When two medical residents visit a design conference.

During a week of night shift, I read Scott Belsky’s book “How to make ideas happen”. As a surgical resident and a PhD candidate at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, I often find myself divided between an overload of ideas to enhance health care issues in my hospital and a lack of time and specific knowledge to execute them. When Scott mentioned the 99U conference, a congress for creative developers about the 99% execution rather than the 1% inspiration, it seemed like a unique opportunity to learn something from experts from a different field.

Together with my friend and colleague Laura Kox, we smashed our piggy banks, applied for the conference and booked a flight to New York. The next evening, we stood somewhat uneasily at the welcome session. People with fancy glasses and fine shoes surrounded us. They were playing Ping-Pong on a foursquare table and drinking IPA’s. The creative atmosphere was miles away from the medical congresses we were used to. They are often situated far away from booming metropoles, Ping-Pong tables are replaced by enormous amounts of stands of the medical industry and almost every PowerPoint slide is in blue and yellow, with Arial fonts filling the page more than any listener can handle.

Typical medical conference slide

“No matter which professional field you are in; we recommend you to visit a congress of a completely different field at least once.”

Two days at the 99U conference, were a complete eye opener. Doctors often regard fancy slides, GIF’s and other technological feats as a way to disguise a lack of quality regarding the content of the story. Studying medicine is all about learning to get a grip on the slippery symptoms patient present themselves with. We try to objectivise symptoms and not let our minds being distracted by biases. Surely, this is a good aspect in becoming a good doctor, as I experienced working in Zambia myself. However, the fact that design truly decides whether content can be transferred to the user, has been greatly ignored in health care.

Besides Scott Belsky’s himself, who beautifully illustrated how we have to understand the less likeable side of the human mind to build a good product for it, many other speakers were truly inspiring. Most remarkable to us were executive producer Effie Brown and graphics editor Jennifer Daniel. By showing their vulnerable and sometimes less likeable side of themselves, they showed how to be a leader in a very authentic way.

Effie Brown clearly pointed out, becoming a leader consists of three steps:


2. WHAT & WHY you will do what you do

3. DBAD (don’t be a dick)

As a doctor, I find myself struggling every day to help patients without having all the knowledge to be completely sure that I can cure them. I try to learn from the values great inspirators like Atul Gawande, Abraham Verghese and Henry Marsh.

Atul Gawande, Abraham Verghese, Henry Marsh: leading by vulnerability

Besides the obvious advantages of great design of medical interfaces and products, the 99U conference taught us much more. Quoting Scott Belsky, “Empathy is more important than Passion.” In order to be empathetic, we must acknowledge that as doctors, we must remain human.

Thank you, 99U, hope to see you all next year.

Laura Kox & Emma Bruns