Melissa Griffin is a Human Factors Analyst, whose work focuses on improving safety by improving the systems that people live and work in. Instead of trying to change how people should act, Melissa and her colleges advocate for changing the system so it’s more natural for people to interact normally.
What did you wish you knew about engineering back when you were in high school?
That engineering is actually really fun! The very first day of frosh week I realized that there was a wonderful community of students who actually liked science and math, and that a lot of them were really fun. I also wish I knew that you can do a lot with an engineering degree, and it doesn’t have to mean you’ll end up behind a desk crunching numbers 24/7. In my current role, I have the chance to get out into the field and spend time with a range of other disciplines and specialists including other engineers, psychologists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, policy makers, regulatory bodies, researchers and administrators.
What’s your proudest accomplishment as an engineer?
At this point, probably getting my P.Eng. Another proud moment was when I got my first job.
Tell me about a time in your career when your work has been about discovery or curiosity?
The role that I’m in now has a lot to do with curiosity and discovery. I am working in health care research as a Human Factors Engineer and as part of that we get to ask and answer research questions. I also have a lot of freedom in my work to explore areas that interest me. For example, right now I do quite a bit of work with different hospitals and cancer centres, helping them to make their technologies, processes and environments safer for patients and staff. I look at workflows, how people tend to interact with technologies, and how different polices and regulations affect the healthcare system. When we see something out in the field that is of interest, often, if we can find supporters and funding, we are able to further explore these areas to improve patient safety.
What’s your job now (title, company, description)? How did you get there (education, internships, mentors, other experiences)? Where did you think you were going when you started out?
Human Factors Analyst/Engineer at University Health Network (UHN) as part of the research team HumanEra.
I am part of a multi-disciplinary team that tries to improve patient safety by improving the systems that people work and live within. We know that people have certain strengths and weaknesses and instead of trying to change how people should act, we advocate for changing the system so it’s naturally easier for people to interact correctly.
I had no idea I’d end up where I am now. I started in Mech Eng at Queen’s University, and ended up working in the automotive industry for 2 years, first as a Project Engineer and then as an Account Manager.
After a couple of years there I realized I wanted to do something that had more of a positive impact on other people. I came across the Masters of Clinical Engineering program at U of T, which appealed to me because it included several internships. Through this program I completed a thesis about applying human factors to home care environments, and did an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in the Clinical Engineering department, at the Toronto Rehab Institute in the Dysphagia Lab, and at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, where I currently work.
My thesis supervisor was a great influence on me and is now my boss. When I started out, I had no idea this kind of job even existed and didn’t know much about human factors. Having my undergrad Mechanical Engineering degree opened the door for me to get into the Master’s program that led to where I’m working today.
Do you feel your work contributes to society? How so?
I definitely think the work I do contributes to society. Our teams’ mandate is to improve the safety of patients and health care workers by making the systems they work and live in safer. We get to be activists for patients and front line staff and highlight ways in which things could be improved. We also do a fair bit of education for front line staff to help them identify areas of risk, so they can make their own practices safer and more robust.
Why do we need more female engineers?
I think women are able to provide a unique perspective for many engineering problems. In the work I do, I am often interacting with nurses, who predominantly tend to be women so I think it makes it a bit more comfortable and easier for them to open up about what they do and the challenges they face in their day to day jobs. Also, many of the female engineers I know are great mentors. We need more female engineers because we can be creative problem solvers, empathetic, and approach problems from a slightly different perspective than our male counterparts.
Do you have any hobbies/passions that give you a unique perspective in engineering?
I love to travel and so seeing how other countries approach design and technology has always been interesting to me. There are often several possible solutions to a problem or challenge, especially when it comes to systems and design, and so seeing how different cultures take on these challenges can be inspiring and useful in helping you think about your own engineering challenges.
Check out where Melissa works! http://ehealthinnovation.org/