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An Inside Look at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital

Rohan Rashingkar | February 5, 2023

Have you ever walked by the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and wondered what goes on inside?

In November 2022, I had the unique opportunity to visit Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt through a first-year biomedical engineering module taught by Professor Duco Jansen. In this module, students design technologies to address various issues commonly encountered in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). From monitoring brain oxygenation, safely measuring blood pressure, and non-invasively mitigating a skin disease that signals excessive levels of bilirubin, a pigment that cleans blood, these technologies perform many relevant tasks. As part of the class, Dr. Jansen organized a visit to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, granting us a unique opportunity to visit a real NICU.

File:Childrens-hospital-Vanderbilt.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
An external shot of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital

Our class was greeted warmly by the staff upon entering the hospital. Dr. Brian Hackett, Associate Division Director in Neonatology at VUMC, directed us to the east wing of the NICU. Once there, our class was able to visit two patients’ rooms with prior permission from their parents.

In the first room, we observed a premature newborn suffering from moderate brain encephalopathy, a condition that signifies physical trauma to the brain. The baby rested on a crib in the middle of the room, while various wires and devices measured his vitals. Like in most NICUs, there was an EKG (electrocardiogram) measuring his heart rate, as well as a blood pressure monitor, and other equipment. 

One particularly unique technology the doctors were implementing was a cooling blanket, which was wrapped around the baby’s body. The blanket operates in a closed feedback loop, continuously monitoring the baby’s temperature and adjusting the blanket temperature accordingly. As we learned during the visit, this self-adjusting blanket has been a notable improvement compared to the previous system of having nurses periodically enter the room and manually adjust the temperature.

Unlike the first room, the second room accommodated two patients: twin brothers. These twins had contracted twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition caused when one twin absorbs significantly more blood and nutrients from the mother’s placenta than the other. The twins were kept in incubators while, just as with the first baby, many machines tracked their vitals. Similar to the cooling blanket, the incubators served as controlled temperature chambers that could be (manually) modified to suit each baby’s needs. The room also featured a water tank that allowed the babies to seamlessly consume water.

When asked to reflect on the experience, Alexander Lin, a member of the class, commented “I really enjoyed the NICU visit because it allowed us to see the real impact of what we are learning in the classroom.”

Overall, the visit to the NICU was an eye-opening experience. Through it, our class was able to scratch the surface of a highly acclaimed medical facility and learn about the various technologies they use. Additionally, Dr. Hackett’s welcoming attitude, combined with his succinct explanations of complicated medical concepts, greatly enhanced the overall experience. I would highly recommend that other people take Dr. Jansen’s BME course, or even reach out to the hospital to schedule their own visit.

Perry R. Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt front entry (photo). Nashville (TN): 

Rex Perry; [accessed 2022 Dec 18].