Michelle Lightfoot graduated from the BME program in December of 2005. She’s every grandparent’s dream to brag about – an engineer and now a doctor too, but this wasn’t always her goal.
Entering Tech, Michelle never thought she would go to medical school. Her biomedical engineering degree would catapult her into graduate school and a career in research – or so she thought. After a year participating in the undergraduate research scholars program, a joint Emory-GT program, she realized that lab work simply was not for her.
Michelle’s Time at GT
Luckily, her principal investigator (PI) was also a surgeon, and she encouraged her to visit the operating room. Seeing how one suggestion changed her career trajectory, Michelle eagerly wanted to inform students, ”You are not tied to your first job after college. If where you are isn’t living up to your expectations, try something else. Don’t be limited by a fear of failure or the fear of getting boxed into one particular goal. Try as many new experiences as you can, both professionally and personally. Don’t let yourself make excuses like you’re ‘too busy’ or you’re ’afraid to try something new.’” Needless to say, her OR trip was a wonderful experience – apparently she would go to medical school after all.
Though Signal Processing is not a BME class, Michelle enjoyed the material and her professor. Her true joy at Tech, however, was her senior thesis and the practical, hands on work it entailed; she worked with a pediatric surgeon at Emory developing a surgical simulator.
Knowing everything she knows now, if she could go back and do Georgia Tech all over again, she would still be BME; it prepared her well for medical school. The BME program showed Michelle how the medical field applies to a wide variety of subjects. Even if she ended up loving lab work and never went to medical school, she would have been just as prepared and her skills just as applicable to a career in industry. The material helped her develop an incisive line of critical, logical thought. She learned to approach problems in a systematic manner, identifying inputs and outputs, in order to understand complex issues, a skill that aids her in her field and one that her peers sometimes struggle with.
Her Journey to Becoming a Doctor
After taking the MCAT and applying to medical schools, Michelle was accepted by and attended Vanderbilt. There, she spent two years in the classroom learning material and another two working in the hospital. She eventually decided to specialize in urology – a traditionally male dominated area – as it readily suited her engineering background. The conceptualization of the kidneys and urinary tract as a system of inputs and outputs drew on the thought process she forged as a BME. It helped that urology equipment – robots, lasers, scopes, and again, robots – was pretty fun to work with too.
After applying for residency, the match system paired Michelle with Loma Linda University. For the past six years, she has spent two days a week performing surgeries and the other three days performing outpatient procedures and checking on patients. In a few months, she will finish this program and return to Atlanta for a fellowship in pediatric urology at Emory.
And her best advice for students in the program now? “Keep an open mind. You may end up going into something you never thought you would. College is the best time to try as many things as you want in order to figure out what you like. I have friends who have gone to med school and into BME fields, as well friends who went into computer science, and one who even started her own photography studio.” Comforting words from just one of many successful students to leave the program – a BME degree can take you anywhere, as long as you love what you’re doing.
Thanks to Keely Mruk from the Georgia Tech Communications Center for writing this story!