AIMed’s first ever Student Ambassador, 19 year old Tom Murickan, is currently a freshman in the Honors College at University of Arizona, majoring in biomedical engineering. In the first of a regular column charting his quest to become an AI-assisted physician, he talks about his fight to establish an AI-Med Club at his high school.

 

“I’ll level with you. As a 19 year old freshman college student, I was more than a little intimidated when asked to write a column sharing my thoughts with the great and the good on how AI and medicine are being addressed in educational and professional capacities.

That said, the one thing I’ve already learnt about the AI-med community is that there are no egos involved here. On the contrary. I’m honestly not trying to flatter you when I say that AI-med is an unfailingly welcoming, interested and encouraging community. I put it down to the community holding an unwavering belief that the next great AI breakthrough can come from anyone, anywhere – regardless of age and background.

It’s a comforting thought as I set off on the long journey I intend to take through AI in medicine. I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of my experiences – good, bad and indifferent – during my education.

From a young age, I’ve always been fascinated by the medical field. As I grew older, many life experiences helped shape my interests. It’s a combination of a passion for constant learning and a desire to help people in need.

That desire led me to volunteer at both Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, as well as with a local organization dedicated to educating special-needs children called Heart of Hope. While these were all amazing experiences and opportunities, I knew that becoming a doctor would take more.

So in the summer of 2018, I applied and was selected for the MI3 Summer Internship Program at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The internship focused on the impact of AI on the medical field and allowed me to meet a variety of professionals in medicine, data science, nursing, and many other fields. This completely changed my perspective on the medical field and on what kind of doctor I wanted to become. It also made me question whether society as a whole, and more specifically the medical education system, is ready to not just arm a doctor with AI, but to prepare him or her to use it ethically and effectively.

It was an issue that inspired me to want to set up an AI-Med Club at my high school – where the awareness of AI could be spread to my fellow classmates and their families. Through my work in the internship, I met the director of the program, Dr. Anthony Chang, who encouraged me to pursue this. Despite the backing and support of the AI-med community, I initially faced some significant headwind with my proposal. The school club approval committee had doubts about the lack of awareness of what AI in medicine actually was and weren’t confident of my ability to deliver these complex concepts in a way that high-schoolers could comprehend.

My response was simple and to the point. Their reservations were exactly the reason why there was a need to establish such a club in the first place. It just needed an individual who could relay to students the vast swathes of information about the future of medicine and AI and the impact of it on all our lives. Being a 17 year old student myself, I seemed best placed to communicate that to them.

My confidence stemmed from Dr. Chang inviting my father and I to AIMed North America 2018 at Dana Point. The discussions, feedback and encouragement I received from everyone there in those four days sharpened my vision of what my future career as a medical professional could look like. I was given an opportunity to be part of a panel ‘Future Aspects of AI in Medicine’ and to speak to the audience about my outlook on AI-med through my previous experiences.

Among my many questions posed to the group was my growing concern on how well prepared the higher education system was to train me as a medical professional who will go on to use AI. It was this issue that sparked an idea within the AI-med community that a student like me would be a good ambassador to launch AI-Med Clubs nationally, throughout high schools, universities, and medical schools, to create the awareness, the movement, the inertia needed for the education system to re-evaluate how best to incorporate statistics, programming, data science etc into the medical curriculum.

Thankfully, my school leaders eventually came round to my way of thinking and I was finally able to achieve my vision of establishing AI-Med Club at my high school. I remember being so excited at how quickly it created a real buzz around the school. It seemed that the first rule of AI-Med Club is: you must talk about AI-Med Club!

Most students who joined were invested in forging careers in healthcare, engineering, and data science, among other fields but they knew close to nothing about AI. In the following monthly meetings, our club members slowly grew from five to ten, to 30, and surpassed 50 by the end of that school year. Our meetings were super successful, thanks to amazing guest speakers like Dr. Sharief Taraman and Aju Kuriakose, who gave engaging lectures about their encounters with AI in their respective fields and how AI has dramatically improved their roles.

While COVID-19 prevented normal club meetings from proceeding for a few months, following my graduation, a few students approached me with the hope of continuing AI-Med Club in whatever capacity they could. It really warmed my heart that the club I’d founded had made such a positive impact and drew so much support from students and teachers alike.

As an AIMed Student Ambassador, I’ve since helped launch AI-Med Clubs at 3 other high schools, and I also plan to start an AI-Med Club at my college, with the goal of expanding to several other colleges across the country by the end of this year. As I continue to explore opportunities for education, research, and experience, I’m excited by the positive change AI can enact in my life, as well as in the lives of patients across the globe.

It’s going to be an exciting journey. I can’t wait to share all the highs and lows with you.