Diversity by Doing Healthtech (DxD) has wrapped up the highly successful inaugural year of its groundbreaking program, Pathways in Health Technology, which was well-received by the first cohort. The immersive eight-week course for community college students, supported by Stanford Biodesign, Fogarty Innovation and five local medical device companies, was designed to help increase diversity in the medtech field. Of the 26 participants from 10 Bay Area community colleges, 85% were women, with 45% from groups that have been historically underrepresented in science and technology.
Gaining experience solving real-world problems
One of the most popular aspects of the program was the tech showcase, where the five participating companies had the opportunity to introduce their technologies and explain the competitive advantages and benefits to patients. “The students were avid participants, asking lots of questions about the development process to gain a deeper perspective of how technologies are created,” said Claudine Joseph, DxD program manager.
This insight helped inspire them for their final exercise, where students worked in small groups on a clinical project in partnership with a healthtech company, then presented their novel ideas. The cohort observed that the brainstorming process gave a fascinating glimpse into how collaboration leads to fresh approaches. “We found that working with a team that has diverse backgrounds helps you discover ideas you wouldn’t have thought of on your own,” said Athena Tran. “For example, some of our members put a social media spin on the problem, while others had a stronger medical or biology background and shared ideas pertaining to that.”
This hands-on activity also helped the students connect what they’re learning in science classes to real-world problems and demonstrated why it’s critical to always keep the patient at the center of the solution. “What really makes someone a scientist is when they can identify a problem, then work to solve it to improve life for those around us,” said David Smythe. “Our group put ourselves in the patients’ shoes to get a feel for what they deal with on a daily basis, which helped encourage us to find creative solutions. Even when patients are dealing with a ‘benign’ condition that isn’t life-threatening, it still affects their quality of life, and tapping into this empathy really helped us be more passionate about the cause and how we can help.”
Discovering the power of soft skills
In addition to introducing the students to potential careers, the program highlighted other skills necessary for success in the medtech industry. One of the big takeaways was learning effective networking. “The students were eager to build their skills sets as well as gain the tools needed to advance their education and eventually, their career,” said Ingrid Ellerbe, DxD executive director. “We were all really impressed with their confidence in reaching out to the mentors and partners of the program as well as their progress in establishing their online presence.”
The students also participated in personal empowerment workshops, where leader Frederick Moore talked about how to handle criticism, ask the right questions, focus on strengths and pursue connections to propel them forward.
Involved mentors help inspire
One of the keys to the program’s success was the involvement from medtech companies that provided mentors and instructors and facilitated group projects. The program organizers are grateful to the five companies – Cala Health, Element Science, Imperative Care, Pulmonx and ReCor Medical – all of whom got on board because of their interest in promoting representation in healthcare.
Maria Artunduaga, founder and CEO of Respira Labs and a participant on the Pathway’s “The Value of Representation in HealthTech” panel, was delighted to see so many women and Latinx interested in opportunities in the field. “This initiative is going to change a lot of lives by giving them access to the right mentors and exposure to all things medtech,” she said.
“I’m rooting for the continued success of this program in bringing more underrepresented individuals into medtech careers and in working toward ensuring our industry can better reflect, represent and serve the health needs of our community,” added Zian Liu, senior regulatory affairs manager at Veranex and a co-panelist with Maria.
“The participating companies were very impressed by the students’ eagerness to learn and absorb as much as they could, marveling at how they maximized every minute of this opportunity,” said Ingrid.
The program organizers and leaders also included Paul Yock, MD; Susie Spielman and Juliana Perl from Stanford Biodesign; Tom Flores, R&D manager at Presidio Medical and a Biodesign Innovation Fellowship alum; and Mike Regan from Fogarty Innovation.
A bright future for students and the program itself
The program accomplished the goal of inspiring students on their journey, with many saying it gave them insight to potential next steps for their education and career. While a number of them hope to go to medical school, they also were surprised at the breadth of opportunities in medicine and healthcare, which gave them new paths to consider.
Already, as a result of the program, several students are currently finalizing internship opportunities and pursuing programs affiliated with healthtech, including a medical research program at Stanford University.
A small group of students from the current cohort will also be selected to attend the upcoming MedTech Conference in Anaheim in October and the MedTech Vision conference hosted by MedTech Women this fall.
Given this year’s resounding success, DxD is already planning next year’s program. “One of the most rewarding aspects of working with this cohort has been that many students have already reached out to ask how they can get involved next year to support the program,” said Claudine. “Their gratitude and enthusiasm for this program reinforces why we must continue to advance the cause of diversity in healthcare by exposing more motivated scholars to these opportunities. Their willingness to go above and beyond to absorb all the content and give back to future students underscores the vital role the DxD Pathways program plays.”
Applications for next year’s Pathways program will open in the fall. Please stay tuned to the DxD website to find out more. In addition, DxD invites companies interested in participating next year to find out more by emailing Ingrid at firstname.lastname@example.org.