When I was about 18, I applied for a scholarship with a leading engineering institution. I had already received my acceptance letter to study engineering at Cambridge but this seemed like a good opportunity to show that I was dedicated to engineering. To be honest, I didn’t do a great job in the interview. I committed the cardinal sin of not fully reading my personal statement just before the interview and looked a bit blank when I was questioned about specific parts. But, I still remember being asked why I wanted to work in medical engineering. I did know the answer to this. It was because I wanted to work in a field that helped people.
The response to this was, “Isn’t that a bit idealist?” I was no Greta Thunberg, so I probably just looked blank and that ended the interview. My feelings were piqued and on leaving, a response then formed in my head, “If I can’t be idealist when I’m 18, when can I?”. Needless to say, I didn’t get the scholarship.
I don’t know the intention behind the question the middle-aged white man posed to a young woman keen to start a career in engineering. Maybe he wanted me to show more fight and conviction in my choice of career, or maybe he had become disillusioned with his own work. I’ll never know, but I’m very glad that that comment didn’t deter me from working in the medical field. I have spent around 16 years working on products linked to healthcare. First as an engineer/designer and then as a human factors professional specialising in medical devices. And while I can get frustrated at red tape or feel that progress is slow, I am always glad that I have chosen to work in this field. I can’t claim to have made any major discoveries, but I do like to think that my input has been overall for good.
For example, since the pandemic started, Inspired Usability has provided input into guidance on usability testing of Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator Systems for Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, provided final human factors submission guidance for a novel device for cancer detection, worked on the human factors activities for new drug products that include a new cancer treatment and biosimilars for pediatric and adult patients and conducted human factors studies providing advice on 4 new drug delivery platforms that are not yet on the market with a range of benefits to end users (as well as adapting to working under Covid-19 restrictions).
On Sunday, I was reminded of the man in the interviews and his comment when I sat in the Yorkshire Showground Pavilion after receiving my first Covid-19 vaccine and waiting for 15 minutes to pass by before going home. I felt humbled by all the other people who had chosen to work in a field that can truly make a difference. I felt humbled by the fact that over 100,000 people had sat in that same waiting area before me. Because there are so many amazing feats of medicine, science, engineering, human factors, logistics and more that brought me to that waiting room. Of course, there were people who had the foresight to start planning on how to make a vaccine in record time when needed and the massive ramp-up in production and logistics but there was also all the work that went into the very running of the vaccination centres around the country.
My own customer journey was an amazing piece of human factors, from booking my slot on my phone based on my date-of-birth and postcode, driving up to the Showground with precision way marking, parking guided by expertly choreographed volunteers, hand sanitising, double identification and check-lists and finally the warm smile of a proud volunteer pointing out the golden balloons with the numbers 100,000.
I’m pretty sure that many who contributed to my place in that waiting area were there because at some point in their life they were a bit idealist and wanted to do some good. So maybe, next time when a young hopeful scientist/engineer/doctor or any other professional says they want to do some good, we could give them a great smile and feel comforted that our future will be in safe hands.