From Iron Rings to stethoscopes: bridging the gap between engineering and medicine

Engineering is a mindset. It's about being a problem-solver, viewing the world through different perspectives, and innovating to find solutions that help others.

UBC Biomedical Engineering student Amarpreet Powar

Amarpreet Powar

I am graduating with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. I am a Wesbrook Scholar and an active member of the community, both on and off campus. Throughout my time at UBC, I’ve been a TA, participated in design teams, led projects in the Engineers Without Borders chapter at UBC, and completed research in a robotics and bioprocess engineering lab. Outside of school, I’ve volunteered at blood donation clinics, the Fraser Health Crisis Line, Kids Help Phone text line, and BC Children’s Hospital.  

I am excited to be starting medical school at UBC this August. Throughout my biomedical engineering degree, I worked on problems relevant to healthcare, and this increased my interest in medicine and the role of physicians. I feel that a doctor with a biomedical engineering background can diagnose and treat patients, but also go one step further and use their experience to develop new therapeutics and treatments to improve people’s lives.

Engineers Without Borders - UBC

Why did you choose to study Biomedical Engineering at UBC? 

In Grade 12, I spent a long time trying to decide what to study in university. I was always interested in the human body and medicine. At the same time, I really enjoyed math and physics classes, and liked the idea of developing something that could make an impact in people’s lives. When I learned that UBC had a biomedical engineering program, I realized it was the perfect combination of my skills and interests.

Fast forward 5 years, I am now graduating with a Biomedical Engineering degree, but this does not even begin to summarize all that I’ve learned and experienced at UBC over the years. I’ve had the opportunity to gain research and work experience in the Co-op program, work with a variety of people such as medical students and doctors, and be a part of innovative projects in the healthcare field. 

Biomedical Engineering

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

For me, the greatest feature of engineering at UBC is the sense of community that is built throughout your studies. Within your specific program, you and your peers take many of the same courses, so you spend a lot of time together and have the opportunity to build friendships. It is the people I’ve met in the biomedical engineering program who have made my time at UBC most memorable. From late nights spent working on projects to group study sessions, spending time with people you’ve known for years makes everything more enjoyable and manageable. I have made friendships that I know will last a lifetime.

My capstone project this year was especially memorable. Not only did I get to spend this project working with my friends, the project involved working with doctors and medical students to design an early detection device for femoral pseudoaneurysms. We were able to showcase our work during Design and Innovation Day, where we received an award for our project.

Amarpreet with her Capstone team: Andrea Gonzalez, Jessica Jung, Alisa Da Silva, and John Cookson
Amarpreet with her Capstone team: Andrea Gonzalez, Jessica Jung, Alisa Da Silva, and John Cookson

What advice would you give an incoming engineering student? 

My first piece of advice is to be confident and believe in yourself. I remember starting my first year of engineering and being worried that I wouldn’t do well or that I wouldn’t fit in. It’s easy to get stuck in your head and think that you’re not good enough, especially when entering a field where everyone is intelligent and innovative. It is important to remember that you deserve to be in the program and that you have something to offer. Through conversations with peers, I realized that even in the last year of our program, we found ourselves feeling inadequate at some point or another. Many of us experience imposter syndrome, but it is important to remember that those thoughts and feelings can be overcome.

My second piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. The workload in engineering is challenging. It can be frustrating when you don’t get the grade you want on a test or your prototype is not working the way you wanted. You have to remind yourself that no one is perfect. What matters most is how you pick yourself back up and move forward. 

How do you feel your degree has benefitted you compared to a different field of study? 

I know that biomedical engineering was the best field of study for me. My degree has equipped me with skills that I would not have learned in a traditional science program. For example, I learned engineering and technical skills such as coding, machine learning, CAD design, electronic circuit design, and more. I was also able to learn about the human body, stem cells, biochemistry, and therapeutic development. This combined knowledge is only offered in the biomedical engineering program. The versatile skill set I’ve gained in this program will prepare me for the future, as I have the engineering tools needed to problem-solve and innovate, as well as the knowledge needed to make a difference in healthcare.

What are your future plans to make a difference in our world? 

My experience in engineering has taught me to be creative when faced with challenges. I’d like to take this a step further and become a doctor, where I can work with patients to diagnose and develop treatment plans, and use my engineering background to identify gaps in healthcare to find solutions.

I think being a doctor is a lot like being an engineer. Doctors are, in a way, engineers of the body. In engineering, we have a problem that needs solving. The problems are often complex and systemic, and you need to innovate in order to find an appropriate solution. As a doctor, your patient has a problem that needs solving, and you need to be able to diagnose the patient and explore appropriate treatments. This involves having a strong knowledge base, collaborating with others, and being able to problem-solve and research. These are all skills I gained in the engineering program at UBC.

How did your studies in the Faculty of Applied Science prepare you for the future of work? 

As technology advances, we have to be prepared to adapt and use it to our advantage. The courses I’ve taken in my program have always emphasized the importance of keeping up to date with new advances in our field of study. Our classes are not just about the memorization of facts. Our courses have taught us how to conduct research, critically evaluate new information, and apply it in new ways. Knowledge is not stagnant, but ever-growing. Therefore, my degree has prepared me to be a life-long learner, and this means that I will be able to evolve with my field in the future.

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