We were munching on dinner at my apartment, chatting about life in Cambridge, when one of my guests said, “Yeah, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a PhD around here.” The commenter—a professor at a large research institution—had made the remark only half-jokingly, but it infuriated me. I wasn’t naïve about my place in the hierarchy, but I was frustrated that my voice felt so often overlooked.
I wondered how many academic degrees I’d need to do the things I wanted to do–and make the impact I wanted to make. In the meantime, until I get the degrees, am I completely useless?
In the most realistic and inspiring commencement address I have ever heard in person, Dean Kamen, the renowned American entrepreneur best known for the Segway, memorably remarked to the Bates College graduating class of 2007:
“It’s unlikely that the people and ideas that got us to where we are, are either the people or ideas that are going to get us to a different place. It’s going to require new people with new ideas. And that… would be you.”
Talk about an exciting charge to the class.
After I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, I worked as an organic chemist in an industrial research and development lab for three fulfilling years. Admittedly, my company was awash in PhD scientists, but the company valued us non-PhD’s too. In particular, the product design and research and development departments adored us for our “fresh set of eyes” and the new perspective we held—those assets that are invaluable to bringing new ideas to the table and suggesting improvements for existing processes. No, I wasn’t a PhD and, no, I didn’t have a career’s worth of experiences under my belt, but I did have a fresh perspective and perhaps more than anything, I had a brain itching to be engaged and put to work.
In my corporate chemistry job, I was one of those “new people with new ideas” that Kamen was referring to. It was great! However, I knew that my longstanding interest and future aspirations lay in healthcare. So, I left my chemistry position to attend the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions (a graduate school of MGH offering programs in nursing and rehabilitative sciences), where I am currently a nursing student. Despite all the great educational opportunities afforded, including an openness to asking a zillion questions and be immersed in a world class hospital, I still felt a sense of being unfulfilled. Most recently, I elucidated the crux of my dissatisfaction with my current schooling—I personally learn so much more by thinking than I do by “studying” or “busyworking,” but in school we’re doing so little of the former. I miss having to really think. And I miss being called upon for my “fresh set of eyes.” I feel like an untapped resource.
I haven’t had those thoughts since I participated in the H^3 (How to Hack Healthcare) Undergraduate Hackathon last weekend that was hosted by MIT Hacking Medicine, the Harvard Innovation Lab, and MGH Medical Device Plug-and-Play Interoperability Program (MD PnP). Suffice to say, the hackathon process was incredible, and I am hooked on hacking.
There is a full account of the Hackathon, including my team’s winning pitch, here. In the photo and video, I may look like I’m asleep, but really that’s my excited face. Actually, it’s my exhilarated face. My team had just spent an intense two-day period working at the phenomenal MGH MD PnP lab and the Harvard Innovation Lab discussing pain points, brainstorming ideas and solutions, building a prototype and programming an Arduino (an open-source electronics prototyping platform), and eventually walking away with first prize from the judges.
All in all, a great weekend—but it wasn’t about winning. Another quote from Dean Kamen’s 2007 speech conveys what I consider the real value of this hackathon and the others I’ve read about:
“In a world that’s about ideas, it’s not a zero sum game; you don’t have to win by somebody else losing. In a world of ideas, you all create and share those ideas, and everybody has more ideas in the end.”
Thank you–MIT H@cking Medicine, the Harvard iLab, and MGH MD PnP–for bringing us undergraduates together to create and share ideas. By doing so, you’ve introduced us undergraduates to the world of innovation. Thank you for inviting us, for inspiring us, for mentoring us, for answering our questions, for fetching us scissors and supplies, and for giving us incredible access to the bright minds at the MGH Medical Device Plug-and-Play lab and Harvard Innovation Lab.
Thank you for sharing six meals with us, for snapping pictures of our process, pitches, and presentations, and for being with us through it all.
Most of all, thank you for not ignoring the potential of undergraduate students.
Hilary Ginsburg is a nursing student at the MGH Institute and has a degree in Chemistry from Bates College. Her interests outside of healthcare innovation include design, non-profit communications, and elaborate cooking projects.
Hilary Ginsburg is a proud future nurse, currently in school at the MGH Institute. She is aiming to become a nurse leader involved in health care as a clinician, thinker, innovator, and writer. Her clinical and research interests include palliative care, lifelong quality of life, interprofessional teamwork, and using innovation to optimize care delivery and the patient experience. One of her biggest pain points is the deficiency of nurse/doctor collaboration manifesting from the silo-ed growth of the medical and nursing fields. Her writing interests include innovation’s influence on the future of health care, giving voice to the patient experience, and capturing exemplary instances of clinical learning and patient care. She tweets as @Htotheinno
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