”So you’re not a doctor?” she said.
”I am a doctor.”
”But you can’t help me?”
”Well, if you give me a supercomputer and a swab from your mouth, I can probably help you in a decade from now. Like, *really* fix you. Personalized medicine! I model interactions of your heart proteins like planets of the cosmos.” I held my fists up and hoped they looked like non-bonded atoms. She looked unimpressed.
”You can handle a supercomputer?” she said with a hint of skepticism.
”Yeah!” I was excited. Maybe today was the day I’d get to rave about cell membranes, server halls and GPUs.
”But you can’t handle a stethoscope.”
If there could have been an embarrassing silence in the room, there would have been one. But there were machines bleeping and blooping and nurses running down the ward saving lives all the time. Silent is not the way things work around here.
”Ehrm.. No.” I lowered my atom hands into my lap. The patient looked at me, blinked and and resumed reading her novel.
After that, when patients asked me if I was a doctor, I began saying ‘No, I’m not a doctor!’ and smile reassuringly. Instead, I asked about them. Why they were there, if they had family, how they found the hospital premises, what was the highlight of their day? If they could change one thing, what would that be.
I am a doctor who can’t save your life, and an engineer who doesn’t build bridges
I did molecular biophysics for the past 15 years, first as a humble undergrad in Edinburgh, then as a humble PhD research student at Oxford. I did software engineering at Microsoft Research to cure cancer, and genetic engineering at MIT to kill bacteria. I know many things about how cells react to mechanical stimuli. It is very interesting. I can have long conversations about this. In fact, I can talk so much, that if one were to write it all down, it would fit into a 200-page thesis. I know this from experience.
But I’m useless with a stethoscope.
Total clinical immersion in Sweden
That’s why I was teamed up with a *real* doctor. I also got an industrial designer onboard, and lastly a physicist, to make terrible jokes with. Together, back in 2014-15, we were Clinical Innovation Fellows at one of the largest cardiac units in Sweden, located at Danderyd’s hospital. The doctors there are madly talented. In fact, just living nearby Stockholm perks up your heart attack survival stats significantly. They save lives all the time, dawn ‘til dusk. And then again when that beeper starts bleeping in the middle of the night, and the doctor is so tired she pulls her trousers on inside-out, she saves your life with her trousers inside-out.
It’s easy to want to help such doctors. My team and I analysed the ER patient flow for bottlenecks, helped patients find their way around the hospital, made returning patients see the same doctor, started a foundation for local heart research and created an app for easy in-house knowledge sharing. Like wikipedia for hospital staff.
My medtech company
And then we set ourselves the goal to help clinicians with the most common invasive procedure in health care – gaining intravenous access. In other words, drawing blood or injecting medicine. That is the space where I’ve been inventing, iterating and developing over the past two years. I have just handed in two patent applications after a draft marathon alongside my awesome patent attorney (who also happens to be a mom of two). Our innovative tourniquet is finally ready for launch.
Delivering medicine into your blood stream can be a life-or-death situation. By being tech lead in my company, I plan to one day be a real doctor. The type of doctor who saves lives.