BME 230 integrated innovation, engineering, and global health by teaching us human-centered design and circuitry fundamentals with a global health context. Dr. Ramanujam and other members from the Center of Global Women’s Health Technologies team taught us human-centered design by walking us through the process of developing the Pocket Colposcope, an accessible and affordable cervical cancer screening device.
In addition, the class provided us the opportunity to apply the innovation and engineering principles we learned through a semester-long project of designing a light source for a low-resource setting, in collaboration with a community partner. My team worked with Dr. Catherine Staton, an Emergency Medicine physician at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania, to design a double-sided medical pen light for detecting traumatic brain injury.
Why BME 230
I wanted to dive deeper into my burgeoning interest in women’s global health issues, and since I was still unsure whether to stay in biomedical engineering or switch to global health at the time, BME 230 was the perfection intersection of the two. I also was drawn to the hands-on, real-world experience that this course provided–since my Design for America project the previous semester didn’t quite reach the prototyping stage, I was excited to go further in the human-centered design (HCD) process and to apply HCD to global health.
1. The human-centered design process is very iterative, if done correctly. After our first interview with Dr. Staton, we initially decided to integrate a light source onto a laryngoscope, a medical tool used to view the larynx that helps during intubation. However, we realized that the medical-grade, small-scale technology needed for a laryngoscope light was beyond the scope of the class, and had to ask Dr. Staton more questions on issues with the current laryngoscopes at the hospital. Thus, throughout the process, I realized that it’s crucial to continually seek feedback from your community partner who is the expert on the issue.
2. Not fearing failure produces better results. We encountered several obstacles while assembling the prototype. For example, the wires we initially used were too fragile, and frequently snapped during soldering, causing us to completely rebuild our circuit. However, troubleshooting and rebuilding led us to apply better, more careful practices to minimize chances of the device malfunctioning later.
3. A strong team dynamic is critical, and effective teamwork means understanding each other’s strengths. Our team members were comfortable stating their opinions, considering everyone’s ideas, and respecting other commitments, leading to a supportive work environment conducive to strong results. In addition, we understood and maximized each other’s strengths (two of us were engineers, while the other two were more skilled at written analysis/device casing design), which contributed to our productivity.
This is the double-sided medical pen light that we created for providers to assess patients in dimly lit rooms at the KCMC. One side (with the red button) provides bright, focused light for triggering pupil dilation, and the other side (with three LEDs) provides diffuse, background light crucial for visualizing an undilated pupil.