"Low-Cost, High-fidelity 3D Printed Task Trainers" – Finding the right support for an idea

Krishan Nandapalan

Krishan is a 4th year medical student at Newcastle University with a keen interest in acute medicine and the use of technology in healthcare, especially 3D printing. In his spare time, he likes playing games of all kinds and doing DIY projects. Krishan was awarded the ASME EDC Education Innovation Award 2020 for his work around 3D printing task trainers.

Over the past year, I've been designing and 3D printing task trainers: models that healthcare professionals use to practise clinical procedures, like venipuncture arms. This started as what I'd call a 'project' borne out of my free time but grew into a venture that includes winning the ASME EDC Education Innovation Award 2020, preparing to publish research, and starting a business. Starting and progressing this project wasn’t always easy and I received considerable support from others along the way so I want to talk about the impact they had on the development of my project, and hopefully give some advice to others in a similar position.

Finding the right support is key; without it, turning your hard work into a tangible benefit is exponentially harder and time-consuming. Educational departments and medical societies are a great place to start because chances are even if they can’t help directly, they can put you in contact with people that might be able to. My first piece of advice would be to swallow your pride and cast your net wide. Get used to no replies and slow replies and try not to get disheartened with lacklustre responses. Use what’s available to get closer to finding the people that are just as enthusiastic and responsive as you need them to be.

My entire interest in 3D printing traces back to a session run by the Newcastle branch of M3dicube: a medical society that focuses on the application of 3D printing in healthcare. After attending the session, Chris Kui, one of the committee members, asked me if I was interested in doing a 3D-printing related project. Initially, I said no because of how challenging I found the session. Evidently, I came round on the idea and had a chat with Chris about some of the potential ideas I could pursue. Chris put me in contact with another student, Harry Carr, and they both continue to support me to this day.

As well as a project idea, you need an application for it. For me, this was finding someone that could help me implement the use of 3D printed task trainers. Both my student selected component (SSC) supervisor and Chris helped me cast my net by putting me in contact with many consultants that would potentially be interested. Several responded that I diligently chased up, but only one consultant (Dr Lowes) continued to reply. However, this was all I needed and having him on board allowed me to progress with the project.

Now that I had an idea and application for it, I was ready to go. Unfortunately, around March COVID happened which swiftly pre-empted the end of our 3rd year and with it, my SSC. Despite that, in August I was able to have my task trainers used for the first time in a teaching session in Gateshead, thanks to Dr Lowes and another consultant he put me in contact with, Dr Kalluri. For the first time, my project had been validated: all of the work I’d put in over those months had culminated into a session where I was able to meet the people on the other end of the emails and get some written feedback on my project: a tangible benefit.

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Figure 1: Multiple versions of the cricothyroidotomy task trainers, which were used in ICU teaching sessions

Following on from this I needed access to ultrasound to test my next idea but COVID struck again and ruined the plans I’d made with Dr Lowes and Dr Kalluri. This time I emailed someone in my undergraduate department, who gave me three more email addresses, one of which was an ITU matron who agreed to let me use an ultrasound machine. When I arrived on the ward, she introduced herself, took me to the machine, set it up for me, realised I didn’t know how to use it, and then brought over Dr Sadler to help, who had been working on the ward. Dr Sadler actually recognised me from the teaching session in Gateshead and spent some time helping me test the task trainers. At a later date, he again found me an ultrasound machine and helped me test another prototype, and had actually wanted to get involved in teaching, which I was very amenable to.

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Figure 2 and 3: Transverse and longitudinal ultrasound images of the task trainers, achieved with help from Dr. Sadler

Everyone recommended me to get as much benefit from my project as possible so I applied for the Education Innovation Award. I’ll freely admit that I was unsure of their intentions: I’d gone from waiting for two weeks for a reply to having people go out of their way to set up teaching sessions or meetings at my request, but what did they want in return? Turns out, nothing. They were all just genuinely nice people that wanted to support my progress as much as they reasonably could.

So my second, and final piece of advice is to find these people and be these people. They have helped me make progress in ways I never thought possible and my success would have been far more limited if it weren’t for them.

Thank you,

Krishan
https://www.linkedin.com/in/krishan-nandapalan-711612202

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