Just as we delight in how ancient kung-fu masters took inspiration from movements of animals such as the praying mantis, the crane (panda?), I was amazed by how an Argentinean car mechanic was inspired from a tool used to pull wine corks out of a bottle to invent something entirely out of his field: a birth-aid device.
The news about Jorge Odón’s invention has been widely covered by many sources, including by the New York Times article and it is not my intention to replicate the story. What really draws my attention is how the convergence of two disciplines is able to improve things. Odon’s device is a tremendous breakthrough not only because of its ingenious inventiveness or because it will ease labor for many women and obstetricians, but because it also is a low-cost device that can be easily used in third world countries where women’s reproductive health is a great burden to mothers and children. Here’s a demonstration of how it works.
My biggest question comes from wondering how a car mechanic developed this idea and not a doctor? What prevents doctors from being able see beyond their industry for innovation? Why are doctors reluctant to adopt new technologies or solutions like other professionals in other industries or disciplines?
There is a joke that someone told me once and I think it illustrates this well:
A famous heart surgeon was waiting on a car shop for his Mercedes to get fixed, when suddenly the mechanic working on his car called him and asked him a provocative question: “Hey Doc, look at your car’s engine. I open it up, take valves out, fix them, put in new parts and when I finish this will work just like new. So how come you get the big money, when you and I are doing basically the same work?” The surgeon leaned towards his ear and whispered: ‘Try doing it with the engine on.”
Doctors are often reluctant to adopt new technologies because the risk is tremendous if they end up not working or even worse, backfiring. This fear is well supported. We’re dealing with human lives and cannot afford to have a new device malfunction, even if it is “oh so pretty!” If the car mechanic of our joke chose to use a new tool to change the valves, the worst that could happen is that the engine burns out and you have to replace it; no one died.
However, I still believe that med schools should foster this sort of innovation in their students. As more and more physicians or med students engage in innovative activities and are put to work with people from different fields, more and more important breakthroughs are going to happen. Moreover, if physicians are involved in this process, they will lose this inherited fear of the new and make new technologies safer and safer. Med school authorities have to acknowledge how the world is rapidly changing and they should be part of this change the entire way. They should accept applicants with diverse backgrounds, promote joint activities with other schools and departments in their university and encourage their graduates to pursue careers with innovative potential.
How do you think med schools should cultivate a creative spirit in their students?