An Engineer in a White Coat

A medical engineering student's lasting impressions of clinical medicine.

I am not a medical student. Yet I had the privilege of spending 5 weeks in the life of one at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA, as part of my Medical Engineering Ph.D. program. It was one of the most educational and eye-opening experiences of my career - a beautifully diverse introduction to clinical care and a world removed from my usual day to day as a scientist and engineer. I've come to think about these 5 weeks as a birds-eye view of a day in the clinic. Clinical medicine is an interplay between two parallel worlds that seldom overlap. In one universe, there are humans as potential patients, going about their lives. The investment banker, the professor, the retired grandparent, the great-grandparent, the recent immigrant. In another, there is the constant churning of different hospital units and departments, the emergency room (ER), wards, surgery, clinic, GI, all referring patients to receive some care from each other, be it interventional, diagnostic, or a brief consult. The interaction of these two worlds can be seamless, but more often than not is like a spinning wheel trying to get traction on solid ground - rocky at first and hopefully steady soon thereafter. By observing this interplay first hand I have come to realize a few different points...