Student Invention Protects Medical Workers

April 30, 2020
Image of Dr. Erickson with Colleagues

Dr. Melissa Erickson is an orthopedic spine surgeon with Duke Health and a student in Fuqua’s Weekend Executive MBA program.

“I want to integrate my worlds of medicine and business,” said Erickson.

Combining her medical background with her Fuqua studies motivated Erickson to create a modified surgical suit and helmet to protect health care professionals tasked with treating COVID-19 patients.

With a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), Erickson identified an immediate necessity. She found inspiration coupling her Fuqua coursework with the arthroplasty surgery she learned in her orthopedic residency.

With the help of 3D printing and collaboration with the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Health’s readily available orthopedic surgery suits were repurposed into powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR’s) that would no longer use potentially contaminated, room air, but safer, filtered air, creating a higher level of protection.

“I needed to think of solutions outside the box, and the Weekend Executive MBA training helped in multiple ways,” said Erickson. She utilized learnings from her operations management class in real-time as the project developed.

Identifying production bottlenecks and constraints by examining the physical supplies for the making of the hoods helped Erickson determine process flows. Implementation of the suit would draw from concepts learned in leadership and development classes. Connecting with other institutions and writing a press release integrated ideas from marketing.

Erickson’s team went through five iterations in less than a month before a final version had concluded clinical trialing. “I worked alongside some impressive individuals, and not a single ego got in the way,” said Erickson. Rather than trying to sell the idea, the team decided to share this freely with other hospitals in need.

“Everyone involved had healthcare workers' safety and patient health as our main goal, driving the innovation. Why would you not share that?” said Erickson.