By John Luo & Jeffrey P. Guenette
Program at Brown inspires med students to see physicians not just as clinicians but as innovators, poising them to drive future improvements in care delivery.
Technologies in the field of medicine have grown exponentially in the past few decades. Stemmed by a growth in our knowledge of disease pathology, incentives from governmental granting agencies for translational research, and rapidly advancing technical and engineering capabilities, the role of the physician as innovator has never been more important. Physicians have played a significant role in the creation of a wide variety of medical tools from drug therapies to electronic health records. It is estimated that over 20% of all patented medical devices were invented by physicians. And, perhaps surprisingly, roughly 60% of physician-inventors are at private practices versus in academic settings, according to a Duke study.
Recognizing this often overlooked but crucial trend in medicine, the Medical Technology and Innovation (MTI) Program at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School was developed to help medical students observe the world of medicine through the lens of innovation. Innovation is often something that happens as an extracurricular event when individuals use their clinical observations and scientific knowledge to create novel solutions to pressing issues. The MTI program encourages medical students to explore unsolved clinical issues through projects that aid in envisioning and developing new technologies.
Participants in the program take a multi-disciplinary course outside of the traditional medical school curriculum. The course is taught by physicians, engineers and scientists, and emphasizes the process of translational (bedside to bench-side to bedside) research. This course is coupled with an active longitudinal project that spans medical school years 2 through 4 during which each student works with a physician-mentor to assist in the development or advancement of a technology whether it be a medical device, new drug target, or tool to help medical entrepreneurs.
One of the current student projects is "From Across the Table," a toolkit for the startup medical entrepreneur. The physician-entrepreneurs not based in academia, who are the majority of physician-entrepreneurs, greatly lack resources and support for pursuing new ideas. "From Across the Table" is a series of interviews from medical entrepreneurs and their support teams. Individuals who have contributed to this project include entrepreneurs in biotechnology, medical devices, and medical IT as well as investors, technology transfer offices, and law firms. The goal is to create a comprehensive source of information through which a physician-entrepreneur with an idea can get a sense of the steps required to take that idea from the drawing board to the clinic. Currently, the project collaborators are preparing to launch their website with an initial series of interviews covering the startup stages of an idea and finding financing.
Other current student projects are grounded in more traditional clinical and basic science research. One student is assessing the efficacy of various percutaneous, image-guided therapies in cancer treatment and how these therapies can be best applied as either an adjunct to or replacement for surgery. Another is developing a neural recording system to localize seizure foci in patients with medically refractory epilepsy. And another is developing an Internet application that interprets microarrays performed for genetic defects and provides result-specific recommendations for further testing and counseling.
Ultimately, the MTI program inspires medical students to see physicians as more than just clinicians. In the day-to-day life of a physician, it can be easy to get caught up in routines and feel like an assembly line, but it is physicians who can most easily see and understand system inefficiencies and treatment shortcomings. It is thus creative physicians who are best poised to drive future improvements in care delivery.
The MTI program is an exceptional opportunity and foundation for students who are interested in careers that include either translational technological research or medical entrepreneurism, both in the private sector and in academia. The program helps students develop the vocabulary required to initiate collaborations with the wide range of constituents involved in the medical technology field. Perhaps most importantly, the program encourages students to view the delivery of care through a critical lens, to look for shortcomings, and to develop creative solutions that will reduce patient morbidity and improve patient care.
John Luo is a fourth-year medical student at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School. He is currently involved in the Medical Technology and Innovation Scholarly Concentration and has a passion for entrepreneurship. Prior to attending medical school, John aided in founding a program at a venture capital fund allowing students to help launch new ventures in the medical field.
Jeffrey Guenette is also a fourth-year medical student pursuing a scholarly concentration in Medical Technology & Innovation at Brown University. Between graduating from Dartmouth College in 2003 and beginning medical school in 2009, he worked in the finance sector and sought creative outlets in film post-production and surgical videography. He is interested in the development of innovative, accessible, and cost-reducing diagnostic and treatment modalities.