Moving from the Classroom to the Operating Room

July 1, 2018

Three students pose while dressed in hospital scrubs

Maria Rodriguez Abi Saab (far left) poses with classmates and fellow co-op workers Kate Christy and Michaela Pigue in front of a device called “Heart-in-a-Box.” The device was being trialed in MGH and can keep hearts alive while they are being transported prior to surgery.

For more than 40 years, Wentworth has offered one of the most comprehensive cooperative education (co-op) programs of its kind in the nation. The profile below is one example of the type of hands-on role a Wentworth student can play while on co-op.


Maria Rodriguez Abi Saab, BBME ‘18 
Co-op at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

How did your experience at Wentworth help you during your time at MGH? 

Many of the classes at Wentworth are project-based, and by the time I went on my first co-op I already had the ability to manage my time efficiently. This helped me prioritize and successfully complete most projects and tasks I was handed during my co-op. In addition, the curriculum was highly relevant to the clinical engineering position I was offered. I felt prepared because I understood the concepts behind the medical devices, thanks to my major’s courses. 

Describe your favorite project that you worked on at MGH. 

My favorite projects at MGH involved selecting the new medical devices that would be used in the operating rooms. For these kind of projects, I applied my skills and knowledge to find the best solution to a problem or the best way to improve the workflow in the hospital. I enjoyed participating in the decisions that would positively affect not only the patients, but also the clinical team.

What lessons did you learn you from your co-op? 

I learned that it is okay to ask for help at work. I was often paged into OR rooms to troubleshoot medical device failures. If I did not know what to do, I learned that escalating the issue to the right person was the right thing to do rather than acting proud and risking the lives of the patients having surgery.

What are both the hardest part and easiest parts about transitioning to co-op life? 

In school, your professors give you feedback on assignments and projects consistently, and many times, the problems you encounter can be looked up in a textbook or online. Someone already knows the right answer. The hardest part of my co-op was the lack of constant feedback or grades that would tell me if I was doing a good job. I find getting good grades motivating, but during my co-op I had to find other ways of driving myself to work hard. On the other hand, the easiest parts were having classmates as co-workers and not having to do any work on evenings and weekends.

What is some advice you can give to students who have not been on a co-op yet? 

I remember feeling like I was unprepared for my position and this made me very anxious before my first day. However, it’s normal not to know everything before you start. Employers do not expect you to know everything about the position as you are adjusting. They encourage you to ask questions and sometimes even prefer to train you on some skills themselves.

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