Students Repair Medical Equipment in Developing Nations

Rather than relaxing on a beach, eight Duke students spent their summer vacations repairing medical equipment in some of the world’s poorest hospitals.

Pratt students Matthew Mian and Michael Mathis fixed two centrifuges at the Hospital España, Nicaragua. As each centrifuge had a range of mechanical problems, including blown fuses, broken power switches, and worn down motor brushes, the effort offered a great opportunity to put their engineering skills to work.

Seven engineering students and one nursing student joined 22 others from universities across the United States in the Duke-Engineering World Health Summer Institute. Eighteen of the students spent their time in Central America and twelve in Africa.

David Rodriguez and a hospital technician stand with a newly repaired infant incubator in Managua, Nicaragua. Rodriguez helped repair more than a dozen pieces of equipment during his stay, including centrifuges, cardiac monitors, infant warmers and more.

The students received a month of specialized training in medical equipment repair and studied their host countries’ language, either Swahili or Spanish. After an intense month of study, the participants moved to a new city and worked in a poor hospital for a month. During their month in the hospital they installed new equipment, trained the staff in the use and maintenance of the equipment they had, and fixed equipment in the hospitals.The Duke-EWH SI participants were incredibly productive. In only four weeks at a developing world hospital, they worked on more than 230 pieces of medical equipment, successfully repairing 169 of them. Had the disadvantaged hospitals been required to purchase this same equipment, it would have cost them more than $500,000.After their summer abroad, all the students in the program gathered in New York City to share their experiences. Catherine Williams (Duke Nursing, 2008) summarized the feelings of many when she said, “This was a life-changing experience.”The Pratt students in the Duke-EWH Summer Institute were Timothy Antonelli, a junior majoring in BME and EE; Mark Connell, a May BME graduate; Matthew Dekow, a 2005 BME graduate; Michael Mathis, who graduated last May with a BME major; Matthew Mian, a 2006 BME and math graduate; David Rodriguez, a 2006 BME and EE graduate; and Ryan Dobbertien, a 2005 BME graduate. Also with the Duke group was Catherine Williams, a member of Duke’s nursing class of 2008.

Article submitted by Robert Malkin, biomedical engineering professor of the practice and leader of Engineering World Health at Duke