Alumni Profile: Nahom Beyene University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Nahom Beyene (PhD '13)


Engineer, RAND Corporation

SHRS Program Attended:

Doctor of Philosophy in Rehabilitation Science, Concentration: Rehabilitation Technology

Q: What initially got you interested in the Rehabilitation Technology Program?

Nahom: I looked for all kinds of combinations, basically starting from biomedical engineering and then reaching back to different things that I heard over the years. In middle school, I took a class called medical science careers, which was taught by a registered nurse, and learned about the role of a rehabilitation technician -- someone who fixed medical devices in a hospital. So, when I was looking for a program, I pulled rehabilitation engineering from that memory and my long-standing interest in biomedical engineering. The University of Pittsburgh and the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) stuck out to me because they had a machine shop and they were doing international research, and several other factors made Pitt my top choice.

Q: What do you do at RAND?

My official title is engineer, although we don't really build anything physical at RAND. A lot of what I work on is related to analysis of requirements for different types of government acquisition and procurement for the Army or other clients. They have standard processes for government acquisitions so I work on a review of their requirements and the different types of studies that go along with that.

Along with that, and tying it into my education at Pitt, we do a lot with military health. To highlight one project, we looked at core competencies of amputee care. As you go from wartime to peace time, you benefit from having less injuries, particularly traumatic injuries that cause amputations and the question is how to retain those skills, that core competency and health care provider staff. How do we sustain this elite level of care for most traumatic types of injuries like blast injuries? How do we retain that expertise when we're in peace time scenarios? That was a cool project which involved going to different rehab settings, like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation Research in Houston, and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago.

Q: What does your typical day look like?

Nahom: One day may be filled with proposal writing, grant writing, or writing project descriptions. Then you will have the analysis day where you're sitting there with a huge Excel spreadsheet or maybe actually designing something, programming something, or doing different things with software tools and you formulate recommendations from what you can study based on available data sources. There'll be days when you're writing reports -- it's like putting the bow on at the end of the process because you got it funded, you executed the work, and now you're delivering or you're doing briefings. Maybe you're doing something a little forward-looking like creating an infographic or some cool data visualization.

Q: How did your time at SHRS influence the work you do now?

Nahom: I think the neat part of it, particularly with biomedical engineering or what we might call clinical rehabilitation engineering, you have the baseline of engineering, which is to make sure that the product can stand up under its own weight and not crumple up, and can support loads from a user and can be usable, make sense, and not cause any harm. You have those standard engineering tests, but then you go to that biomedical and clinical rehab route and it's about improving health and well-being. Is the product making a change in one's participation in the community when we talk about disability studies, independence, and satisfaction?

You can have a product, like a wheelchair, that works but then you can have a product that meets its stated needs from a medical and well-being perspective. That's what I learned from SHRS and the Rehabilitation Science and Technology Department. It's saying okay, you're going to learn about how to do this statistical hypothesis testing and in the end is that going to help health care institutions make the change that they need to make? To be competitively providing better health outcomes? It's not about having a product that's not going to break while someone is using it but that it's going to go home with somebody and deliver on providing independence, satisfaction, and quality of life.

Q: What kind of larger impact do you hope your work has?

Nahom: That's the good thing about working for RAND -- we can win or make an impact in a number of different ways. For example, educating the public connects to our nonprofit status and our core goal of being here for the greater good. Also, we're all about informing policy decisions, giving a clear objective look at problems.

Q: How do you spend your time outside of work?

Nahom: Like most people, there's your pick of Netflix and Hulu. But there's also a lot of networking and meeting different folks, learning different skills. I do a lot with meetup groups whether it's Pittsburgh Code & Supply Meet Up, Health 2.0 Pittsburgh, or Accessible Pittsburgh. That's another way that I keep up with my industry-specific circle of friends. I do a lot of that kind of stuff around town because they're really nice touch points to gain visibility into other specialties.

I also spend time working for a startup company I founded, Navity, that is currently investigating ways to commercialize my dissertation work on driving data in partnership with the Cindy Cohen School of Driving.

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Photos provided by Nahom Beyene

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