I Decided to Go into Tech to Change the Medical Industry

by January 22, 2017
filed under Life
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person-woman-desk-laptop (1)As told to Manal Sheikh

My name is Kowther Hassan and I’m currently a computer sciences student at the University of Calgary in Canada. I’m pursuing a career in computer science technology in healthcare and clinical interventions, coming from a unique psychology and linguistics background. Why did someone who was studying social science end up switching gears to computer science? Let me explain.

I did my degree in psychology and linguistics and thought I wanted to be an audiologist and speech pathologist. The only reason I did these degrees was because I thought the subjects were interesting and I wasn’t really thinking ahead. It wasn’t until I did some job shadowing for both audiology and speech pathology that I realized I didn’t want to do them at all. Afterwards, considered other options such as nursing or pharmacy and took courses in them. However, I realized I didn’t want a job where I was constantly interacting with people because that’s not where my strengths lie.

My friend was taking computer science after having graduated with a political science degree and being unable to get a job in her field. I took intro courses to both computer science and business and found myself getting attached to the former. I couldn’t stand the idea of being in an office doing some job, selling some product I don’t care about. The main thing that drew me towards computer science was that it’s technical, such as learning how computers work and programming.

I also wanted to do something where I could take my psychology background and use some of that knowledge. Computer science is so broad that you can go into any field with it – not just work for a company like Google. Right now I’m narrowing in on the medical field, planning to use my experience there. I still want to help people – just not in a front-line kind of way. Instead, I’m planning to produce software or programs to help with the further understanding between computer science and medicine.

Let me start by saying that when I went into tech, I hadn’t taken math in years. I thought I would suck at it – but when I started to work harder at it, I found it doable. I’m not a creative person in the traditional sense – I can’t draw or paint or play an instrument – and I didn’t like math, but it’s a different way to be creative. You can build something that people will use, and that’s amazing.

While programming is a boy’s club, it’s not as intimidating as I initially thought. It’s challenging, but fun at the same time. Recently I read an article that mapped out the confidence level of a programmer. In your first year, your confidence is at an all time high – but when you realize you have to make your own program, your confidence plummets. In my research, I’m making software that people will actually use, and I have no previous experience doing it. I have to consider how to structure the code, how to design the graphical user interface – and everything in between.

Completing these tasks will help me get into medical development and research. Anything to do with software – and all technology, really – is very important in medicine. For example, all the data inputted when you go see your family doctor, and all the high-tech equipment used in the operating room for surgeries – it’s becoming even more advanced. I recently went to a conference called Medicine Meets Virtual Reality about how to use augmented and virtual reality to advance technology, and the funny thing I found out is that the virtual reality technology they’re re-purposing for medical technology (like kinect) came from the gaming industry. They wouldn’t have it without gamers!

At school I ‘m doing some exciting things. I recently finished the introductory computer science courses, and now I’m getting into the theory – so I’m doing an algorithm course as well as a computer machinery course. I work in a surgical simulation lab that uses haptic feedback technology to simulate touch. It basically recreates the sense of touch so that you can feel vibrations and such. It’s used to completely simulate surgery. This is for preoperative rehearsals and training. Right now surgeons are relying on medical images (which are 2-D) where they’re supposed to put it all together mentally. With the advancement of tech, they can actually see it in 3-D and practice it on patients’ specific measurements!

The traditional methods of training in the medical industry are using cadavers, textbooks and observing a licensed surgeon. This way, trainees can practice any surgery as many times as they want. Plus it’s cheaper because cadavers are very expensive and also obviously limited. What I’m doing at school is making a software program to create the anatomical models that are used for surgery. The first step is taking the medical images and creating a 3-D model from those images.

Shifting gears from social science to computer science has been challenging, also but incredibly rewarding. If you’re interested in going into a similar field, try an intro course first and see how you feel about it. You can even do an online course. And find a mentor. Even before I took my first computer science class, I looked up all medical computer science researchers and emailed one that I wanted to connect with. He let me volunteer without any experience! You can get a lot of good advice from people if you just ask. You never know what will happen if you put the possibility out there.

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Published in the Winter 2017 issue. Read the rest of the issue for FREE here.


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