I think my fellow fellows would agree when I say it's not an exaggeration that I've probably learned and grown more in the past year than in 20-some years of existence combined. In addition to learning about stroke and other content matter, we have also filled our once uninhabited toolboxes with concrete skills and broader understandings about everything from how to design for better patient experience, to how startups fit into health insurance models, to how rapid prototyping can make for better technology. We've also gathered little gems of knowledge like how to network at a conference with 1,000+ people, how to bridge skills within an interdisciplinary team, and how to properly eat your way through a city. I imagine that, as the four of us chase down our individual dreams, we'll constantly be pulling from that toolbox of things we've learned during our HFA journey.
But just as tools are used to build, they are also used to disassemble. One of the coolest tools of the fellowship was the "unlearning" of things.
As I write this blog, I'm sitting in the library at medical school reminiscing about the not-so-distant past when I would spend my days at 1776 or between patient rooms at MedStar Washington Hospital Center or MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. Only a few weeks into my first year as a medical student, I can tell you that there is no shortage of structure in medicine. My Google calendar has the next 4 years of classes and exams already booked—set guidelines as to how I’ll go about learning medicine and practicing it. The pace at which medical school moves only compounds this rigidity and doesn't leave much time for ideation or space for implementation; we see a reflection of this throughout our healthcare system at large.
These last few weeks have made me exceptionally grateful for my time as an HFA fellow and the ways in which I "unlearned" certain paradigms or traditional ways of thinking—replacing them with frameworks that give way to opportunity and possibility instead.
One of the biggest things I "unlearned" was that medical device innovation doesn't have to be hard. A lot of times, medical innovation is limited to proof-of-concept research studies or stops at different regulatory hurdles for devices. This past year, I learned, with the structure and curriculum of HFA and the support of our health and entrepreneurship mentors, that something like KnightCap can go from a "cool idea" to an actual evidence-based device that is now undergoing partnership and tech transfer conversations. In that same vein, I also unlearned what I thought innovation looks like. Through my co-fellows’ work on Galva, I’ve really come to appreciate the ingenuity behind service-based innovations in health care.
I also "unlearned" that I don't have to be limited by my job title or education. I started this fellowship with a background in biomedical engineering and public health. I did neither of those things while working on KnightCap. While I definitely tapped into those knowledge bases, I found greater interest and need on the team for my skills in design and research. I'm grateful to have discovered and honed those skills, as well as avoided limiting myself by my "title" or previous experience!
Through that, I also "unlearned" some of my timidity when it comes to authority. I’ve observed that medicine can be hierarchical and that can position medical students as phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain. I previously never would have imagined having anything insightful to talk about with, say, the chief medical officer of a major rehabilitation hospital, but I came to thoroughly enjoy our mentor meetings with Drs. Yochelson, Hsia, and others. Often, I found that sometimes my “inexperience” led me beyond the “outside-the-box” thinking, as I had no notion of a box in the first place. Through this unlearning, I feel more empowered to ask questions and talk about ideas, even throughout my upcoming years of training.
So thank you to HFA, to the MedStar Institute for Innovation team, and to all of our mentors and supporters who have helped us along the way! Thank you for providing me with tools to build and to disrupt and the blueprint upon which to create something meaningful.
Read reflections from the rest of the 2016-17 fellows here. And join us in welcoming the 2017-18 fellows in just a few short weeks!