‘One Step Closer’ Sarah Burd ’24 is spending her summer working for a medical technology company in Vienna, Austria, that specializes in prosthetic limbs.
“A dream of mine is to work alongside paralympic athletes, and this internship has brought me one step closer to pursuing my goals.”
~Sarah Burd ’24
Name: Sarah Burd ’24
Hometown: Salisbury, Massachusetts
Major: Engineering with an emphasis in biology
Q: What factors led you to choose W&L?
I was drawn to W&L because it had everything I was looking for in a college—a liberal arts college with an engineering program, being surrounded by beautiful nature and lawns full of green grass, small class sizes, Spring Term and more. Although I never got the chance to visit W&L before attending, I remember looking through my decision packet and just getting a feeling of pure happiness. I knew it was the place for me.
Q: Why did you choose to your course of study?
I’m a rising junior majoring in integrated engineering with a biology emphasis. I’ve always been a math and numbers person but definitely enjoy the applied side of it more. Engineering combines my interests of working in a field that’s always evolving, using numbers and doing hands-on. Since my sophomore year of high school, I have had the idea of pursuing a career as an orthotist and prosthetist, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in engineering with biology made the most sense to get me there.
Q: How did you find out about this opportunity? Did anyone at W&L help?
Prior to this summer, I had never traveled outside of the United States. Last fall I met with Cindy Irby, assistant director of international education and study abroad advisor, and she suggested the IES Summer Abroad program to me. I started doing my research and ended up choosing to apply to the IES Vienna Summer Internships Abroad program because there was no language requirement and they were one of the few places that offered examples of past biomedical engineering internships their students had done. I was also a Gilman Scholarship recipient, and that, along with funding from the Center for International Education, the Johnson Program and the Physics and Engineering Department, made it possible for me to pursue this internship program.
Q: What kind of work are you doing?
This summer I have been working for Saphenus Medical Technology in Vienna, Austria. The mission of the company is to improve quality of life for those who have lost feeling in their legs due to amputation or polyneuropathy. I have met with my coworkers to discuss the projects that they have been working on, such as an app for the SURALIS device, an ongoing clinical research study, designing the prosthetic devices, VR therapy treatment, or meeting and fitting patients. I am currently working with the orthopedic head on updating and making a long-lasting prosthetic leg for an 80-year-old patient who lost his leg because of blood clotting. In addition to projects like this, I am also working on updating their English website and designing graphics for the company’s social media pages.
Q: What do you like most about it, and what has been most challenging so far?
One of the most valuable things I have gotten out of this internship is a feeling of reassurance and confidence that this is, in fact, the type of career I want to pursue in the future. Because the company is on the smaller side, I love the fact that you can work on different aspects of a product from the start and see it through to the finish. Each day is never the same. I also appreciate the emphasis on work-life balance here. The most challenging thing so far has been the language barrier. Since I only speak English and some of my coworkers don’t, I really must think about how I word my questions in order to be understood, but this has only helped me gain skills in patience and communication.
Q: What aspect of the work has surprised you the most so far?
I have been the most surprised by the prosthetic-making process itself, particularly the number of models you must make and go through before you have your final product. The whole process for just one patient takes at least three to four weeks with fitting and testing periods. I was also surprised to learn there are two methods for how to build the initial prosthetic for trial fitting. You can either use a series of plaster mold methods or a 3D scanner and computer software. I was surprised that the prosthetics can never fit 100% right–usually it falls in the 90-95% range. You also never know if you are making the right adjustments to your molds or software until you meet with the patient.
Q: How do you think your current summer experience – and others you’ve had in the past, if applicable – will impact your future career path?
After W&L, I plan on attending graduate school to become a certified orthotist and prosthetist to make high performance prosthetic limbs. A dream of mine is to work alongside paralympic athletes, and this internship has brought me one step closer to pursuing my goals. Working with Saphenus has been my first time seeing this work in practice. Shortly after my internship program ends, Saphenus Medical Technology will be attending the Florida International Medical Expo in Miami to promote their devices in hopes of building a location in the United States. I am the only American employee that they have had, and I would be interested in working for them again in the future.
Q: Outside of your internship, what have you enjoyed the most about living and working in Austria?
Since I’m only working at the internship Monday through Thursday and my Leading Across Cultures course is on Friday mornings, I have the rest of the weekends free to travel. I have been able to put this free time to good use traveling to other places in Europe and within Austria. Before returning to the States, I will have gotten the chance to explore six different countries. I have visited Czech Republic, Hungary and other places within Austria like Salzburg and Hallstatt, and I have plans to visit Italy, Slovakia and Greece.
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