaison. My desire is to form new and strengthen existing partnerships with both researchers and clinicians as sources of professional input. As an organization of students, many of our members have only just begun their foray into clinical practice. We have not yet garnered the experience to fully appreciate the scope and severity of many clinical problems. Additionally, we hope to partner with clinicians who may have identified problems but have not yet begun to fully explore potential solutions. What our team lacks in clinical experience, we make up for in creativity and dedicated time to troubleshoot novel approaches.
In a recent meeting with an organizational mentor, he emphasized that anyone can be an inventor. You do not need a background in engineering, computer programming, or product development to invent something useful. In fact, this false notion may even work to discourage students and clinicians from pursuing clinical innovation. Through my involvement with AIM, I have seen what is possible when a group of like minded individuals applies their collective focus to a common goal. A creative spirit is all that is required to get started; the rest will come through collaborative problem solving and hands-on experience.
Acknowledgements: On behalf of Advancing Innovations in Medicine, I would like to thank the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Ruth Lilly Medical Library for providing both facilities and various forms of critical support to our student interest group.