One of the big lessons of the pandemic has been the crucial need for appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during a healthcare crisis. In March of 2020, it became evident that Canada had a shortage of readily available PPE. Not only that, but what was available was typically not re-usable. Fast forward almost a year and the amount of PPE going into landfills has become a growing concern.
Myranda Hawthorne, a fourth-year Biomedical Science student, is helping to address this challenge during an eight-month placement with National Research Council Canada (NRC).
“So much PPE is single-use, meaning such things as medical masks, gloves, and face-shields end up in landfill,” says Ms. Hawthorne. “The project I’m working on is looking into different technology and devices that have been created to process PPE and decontaminate it for re-use. This will not only help to promote environmental sustainability within healthcare settings but will also serve to prevent shortages of PPE in Canada in the future.”
Ms. Hawthorne notes that the concept of decontaminating and recycling PPE has been met with resistance by some in the health care field due to safety concerns. As part of her placement, her work involves sharing data collected at NRC labs with hospitals across Canada by creating summaries, infographics and fact sheets. She believes that by sharing scientific evidence, more health care workers will be inclined to consider future use of reusable PPE.
The project pairs the NRC with a number of companies, primarily Clean Works, which has developed a machine called the Clean Flow Healthcare Mini, something akin to an industrial dishwasher, but with a specific decontamination process for PPE. As a hybrid government-slash-private undertaking, the project involves a broad range of participants, including researchers from a variety of institutions and other industry and medical professionals.
Interdisciplinary collaboration essential in remote placement
Speaking of the opportunity to apply her knowledge in a hands-on career setting, Ms. Hawthorne says: “I get to learn first-hand what the recent scholarly work in this area of scientific development is and see how the science I’ve learned in the first three years of my degree is put into practice. In school you’re told it’s important to have different skills for group projects, but being in real-life situations with chemists, microbiologists, engineers and people with communications backgrounds, all sharing research and bouncing ideas off of each other, is really rewarding.”
Ms. Hawthorne is particularly grateful that she has been able to do her placement remotely, as the NRC is based out of Ottawa, Ontario and she lives in Peterborough. “This year is different in a lot of ways,” she explains. “It’s been great to be able to do this placement remotely.”
Following her placement this term, Ms. Hawthorne says that the project will continue into the future, with the aim of creating a more sustainable plan for PPE in the event of a future health care crisis. After graduating from the Biomedical Science program this spring, she will apply her knowledge and lessons learned to a future in medicine, with her sights set on medical school.
Learn more about Biomedical Science at Trent. Applications are still being accepted for fall 2021.