Monday, February 27, 2012

BE: Up close and personal!

As Bioengineering students in Penn Engineering, Chloe and Logan , were excited at the opportunity to take BE 400: Clinical Preceptorship in Bioengineering. The course is directed by Dr. David Eckmann, Horatio C. Wood Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care and Professor of Bioengineering.  The course is three pronged, integrating a 10-week hands-on preceptorship, bioengineering seminars, and exposés on specific bioengineering fields. Students are matched with preceptors within their field of interest and complete a bioengineering project throughout the semester with their mentor. Here they discuss our ongoing preceptorship so you can get a glimpse of this unique opportunity!

In my BE 400 preceptorship, I am shadowing Dr. Caroline Garzotto, surgeon in orthopedics and soft tissue, at the Ryan Veterinary Medical Center. During clinical hours, I accompany Dr. Garzotto to her consultations and rehabilitation therapies. Dr. Garzotto works with patients that exhibit Osteochondrosis (when cartilage turns to bone), broken limb bones, torn ALCs, and spinal disorders that cause permanent or semi-permanent paralysis. Many of the reparative surgery techniques are similar to those used in humans. I have had the opportunity to learn about different surgery procedures including tibial-plateau leveling osteotomy, tibial tuberosity advancement, and lateral sutures. During the semester, I will be working on constructing a support device for tetraplegic and tetrapharetic cats and dogs. The device will be able to support paralyzed animals while they complete rehabilitation exercises.

The preceptor I will be working with this semester is Dr. Samantha Pfeifer, who specializes in Infertility and Reproductive Endocrinology. For the first half of the semester, my partner and I will be shadowing Dr. Pfeifer in her surgical procedures in order to become familiar with the engineering technologies utilized in her field. While it has only been a week since we first met her, my partner and I have already observed a hysterectomy, both performed laparoscopically as well as via laparotomy, and a labiaplasty. It was most interesting to see the difference between the two hysterectomy surgeries in both the technique as well as the patient outcome. Whereas the laparotomy was more invasive and left a larger scar, the laparoscopic surgery was minimally invasive and used robotics and imaging software to remove the patient’s uterus. Personally, I enjoyed watching the laparotomy because I was able to see how the surgeons cut through the fat and muscle to reach the uterus and then manually remove the organ while being sure to not damage the ureters or any vessels that could result in significant bleeding. By sitting in on these surgeries, my partner and I have been able to see firsthand the impact of these engineering technologies on the advancement of surgical techniques in obstetrics and gynecology.  
In order to improve patient care and surgical efficiency, classes like BE 400 are crucial in educating students of the significance and power in fusing engineering principles with medicine. By simply observing surgeries, I have become inspired to utilize my engineering skills to develop innovative solutions to many of the problems that exist within the healthcare space. Not only will this course allow me to become aware of the unmet needs in medicine, but it will also provide me with the opportunity to collaborate with a physician in order to develop a new device or technology that will in some way made a difference in medicine.

Questions about BE? Contact Chloe and Logan at

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