‘People expect more of you at Harvard’

| Michaela Nesvarova

Fourteen UT Technical Medicine students have trained at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston over the past three years. All of them under Dr. Rajiv Gupta, an Associate Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School and a Visiting Professor at the University of Twente.

It’s thanks to Gupta’s affiliation with the UT that the Twente students have been able to do their internships at the MGH, which is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. Gupta explains how the internships work: ‘Although the students can’t physically treat patients, they are able to shadow the physicians, and do everything a radiology resident would do in terms of reviewing images. Students are able to observe all procedures and give their input, in addition to doing independent research. Working with UT students has generally been a great experience. The students tend to be very motivated and they bring a unique mix of technical and medical knowledge.’

How are the students selected?

‘All Technical Medicine students go on several internships,’ answers Paul Van Katwijk, who is in charge of clinical internships of the study programme. ‘We want our students to feel at home in clinical surroundings. Once they have done an internship in the Netherlands, they are allowed to apply for one abroad. Boston has been quite popular. Essentially, it’s up to Rajiv Gupta to choose the interns.’

Clinical practice

Rick Bergmans and Maarten Poirot are two UT students who are currently on their internships at Massachusetts General Hospital. Both of them applied for it because of Gupta’s expertise on machine learning. ‘The topic really interested me and I thought that if I was going to work on it, it should be here,’ says Bergmans, who has been in Boston for the past six months, working on detection of stroke on CT scans.

What does a regular day of an intern at HMS look like? ‘We both work with machine learning, so we spend a lot of time programming and running experiments on computers,’ says Maarten Poirot. ‘However, there is also clinical work in the hospital. We follow the doctor, talk through the cases. This is very useful because it gives us a better insight into clinical practice. We can see where the benefits of our research would be. You first need to understand the problem before you can work on the solution.’

Very competitive

‘There are more possibilities, more data to work with and a lot of facilities,’ Bergmans lists the differences between his experiences working as an intern in the Netherlands and in the US. ‘But it’s also very competitive. Harvard professors really need to publish in the most renowned journals, so they want you to have useful output, to publish.’

'The culture here is quite different.' 

‘Yes, I was told that it would be good to have a publication ready by the end of my internship,’ adds Poirot. ‘But I was like: “I’m here for only ten weeks!” This wouldn’t be expected in the Netherlands. The culture here is quite different.’ This brings positive aspects, though, thinks Bergmans: ‘There is a lot more focus on scientific output. People expect more of you. But that also means they are more involved. They want you to succeed, so they give a lot of feedback and that accelerates your learning process.’

Technical Medicine students have the opportunity to do internships in many other hospitals abroad, including London or Strasburg. About one or two students are selected to go to Boston every semester and both the UT and Gupta on behalf of MGH expect this collaboration to continue.

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