For my clinical immersion co-op experience, I worked as a research assistant in Dr. Margaret Wheatley’s Microencapsulation Lab at Drexel University and The Radiology Lab run by Dr. Flemming Foresberg and Dr. John Eisenbrey at Thomas Jefferson University (TJU). I spent my time between both labs completing different projects and shadowing different physicians and clinical trials. At Dr. Wheatley’s lab, I was working on creating oxygen encapsulated microbubbles intended for the delivery of oxygen to hypoxic tumors to increase their radio-sensitization to radiotherapy treatments. Dr. Eisenbrey was also part of this project, thus I had the opportunity to fabricate and test the bubbles at both TJU and Drexel University. I began my co-op by learning the fabrication procedure, characterizing the size of the bubbles, and calculating the amount of bubbles delivered per dose. I was able to test my final product on an animal model, which was very interesting to experience. The imaging results were very promising, and with the support of all three of my mentors, I was able to analyze my data and submit it to the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine conference taking place in New York City. My work was recently accepted, and I was also nominated for the Young Investigator Award at the conference.
At TJU, I was part of approximately 7 different clinical trials that explored the different applications of ultrasound contrast agents. One specific clinical trial that I enjoyed was the characterization of the vasculature of breast cancer tumors and trying to use the vasculature to determine if the tumor was malignant or benign. I was part of a team acquiring the data, and I also got to experience analyzing the data with the engineering PhD student that was working on the project. This part of my job allowed me to experience the diversity of the workplace with patients, nurses, doctors, and engineers, all in the same room working on a certain unmet clinical need.
I also shadowed physicians in procedures to try and observe certain unmet needs in the operating room, whether it was patient care needs or surgical device needs. I was able to speak to doctors and nurses that expressed to me certain hardships that they experience due to the inefficiency of certain products. I shadowed mainly radiologists, and one of the doctors taught me how to read a basic ultrasound, as well as MRI images. Learning to read images was very interesting. I had not realized how different organs appear on an image and how difficult it is to realize what you are looking at in the image. The differences between diseased and healthy organs and tissues was something very interesting to look at, and being able to pick up on the differences was a great experience for me.
I was also exposed to FDA application processes, as my mentors at TJU asked me several times to help them organize papers for grants and for FDA application approvals. I had taken courses before that described these processes, but it was definitely very different to experience it first hand and understand the complications and level of detail involved.
Overall, I believe this co-op experience allowed me to truly envision how my work as a biomedical engineer will have a major effect on the lives of patients. We have always spoken about the importance of the job of a biomedical engineer, but being able to interact with patients who are truly grateful for some of the medical advances they had experienced allowed me appreciate my career choice even more. I was also able to experience how biomedical engineering products are applied in the workplace, which I believe is very important. I got to talk to the users and learn to understand what they want and how certain products can be improved to better suit their needs. The diversity in my work environment allowed me to better develop my communication skills and understand how to interact in an environment with people of diverse professions and thus different understandings on issues. The mentorship offered by all my coworkers at TJU and Drexel University was also very helpful, as I had the chance to speak to individuals in different professions about their personal experiences, which gave me a lot of insight into what my next career step should be.
The lab skills that I obtained from my co-op experience were great. I was originally very focused on getting wet lab experience, and my mentors always tailored my experience to try and allow me to get as much lab experience as possible. My job also exposed me to abstract writing and helped better develop my presentation skills, which are very important to develop at an early stage, as they are crucial for success in my biomedical engineering career. Overall, I am sure I could not have had a better co-op experience. I truly appreciated the many things I was exposed to over such a short period of time, and I would truly recommend all biomedical engineering students to apply for this type of co-op experience.