Health Innovation Fellowship

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A for Alumni stories... and Akvile

BENEFIT fellows starting in September 2021 will be biodesign healthcare innovation fellowship pioneers in Belgium and the Netherlands.
So we thought we’d share some alumni stories from across our network with you before you apply or join our information session for future fellows.

We interviewed alumna Akvile Zalatoryte about her programme experiences and share videos to give you an insight into the clinical immersions of other teams as well.

Akvile joined the Clinical Innovation Fellowships (CIF) programme in Sweden in 2017-2018 and currently works for EIT Health where she is one of BENEFIT’s most avid supporters.

Akvile Zalatoryte

Akvile, we interviewed you because we are recruiting future fellows for BENEFIT.  What message would you give to potential applicants?

The healthcare innovation fellowship is a life-changing programme, independent of one’s professional background, experience or education. This is the programme for anyone to experience at least once in a lifetime and the tool to see the (healthcare) world and one’s ability to contribute to it from a different angle!

Why did you decide to apply for the fellowship? 

Back in time, I already had my MSc Degree in Management and had been working in the fields of education, innovation and start-up creation for 10 years. At the time of application, I had been working for an established multinational consumer goods company for a number of years, but this field didn’t really stick with me. I felt stuck in realising my ambitions, in advancing my personal development and, first and foremost, in not working from my heart for things that truly matter. 

So I had my eyes open for different opportunities, mostly screening job offers at the time until… an ad about the fellowship programme was forwarded to me. It clicked immediately and it sounded very exciting and very different from what I had seen so far! Being fluent in Swedish and based in Stockholm, this came as a natural choice to join the Swedish edition of this programme. This was an opportunity for me to take a sabbatical from my job and simply give it a try!

What was your area of clinical immersion?

Our team was initially placed at the pain rehabilitation (day-care) department of one of the leading hospitals in Stockholm. Eventually, as part of our observations, we were actively engaging with other departments as well to broaden our experience and deepen our insights.

At the end of the programme we had many potential ideas and concepts to pursue. In fact, it was difficult for our team - which had different interests - to concentrate on only one. In the end, we chose to address pelvic pain and developed some potential product concepts. 

Of course, each clinical immersion is different and leads to different results.

We did highlight 'different team = different experience & different solutions' in our previous blog post. In fact, we collected some videos from other teams that show us why that is.

Below, a team at the BioMedical Design Novo Nordisk Foundation Fellowship programme introduces us to their fieldwork.

CIF, Akvile's programme where she did a clinical immersion in Stockholm, recently started organising clinical immersions outside Sweden. In this video, a team of fellows based in Cairo, Egypt, share their impressions.

Akvile, what really jumps out when listening to you and watching the videos above, is the importance of team dynamics. What is your take on that?

Team dynamics is at the very core of the fellowship programme! 

Just imagine the setting: programme participants who have never met or worked together, with different backgrounds and personalities, are put together in a team that needs to collaborate in an outside the box entrepreneurial-like manner in a completely new and unusual environment for almost a year, working closely together with each other, healthcare professionals and patients on daily basis. 

For me personally, (team) dynamics is of key importance everywhere in life: at work, among friends and family members, in studies etc. A good team dynamic in the context of the fellowship inspires to do more, to do better, to feel better, to believe in your team’s efforts!

Based on my experience, it was both exciting and challenging at the same time, and I definitely learnt a lot!

What did you learn as a person?

The observation part of the programme and daily interactions with the hospital staff, management and patients were the most inspiring, insightful and eye-opening part. 

Being in that environment, full of compassion, dedication and lots of hours of hard daily work to help patients gives another perspective on life and the impact of a daily job. I definitely learnt to be more observant and more people-oriented.

I developed a much higher appreciation for staff working in the healthcare setting and got inspired (and encouraged!) to step into this field myself and contribute with my best capacity. 

I was challenged to think outside the box and learnt a lot about the different design-thinking tools and methods, from needs observation to needs formulation to concept development and prototyping. Altogether, it was an all-round unforgettable experience!

What happened to the solution your team ended up picking as the final one to develop at the end of the clinical immersion?

After the programme, we made the decision not to pursue our developed concept further as a team. This was simply due to the fact that our personal interests for our next steps in life seemed to be different.

Some members of the team returned to their previous jobs (but with a different mindset!). Some (like myself) did change the job and even the professional field while others keep on exploring the entrepreneurial path. So maybe the concept we developed will eventually turn into a product or service one day?! It would be exciting to see!

Aside from the final need your team chose to focus on, were there any other ideas or solutions that were picked up by the host?

Oh, in fact, many! This programme resulted in quite some hands-on deliverables that we handed over to our hosting hospital and its management. As part of the programme, we supervised 4 Bachelor and Master students who eventually handed in their final thesis on the 4 topics/needs such as health questionnaires, scheduling, rehab material and external communication that had been selected by the hospital staff and the management as top priority areas from the ones that we identified by observing. 

Also, as a team, we handed in a report, summarising all our findings and observed need areas, to which we proposed our solutions and approaches. Some of these key areas of improvement that we addressed were patient assessment, patient absence, patient learning and medical journals. We were pleasantly surprised that the hospital management found our report so insightful that it was included in the yearly operational and strategic planning for the hospital for the coming years! This really proves that the educational method and approach of the fellowship programmes is very effective.

Do you feel the fellowship helped with your career development? 

Participating in the fellowship programme did change my life in many ways, both personally and professionally! At the end of the programme, I felt strongly about leaving the job I had at the time and stepping into the healthcare area. The healthcare sector was an eye-opener to me with its many opportunities to work on real health and healthcare-related challenges that matter to us all. 

I made a shortlist for myself outlining the key criteria in terms of pursuing a new job. They were ‘health and healthcare area’, ‘international’, ‘multi-stakeholder’, ‘based outside Sweden’, ‘dynamic’, ‘learning and personal development opportunities’ to name a few.

I applied for a position at EIT Health, the key supporter of the entire Innovation Fellowships network. This turned out to be the perfect match. I trust that without my experience of the Innovation Fellowships and the healthcare field, this opportunity wouldn’t have been that straightforward.

So to all future fellows reading this, I would say: Dare to try, be open-minded and embrace the journey – it will help you find the answers to your personal or career-related questions.

Thank you, Akvile, for your enthusiastic contribution. We will share more alumni stories as they become available and will hand over this blog space to BENEFIT fellows 2021-2022 as promised in our first blogpost.

Potential BENEFIT fellows are welcome to attend the Information session for future fellows on 21 April 2021. Visit the application page for more information.