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Biomedical Engineering Senior Gets Valuable Life Lessons through Indian Health Service Internship

September 16, 2013

Johnson Profile

In Class: Grace Johnson-Bann contributes to a discussion during a biomedical engineering class on campus. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

     Armed with a wealth of experience from the U.S. public health service and a newfound respect for creating medical devices to address long-term health care issues, Grace Johnson-Bann has started her senior year as a biomedical engineering student at Rose-Hulman.

     Johnson-Bann provided health services to members of federally-recognized Indian tribes through a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS). She worked with biomedical technicians in clinics and hospitals on the Red Lake, White Earth, and Cass Lake reservations from the IHS’ area office in Bemidji, Minnesota.

     Most days were spent ensuring that medical equipment (including dental chairs, sterilizers and medical-grade scales) were in working condition and safe for patient use. She also got first-hand experience negotiating with medical device and equipment manufacturers, and purchasing spare parts needed for necessary equipment repairs.

     “From an engineering perspective, the experience provided a plethora of insight into better designing medical equipment, and this internship really brought together all of my educational experiences,” says Johnson-Bann, who spent last summer as an intern for Cook Medical in Bloomington, Indiana. “I got to see how different equipment breaks through everyday use. This directly related to the design concepts I have learned in class.

     “It was great to see the wide range of age in the medical equipment being used in the clinics. While things may be designed to have a five-year life expectancy, sometimes they’re being used for 10 or more years and must be safe for patient use for this extended period. You need to keep this in mind during the design process,” she states.

     Johnson-Bann is interested in public health and may now concentrate on global health issues in graduate school. She is inspired by her mother, Davalynn Johnson, who is a community developer in Nashville, Tennessee.

     “I want to push for something better,” says Johnson-Bann. “I like to help people from different backgrounds.”

     This summer gave her respect for the Native American community and their cultural pride. Each of the clinics had pictures and historical objects specific to the tribe, and educational posters about health and community issues. She also enjoyed learning about "Indian Time," when tribe members take an hour or two to socialize with the co-workers and patients before working on an assignment.

     “This general respect for people and their well-being can definitely be adapted to situations outside of the workplace as well,” she stated. “As an African-American, I think that many in other ethnic communities would benefit from public service campaigns that are specific to each community.”

     At Rose-Hulman, Johnson-Bann has been president of the National Society of Black Engineers student chapter, helps recruit more African-American students as an admissions’ campus tour guide, and is a former member of the varsity tennis team.