DegreeBiomedical Engineering ’19
“To increase surgeon access to simple, safe and sustainable laparoscopy.”
Our mission statement may be direct and succinct, but the true impact of what we are trying to do was not immediately clear to me. As a biomedical engineering major interested in surgery, joining Tamara Fitzgerald’s and Jenna Mueller’s Bass Connections project team was a no-brainer. I wanted to utilize the design and development skills I gained in the classroom and apply them to a practical setting. Though creating the technology at Duke alongside talented peers was valuable, I truly developed as an individual when we spent part of our summer at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala, Uganda.
I have had the good fortune of growing up in two relatively resource-rich areas: Carmel, Indiana and Durham, North Carolina. As part of our project team to develop and implement low-cost laparoscopic surgery in low- and middle-income countries, we visited patients and physicians in Kampala. After spending time in the operating rooms and interviewing surgeons, the disparity in resources was clearly negatively impacting the potential for effective care.
Surgeries were always full of skepticism; not of the surgeon’s skill but of whether there were enough supplies available in a single cardboard box to complete the procedure. Though my first morning in Uganda involved a family bringing their sick child to the hospital on a motorcycle, it was only a precursor to the other observations I would later make. Patients in Uganda did not even have means to reach the hospital for care, let alone be supported by the perpetually underfunded hospital.
Our trip provided a harsh dose of reality that the model and healthcare precedent I, personally, have grown up with in the United States is not universally applicable. I was aware that resources vary between global institutions but experiencing it first-hand and at this granular level was incomparable to reading from a textbook.
I exited the trip with a better understanding of gaps in healthcare and how I could translate observations into actionable practices. I had expected my trip to Uganda to develop me as an engineer; rather, I returned to the U.S. with a stronger desire to overcome avoidable medical disparities. This trip confirmed that there is a strong need for innovative technology that can increase safe, sustainable and affordable access to medicine around the world.
Inspired by the palpable sense of optimism from the physicians and first-hand recognition of the potential impact of increasing surgeon access to simple, safe and sustainable laparoscopy, our entire team is excited to continue developing our technology.