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Biomedical Engineering Revealed with The BME Life

On this week’s Fireside Chat with the Xperts, host Megan Bergsma welcomes Meri Martinez of The BME Life for a conversation about biomedical engineering, medical device manufacturing, and STEM education.  Meri brings a really fresh perspective to the field of medical device manufacturing by sharing her experience as a student, an intern, and now as a biomedical engineering professional.

We were fortunate to discover The BME Life, Ms. Martinez collection of educational videos on YouTube.  There she shares a peek under the hood of what it’s like to be a biomed student, and shares about her professional journey as she embarks on her engineering career.  Our conversation with her delves into the continued importance of STEM education, as she emphasized the importance of seizing opportunities to explore STEM outside of the classroom.  We also seemingly just scratch the surface of the variety of opportunities in biomedical engineering, as well as medical device manufacturing more broadly.

Enjoy this great conversation, and keep a lookout for a Creative Electron appearance on BME Life.  Register for upcoming Fireside Chats with the Xperts and view our archives here.

 

 

Transcript:

Megan Bergsma:
Hi and welcome to another Fireside Chat with the Xperts. I am your host Megan Bergsma, the social media manager of Creative Electron and for today’s topic, are talking about all things, STEM Education and a little introduction to biomedical engineering. And we have a special guest who is very knowledgeable on BME. This is Meri Martinez. Thank you so much for joining us.

Meri Martinez:
Hello everyone.

Megan Bergsma:
Hello.

Meri Martinez:
No, thank you for having me.

Megan Bergsma:
So let’s just kick off the questions that I have for you. Talking about STEM, we hear a lot about STEM Education these days, do you have a STEM experience in your youth that stuck with you and how you got into your career?

Meri Martinez:
Honestly, I think that my main STEM experience really came from home. Both of my parents were doctors so growing up, I was always really exposed to the science and the medical fields and always really enjoyed hearing about their workdays and things like that. As far as school, I never really had any exposure to STEM opportunities or extracurricular activities growing up to be honest. The schools that I attended were pretty small and they did not have all these opportunities that are now here, that so many schools offer. And every time I talk to a high school student, sometimes even middle school, I’m amazed at how many STEM opportunities schools now have.

Meri Martinez:
But for me, not really. Growing up, I was not really exposed to any STEM extracurriculars, it was mostly just like my parent’s professional experience just… Specifically my dad is an OB-GYN, so I would just hear of all like the medical issues that his patients would go through and it just sparked an interest in me. And of course I always had personal interest in science and math. Initially, I thought I was going to go for math because I just loved it so much. But when I got to Calculus 2 I realized no, I like math, but I would like to apply to something else that’s more like science related. So that’s kind of what led me to engineering and then eventually biomedical engineering.

Megan Bergsma:
That’s a pretty interesting life that you were fortunate enough to be able to be exposed. I know that your dad was OBG, or is a OB-GYN and I looked on your YouTube that your mom’s a general doctor. So being able to get that exposure and now that there is a big push for STEM Education these days, how do you think that education from like when we are very little, how would you recommend people, girls, boys trying to get into science at a early age? How would you have done that differently with your education and opportunities for when you were going to school besides college?

Meri Martinez:
Yeah, I think I would definitely encourage any parents or young students who are even a little bit interested in science or STEM in general to search those opportunities outside of school because the classes that you take can only offer you so much. And this is true for college as well, same for high school and middle school. I think as a student, it’s really easy to just focus on your classes and don’t really think about the outside experience that you could get. But I think any experience that you are able to get outside of school is so, so important. And it just provides you with a rich knowledge of science, engineering, math, I feel like school teaches you the concepts but doing those extracurricular activities like robotics, any sort of lab experience or anything really, is always going to be more hands on and just really prove or make you exercise that knowledge that you learned in school.

Meri Martinez:
So I would definitely encourage… I know when the kid… If you’re a young kid, maybe you don’t really know exactly what you want to do when you grow up. But if the parents see that maybe their kids could have a future in STEM and they show interest in it, then I would definitely push for everyone who’s interested to just search for those opportunities outside of school, and that could be extracurricular activities, joining clubs, even watching YouTube videos or shows that are specific to science and STEM, I think is very, very important. Just like any exposure you get outside of school, I think is super important.

Megan Bergsma:
Yeah. To piggyback on that and like you know, our value as a company is curiosity and that really just come from just being able to like, “Oh, I’m curious of how to solve this in this angle.” It really stems from the fact that you’re starting at a early age, how do you encourage that curiosity and let that foster? I’ve seen friends with their kids getting subscription packages of how to build a robot, and that could later turn into somebody pursuing a career in robotics and just having that exploration at this very fundamental time going from that perspective into a career that could lead into engineering. So I think that speaks really true in this industry. And kind of moving on to my next question for you is, as an engineering student, what attracted you to biomechanical engineering and while on that topic, can you go ahead and define what biomechanical engineering’s all of about?

Meri Martinez:
Yes. So my degree is actually biomedical engineering, no worries, but so just like a Google definition, like biomedical engineering is just using biology, physiology, medical principles in engineering to solve problems in medicine. So it can be, I think what comes to our head right away is medical devices, but you can also get into biotech as well, like vaccines, drugs, things like that. So anything related to the medical field but you’re using those engineering concepts. And I think as a younger student, when I was maybe in middle school, high school, whenever I would hear the term engineering, I would always think of a guy fixing a car. I would always think of a mechanic, and then I thought, “Oh, trains, cars, yeah engineering makes sense.” You know machines.

Meri Martinez:
So I was never really, I guess, too interested in that area. But as I started growing up and really learning about the different fields that there were out there, I started hearing from other college students that were taking mechanical engineering classes. And I was just very interested in them because I learned that it was about solving problems, which is what I originally liked from my math classes. I just really, really enjoyed the problem solving part. So it was about solving problems, designing, being creative, things like that. So that’s what really sparked my interest for engineering in general, and at the moment I was attending a university that only offered like the main engineering degrees, which are mechanical, civil, electrical. But then I randomly just heard about the term biomedical engineering. And I was like, “You know what? That sounds really interesting” because my favorite science class has always been in biology. I’ve always loved learning about the cells, the tissues in body and just like learning about how they all work together.

Meri Martinez:
Like we don’t even think about it but right now we’re processing Oxygen into Carbon diox… It’s so crazy how many things go on in our body and we don’t even realize it, we’re just so perfectly designed. So that’s what really sparked my interest for biology and just being able to combine them with engineering, I thought was a pretty cool concept. So I honestly pursued or started pursuing biomedical engineering, I always tell people, kind of blind. Like I just kind of went blindly into it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I just knew that it had some biology, some engineering and that sounded cool enough for me. So that’s why I pursued it, but looking back, I think it was an amazing decision. I loved my degree and the opportunities that it’s offered me so far.

Megan Bergsma:
Yeah. That sounds like a really win-win situation where you can meet all your needs and satisfy like that curiosity in the engineering aspect, and also being able to piggyback on the whole biology and improving human health, and that’s what I wrote down. I was doing a deep dive into your YouTube channel. So I think that’s a really cool story. Speaking of YouTube, we discovered your work on YouTube and tell us a little bit more about BME Life and what you’re trying to do with it, how it all like started? So if you want to do a deep dive on that.

Meri Martinez:
Yeah. So I was always really interested in YouTube like the concept of YouTube videos, watching videos, things like that. And I originally wanted to start doing tutorials just because before I actually chose engineering as my degree, I was thinking of math and specifically education, like I wanted to become a math teacher and I was just really interested in the concept of education, but then I kind of leaned more towards just going into engineering. And so when I started thinking about, “Oh, maybe I could do a YouTube channel where I taught tutorials and math courses or other engineering-related classes.” That’s initially what started my interest, and also the other co-founder of the channel is my now fiance. He is like a video producer, he has a huge background in video. So it just made sense for us to combine our powers and try to teach something on YouTube.

Meri Martinez:
And so originally, I honestly just did it for the fun. I think the first video we did was a tutorial. So it just seemed fun to me to be able to teach. And then after that, I just started showing a little bit about my, I guess, my life as a student in biomedical engineering. And with that initial, me sharing the degree, I realized that there was a need for someone to share things about biomedical engineering in social media and just in the internet in general because if you look up things about biomedical engineering, you will find your Google definition, right? It’s just engineering with biology, medicine, all put together. But it’s really, like at the time, even I didn’t understand what was it really. I couldn’t grasp the idea of it just because it’s so interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and there’s so many things that you can do.

Meri Martinez:
It’s also a relatively new field, so I felt like it just needed more exposure. And also I just wanted to raise, I guess, awareness about the degree and just being able to prove or demonstrate all the amazing things that you can do with it, and that’s how we started sharing more videos about it. Mainly having guests who have done the biomedical engineering degree or related degrees, but are now kind of in the biotech or medical device industry, just to show that. At least in my university, it seemed like biomedical engineers were usually focused on research projects. You could find most people pursuing biomedical engineering, wanting to pursue a PhD to go into research, work in a lab. But then I started realizing that you could also go into the medical device industry, work in a company and office environment.

Meri Martinez:
So there’s just so many things that you can do. And there’s so much like flexibility and fluidity with the degree. I just really just wanted to share and as I was sharing, I think I found an audience that really needed help in understanding what it was, understanding what you could do with it. So yeah, I think that’s our purpose right now. Just to inform and encourage people to pursue this degree. And in the future, we just really hope to keep doing this. I think the channel will definitely kind of transition with me. Just because in the beginning it was more about sharing about my college experience and the classes that I took and study advice and things like that, but now that I’m transitioning into the professional industry, I would definitely want to incorporate more about the medical device industry, things like that and eventually branch out to all the other fields of biomedical engineering. So yeah, I think it’ll definitely grow, but we’ve had a really good community, I think with it.

Megan Bergsma:
Yeah. You definitely seem like you pass away into this unknown territory and we’re definitely looking forward to sharing information about X-ray inspection tools with your audience too, if you ever want a little plugin on that, and being able to help in that capacity. But going back to how this channel gets started, I think it’s a very impactful thing and it can shape and develop and I think that’s a really cool niche that you were able to showcase that. What percentage of people do you know if that’s stats or that fact about how many people are pursuing that particular degree? Whether it is bachelor’s or master’s or PhD, because I know that you can go into those at any degree level, but how many people actually pursue that specific field in engineer?

Meri Martinez:
That’s a great question. I don’t think I could give you specific statistics, but I can tell you from experience. For example, like my graduating class of biomedical engineering, bachelors was only like 36 people in total compared to like the mechanical engineering classes, there were hundreds of students. So it’s definitely a very small… It’s still an upcoming degree in my opinion. It’s still relatively small. So yeah, we could definitely see that which is like the size of our graduating class. And then when it comes to, should you pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, PhD? I would say that about half of my graduating class, most of us, oh wait, half, like with our bachelor’s we just came into the industry. And then the other half I would say is a mixture of, maybe from that other 50%, I would say like 75% of them pursued a PhD and then the rest pursued a master’s degree.

Meri Martinez:
So people always ask , “Do you need a master’s? Do you need a PhD with this degree? Are you okay with a bachelor’s?” It really depends on what you want. For example, if you think you want to pursue academia and be a professor working on research lab, then PhD is highly encouraged. But if you’re more thinking of the industry, like the medical device industry, I think a bachelor’s is definitely sufficient. But you could also do a master’s to just further your education and get more executive level kind of positions. I do encourage people to not jump into the master’s right away.

Meri Martinez:
Just from things that I heard from my peers or even my bosses throughout my professional experience, they always say like, “Yeah, it’s better to finish your bachelor’s, go into the industry and really see what you like in there. That way you’ll have a better idea of what you’d want to pursue as a master’s, if you are interested in pursuing a master’s.” So I would definitely encourage anyone who’s thinking of a master’s to first have some industry experience because I think it’s really important. You never know, like you might change into adding a little bit of business into your degree or maybe electrical engineering. There’s just so many options. It’s not like, “Oh, you did bachelor’s in BME then you need a master’s in BME.” You can combine so many good ingredients to just create a really nice profile.

Megan Bergsma:
And I think that’s a really great opportunity to not only have that engineering perspective, but if you want to be able to get into your bachelor or master’s in a different degree, it does go hand in hand and pursue a different avenue. You don’t have to stay in this engineering role, you can move up into like a manager role or being able to help develop more bigger ideas and being that game changer, so very insightful. I do have one last question before we part. Being in the BME sector, do you have any interesting, like being an eye witness with innovation specifically in medical devices or just being able to relate to that sector, specifically medical devices? What’s the scoop on that? What are other biomedical devices that are up and coming that are really helping humanity and human life?

Meri Martinez:
Yeah, I think that’s personally the best part of being a biomedical engineer, just being exposed to all these cool medical innovations. Personally, when I was still a student I was doing an internship with this medical device startup, which is also something I would highly recommend to students, to join a startup if they can. I think working at a startup is one of the best things you could do, just because it gives you exposure to different areas. But anyway, this startup was developing, not sure how much I could say, but I think in their website they say that it’s a negative pressure wound therapy device for orthopedic indications. So just for a little bit of background, like negative pressure is basically like a vacuum and it’s been used for wound healing for decades, I believe. And it’s just like applying that vacuum negative pressure to an open wound really stimulates the cell to activate and start the healing process.

Meri Martinez:
So that’s kind of like the science behind that. And so this company is kind of pioneering that technology and science but in other kinds of indications, specifically like orthopedic. So I definitely had that cool exposure to something innovative when I was still a student, now that I’ve graduated in and joined… So I’m currently working at a regulatory and quality consulting firm, so we do work with a lot of startup companies and that just means innovation everywhere, of course. I think the best part of my job currently is really just being able to work with so many cool medical device startups that have, I mean, you can work on things like sutures, like innovative sutures to like innovative AI technologies, that it’s just so diverse. I think it’s really cool to get all this experience and realize that medical device is more than an electrocardiogram or a pacemaker, which are all great medical inventions, but there’s just so much to it.

Meri Martinez:
Like especially now with software and telemedicine and being able to use devices from home, especially now with the pandemic, we’ve definitely seen some medical devices being created for COVID. So there’s too much innovation out there and I know in the pandemic, a lot of companies kind of slow down, a lot of people lost their jobs, things like that. But I can tell you from what I’ve seen in the medical device industry, I feel like at least in the regulatory affairs side, it was not stopped. If anything, I’ve seen more things being developed, more things coming out to try to help COVID, things like that. So I think it’s definitely an industry… A lot of students want something that’s safe and has a good job outlook, and I think anything in the medical device industry will always keep growing. And it’s just impossible to stop innovating in the medical field. So yeah, I think it’s just a great field.

Megan Bergsma:
And it’s a good business for us when medical devices are being innovated, we’re there to help out in quality testing, in assurance and all that and I think that’s a… Taking of basically, literally the epitome of when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Like you’re stuck in this situation, and that’s where like, okay, that curiosity, that being stuck in a bubble, being able to like, how do I get myself out of this situation? And that’s where like innovation starts. And this is like a whole opportunity to hone in on being able to introduce really innovative products that help humans, and being in a industry where we can also help make sure that these are quality devices.

Meri Martinez:
Right.

Megan Bergsma:
…And being able to really support, care and being able to really make an impact in somebody’s life. So very interesting stuff. You make me want to like question where I want to go into marketing, I should have gotten into engineering.

Meri Martinez:
Hey, well, there’s a lot of engineers that eventually go into marketing. A lot of these things go hand in hand and like it’s so crazy.

Megan Bergsma:
Yeah. I think there’s always is going to be opportunities to like be eh. If you have a really cool challenge or a really cool idea, like I always say, “Ah, remember me. I’m in marketing. I can help with branding.”

Meri Martinez:
Yes.

Megan Bergsma:
Well, thank you so much, Meri for joining in on this Fireside Chat.

Meri Martinez:
Of course.

Megan Bergsma:
If you ever need any X-ray demonstrations of anything in your field, lets us know. We are here and available and hopefully we can continue on this conversation and see what good works you do with your channel.

Meri Martinez:
Yeah. Thank you. It was awesome talking to you and sharing a little bit about biomedical engineering.

Megan Bergsma:
Yeah. All right. Well, have a good break and-

Meri Martinez:
Thank you.

Megan Bergsma:
… And I’ll catch you soon.

Meri Martinez:
Sounds good. Thank you. Bye.

Megan Bergsma:
Bye.

Meri Martinez:
Bye.

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