Alex Cruz is a doctoral student in biomedical engineering from New Jersey. He studies tissue engineering approaches to calcific aortic valve disease under the guidance of Jonathan Butcher at Cornell. Read more about Using tissue engineering approaches to better understand cardiovascular disease
Bayan Alturkestani: Spotlight on the BME M.Eng. Clinical Preceptorship
Hometown: Saudi Arabia
Preceptorship Advisor: Clinical preceptor at Guthrie with Dr. Burt Cagir
Area(s) of practice: General Surgery & Surgical Oncology, including:
- Colorectal Surgeries with Dr. Burt Cagir
- Neurosurgeries with Dr. Kim Rickert & Dr. Christopher Paramore
- Breast cancer Surgeries with Dr. Firdos Ziauddin
- Vascular Surgery with Dr. Lawrence Sampson
- Skin Cancer Surgery with Dr. David Bertsch
- Hand Surgery with Dr. Dana LaVanture
What brought you to Cornell?
I picked Cornell’s BME M.Eng. program specifically because I could acquire all skills I needed and achieve all my desired experiences intensively in one year. I like everything within the clinical environment—creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship—and I knew this was the academic environment that would best assist me in successfully transforming from a student to a professional in these areas.
This amazing program offers four career pathways—professional, medical, business, and graduate—for students to choose from that most aligns with their career goals. The opportunity to earn around 7-14 credits in STEM subjects made it easy to pick courses to improve my career-readiness skills, and the advisors encouraged us to pick courses from multiple STEM departments. I enrolled in the amazing courses "Preceptorship for Biomedical Engineers", "How Cancer Works for Engineers and Physicists", “Medical Device Regulatory Affairs for Biomedical Engineers” and more.
In addition, the BME M.Eng. program turns engineers into entrepreneurs through the biodesign process taught in the project design course. In the “clinical preceptorship for biomedical engineers” course, students learn essential health lessons and see the dynamics of a clinical environment first-hand.
Describe your preceptorship experience overall, including both research and extracurricular points.
My experience in the fall preceptorship course at Guthrie Hospital in Sayre, PA was incredible. I learned a lot through observations, note-taking, and discussions with the medical team. The experience has also opened doors to huge opportunities that I set for my future goals. I wanted to work towards becoming a clinical research and design engineer, and the preceptorship course allowed me to learn essential health lessons and to experience the dynamics of a clinical environment. I could observe various routine practices, see patient progress in the hospital, and build strong professional network connections.
This course also helped me improve my skills in the innovation fields where new ideas were being put into action with the aim of improving human health and healthcare, at all levels. This subject enabled me to be more innovative and make use of technological advancement in the field of medicine.
What was your area of focus and why is it important?
When I decided to take this course, my goal was to explore the dynamics of a clinical environment and observe the routine practice of not only clinicians but also nurses, circulators, medical device specialists, salesmen, and patients and their families to develop my creative thinking and improve on my engagement on daily visits.
I took the initiative to attend various surgeries and shadow surgeons from different specialties because I was focused on figuring out the unmet needs from different angles and aspects. Over the 55-plus surgical hours that I observed in the OR, I was directly involved in the following procedures: colorectal surgeries with Dr. Burt Cagir; neurosurgeries with Dr. Kim Rickert and Dr. Christopher Paramore; breast cancer surgeries with Dr. Firdos Ziauddin; vascular Surgery with Dr. Lawrence Sampson; Skin cancer surgery with Dr. David Bertsch, and finally hand surgery with Dr. Dana LaVanture.
I also had a chance to shadow a medical device technician at Guthrie and meet with one of the salesmen from Medtronic Company when I was shadowing both Dr. Kim Rickert and Dr. Christopher Paramore. I learned that these diverse conversations played an integral role in ensuring that the creative approach was used to solve various healthcare problems.
What did you like most about the preceptorship and why?
I had many enlightening experiences during the preceptorship. I liked having a chance to talk with and ask physicians about the unmet healthcare needs their patients face, as well as the problems they experience inside the operating room with old, new and limited or a lack of technology.
One of my favorite aspects of the preceptorship was learning the names of and the purpose of/for each new tool, device, material, and equipment during each procedure. The surgeons were so dedicated to their mentoring responsibility; they made time to discuss cases, answer questions while operating, and generous with trust in explaining sensitive information.
…the hardest/most challenging aspect?
The hardest aspect was driving two hours roundtrip, from Ithaca, New York to the Guthrie, Pennsylvania hospital in the snow. Most of the surgeries that I attended started at eight a.m., so to observe the process from A-Z you must arrive an hour prior. Because I was curious to learn all the pre-surgery details and observe everything during and post-surgery, I had to leave home at 6 a.m. many days. Each morning I told myself: if there is a will, there is a way. I attended more than 50 surgery hours during the fall semester.
What about the experience was as expected and what was unexpected?
I expected to learn the different requirements expected of professionals in the healthcare facility, such as the correct dress code, how to interact with patients, staff, and other people in the hospital environment. I learned this is vital in observing professionalism and ensuring that patients are served.
The most unexpected part of my preceptorship was having the opportunity to shadow different kinds of surgeries; I thought it would be difficult or impossible to do that and that I would only be allowed to shadow the surgeries that my preceptor was doing. However, Dr. Burt Cagir not only allowed me to be involved in different departments and surgeries, but he also shared wisdom, clinical advice, and support to explore the hospital environment.
Any advice has for future M.Eng. students based on your experience?
I believe biomedical engineers need to have a present and deep experience in medicine. The BME M.Eng. program at Cornell offers everything you want because you can find all the resources you need; but you should always be curious and ask when you need help!
Approaching the preceptorship environment with curiosity, creativity, and innovation will lead to a deeper exploration of your abilities, passion, and determination. You will be in a position to learn more about the clinical environment, how to interact with patients, health officers, and other team members in the healthcare facility. The experience will serve as strong base for careers developing and improving the healthcare system and in the medical field, improving the health of the sick and make society a better place to live.
Above all, don’t limit yourself to the course requirements and duties, but take advantage (with permission) of every opportunity you can. For example, even after finishing the preceptorship course, I continued to visit the hospital and shadow physicians, right up to the pandemic shutdown.
I have several favorite memories. First and foremost was attending a brain tumor surgery with Dr. Rickert. I saw the whole procedure from the time the patient arrived at the operating room, and Dr. Rickert allowed me to ask multiple questions, which she answered thoroughly and professionally.
I also had an inspiring and informative conservation with Dr. Rickert. After that meeting I felt that it is never too late to achieve my dreams. And it is true for anyone!
Another memory was shadowing a physician performing a percutaneous posterior pedicle screw fixation of the thoracic spine. A salesman from Medtronic was present at the surgery, with new materials and tools. He was cooperative and he explained to me every single tool and how navigation devices are used while the doctor performs the surgery.
Learning from and exploring all these kinds of new experiences were wonderful memories.
When surgeons are standing for 2-4 hours sometimes without having a break, they continued working without losing focus! The result is saving a life. I learned from them: “if you can't handle stress you will not manage success”. If I had a chance to repeat the OR experience, I would say yes because I learned how to manage my time and control stress, especially when the job required a lot of time and concentration.
Any advice from the experience that you carry forward into your work/life?
Your curiosity, creativity, and passion could lead you to the best place! Try to use it wisely!
What's next for you?
I am working as a clinical research fellow at Donald Guthrie Foundation, Sayre, PA, participating in one of the prospective clinical studies with the oncology department, involved with the data analysis and building a new protocol.
- "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Mahatma Gandhi
- "The best investment you can make, is an investment in yourself. The more you learn, the more you will earn." ~Warren Buffett