New technologies such as 3D printing and sensor chips are changing the face of medicine. But the first group of Clinical Technology Bachelor’s students have proven that even simpler, familiar technologies such as operating lamps and stethoscopes can be improved, as shown in their graduation projects. These graduates want to use new technology to make life easier for both the medical specialists and the patients. The graduation ceremony for the first cohort of Clinical Technology Bachelor’s students will be taking place in Delft on Thursday 12 October.

Three years ago, TU Delft, Leiden University (LUMC) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (Erasmus MC) joined forces to offer medicine and technology courses as part of the joint Bachelor's degree programme in Clinical Technology. The initiative was driven by calls from the healthcare sector. Medical technology is playing an increasingly important role in hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and nursing homes. “And it’s also necessary thanks to an aging population, staff shortages and increasing healthcare costs”, says Arjo Loeve, Biomechanical Engineering lecturer and researcher at TU Delft and coordinator of the Clinical Technology graduation projects. “In the future, an operating room without a clinical technologist will be a rarity. These new medical professionals make sure that the technology is used in the best way possible.” The students’ graduation projects are perfect examples of this.

Wrist lamp

Despite the fact that operating theatres are fitted with special operating lights, surgeons still complain about a lack of light. Their own head and hands cast shadows on the areas they are working on.  “We came up with the idea of having a source of light coming from underneath the surgeon’s hands”, explains Tessa van Hartingsveldt, a brand-new Clinical Technology graduate.Thanks to the joint efforts of a group of students and the Reinier de Graaf hospital in Delft, this idea resulted in a prototype of the surgical wrist lamp; a series of LED lamps under the wrist.The first tests in the Research operating theatre have shown that the wrist lamp does in fact provide more light in the areas where it is really needed. 

Bridging role

“Clinical technologists really have to be talented all-rounders,” says Loeve. “You are essentially the bridge between technology and medicine. This means that you have to be interested in hard technologies, and have in-depth medical knowledge and be able to speak the doctor's language.” The graduation project brings all these elements together. One group of students studied sound technology to isolate background noise from a traditional stethoscope. "After a major accident or disaster, this noise can be deafening. Try listening for respiratory sounds in such conditions.”

3D-printed bone replicas

Other students studied producing bone replicas using the 3D printer. They tried to find out where shape deviations may occur during production, and to determine their size.They used scanning techniques, 3D printers, measurement techniques and statistics, and developed a test model to assess them.“If there are deviations these tend to be really very small, a few tenths of a millimetre, and they usually occur in the printer,” explains student Ysbrand Willink. “Of course oral surgeons can use such models to prepare for an operation, but they are not suitable for for forensic investigation. On a replica bone you no longer see the difference between a knife or a saw mark.The copies may be suitable for use as replacement bones”, adds another student from the group, Paul Roos. Thanks to this technique, mortal remains can perhaps be passed on to relatives while preserving material evidence.

'Everyday' problems

Clinical technologists also need to be able to communicate with patients, emphasizes Lex Linsen, Clinical Skills and Professional Conduct case-based coordinator at Erasmus MC.  Linsen designed and now coordinates the module From Empathy to Innovation, where students meet a chronically ill patient and try to think of ways they can help them. Linsen: “This isn’t about coming up with a revolutionary operating technique for paraplegics, but rather finding ways to help with everyday annoyances and problems. Innovating not because it's possible, but because it’s necessary.”

Pioneers

On Thursday 12 October, more than 40 Clinical Technology students will be awarded their Bachelor’s degree certificate.What was it like to be part of the very first group of students to complete the degree? Van Hartingsveldt: “Being the first group meant there weren’t any practice exams available. There were also some teething problems with scheduling since each university has its own timetable system. But there were also a lot of possibilities, precisely because we were the first ones. For example, we had the chance to observe open heart surgery. That was a really special experience.” Willink: “Everything is new for the lecturers as well.So they are really open to ideas and feedback. In that way, you help design your own degree programme.” Offering a programme in collaboration with two other universities also generates new, interesting contacts for lecturers, says Loeve. “I talk to doctors and researchers who I wouldn’t otherwise get to know. And that has already resulted in new collaborative research projects, both within the Medical Delta (the medical-technological consortium of Leiden University, TU Delft and Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Erasmus MC and the Leiden University Medical Centre) and outside.” Students carried out their graduation projects on behalf of the AMC, the Jeroen Bosch hospital, the Reinier de Graaf hospital, ambulance services and rehabilitation centres.

The research projects have received much praise, says Loeve. “Doctors are really surprised and impressed by what these students have managed to come up with and achieve in such a short period of time”

About Clinical Technology

The Bachelor’s degree programme in Clinical Technology trains  students to become a new kind of medical professional; an academic with both in-depth medical and technical knowledge, who can bridge the gap between technology and patients. The programme started in the academic year 2013-2014. There are 100 students per year group, all of whom were admitted via a selection procedure.TU Delft is the coordinating university for the programme,which is offered in collaboration with Leiden University (LUMC) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (Erasmus MC).The three institutions cooperate within the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus(LDE) strategic alliance.
In September, graduates of the Clinical Technology Bachelor’s programme started the new 3-year Master’s degree programme in Technical Medicine. Students on this MSc programme, which is taught in both Dutch and English, have the chance to take their medical and clinical technological knowledge to the next level.There are two specialisation tracks:Imaging & Intervention focuses on imaging techniques and Sensing & Stimulation focuses on tracking and monitoring patient health.

Clinical Technology graduates can also choose to do a Master's degree in one of the two core disciplines; Medicine or Biomedical Technology. If students wish to switch to Medicine, they are required to complete a one-year transfer programme. 

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