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Medical Device Internship Inspires Pleatman

What do you get when you put 28 college students from across the nation into the same apartment complex in Cincinnati, Ohio? An amazing summer internship experience with a Johnson & Johnson company called Ethicon Endo-Surgery.

Alaina Pleatman, a member of Duke’s class of 2010 and a biomedical engineering major, is one of the students selected for the summer internship in Ethicon Endo-Surgery’s Research and Development Department.

Ethicon Endo-Surgery is a medical device company that focuses on creating products for minimally invasive endoscopic surgery, a modern alternative for traditional operations that are usually more traumatic and painful. Pleatman is working on several complex projects aimed at enhancing medical surgery practices.

In the first of two projects Pleatman is working on, she is part of a team that is working on developing a new device for minimally invasive surgery. By speaking to various surgeons and gathering information such as how different types of procedures can be improved, the team is analyzing the risks of entering this new market.

“The ultimate goal is for the new device is to help make operations faster with less bleeding to decrease the recovery time for the patient,” she said. Pleatman has been helping to develop a piece of equipment that will be used to test the device presently used by surgeons against the new one that is in the works.

Her second, more hands-on project has her helping with is the design of a blade for an electrosurgical device used for cutting and coagulating blood vessels. This is where her engineering background comes into play. To test the functionality of the blade, she drew free body diagrams to analyze the stresses that it will see and also developed prototypes using CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software.

This sounds like a serious, complex job for a mere college student, but Pleatman assures that her educational skills have been put to good use. “Duke prepared me well. Since I’m majoring in biomedical engineering, I have taken a lot of classes that allow me to apply class knowledge to my work here.”

Her bio focus has paid off as well, Pleatman explains. “Since I work mostly with mechanical engineers here, as a BME major I’ve been able to help with the biological aspect of the job that the mechanical engineers don’t know, such as tissue identification and composition,” she said.

The internship has exposed her to many facets of the medical device market. She better understand that in order to pursue an engineering career with a company such as Ethicon, she needs to develop a good foundation in mechanical engineering design principles. This is something she is more open to after her experience as an intern.

She has also been inspired to explore the marketing side of the company. Seeing what the marketing people has been interesting, and Pleatman is now entertaining the thought of getting an MBA, although her future plans aren’t set just yet. She has plans to interview in the fall for an engineering position at a medical device company, is considering Pratt’s 4+1 program to obtain her masters. She is also considering healthcare consulting as well as graduate school.

Pleatman is a native of West Bloomfield, MI and the president of the Society of Women Engineers here at Duke.