J&J MedEd leader chooses her own adventureBy Megan Brodie 10 months ago | In Companies, MedTech, People
- 10 months ago
1 May 2023
Had Kylie Flinker-Jarrett’s life taken a different turn, she would still be working as an interior designer in the family furniture business just as she had done for the first 16 years of her career.
Instead, she is working at the cutting edge of digital technology and driving world-leading outcomes as she pioneers the use of technology to advance professional medical education in Australia and New Zealand.
The world of surgery is a long way from the furniture business, Flinker-Jarrett seemingly exchanging designer floorplans for virtual reality and storyboards for the metaverse, but this career chameleon manages to blend the many strands of her life into what is, for her, the perfect job.
Flinker-Jarrett heads up Johnson and Johnson (J&J) MedTech’s Customer Experience & Digital Education in Australia and New Zealand, and while her everyday life sees her immersed in a sci-fi world of space-age technology, she has neither a technical nor a clinical background.
Instead, her passion is in professional education, but Covid proved to be the catalyst that both forced her to think differently about how she did her job, and provided the opportunity for change that the area sorely needed.
Fortunately for Australia’s registrars and surgeons, Flinker-Jarrett’s ability to meld a creative flare with a knack for rapid uptake of new technology has resulted in an educational experience that, for these clinicians, is far more adventurous and imaginative than at any time before Covid.
A catalyst for a new era
The pandemic rocketed medical education from where it had been for almost 100 years into the 21st century, the sudden shutting down of almost all elective surgery driving the need to engage housebound surgeons differently as registrars, still working on the frontline in an era of full PPE and limited contact, were no longer able to learn in the traditional way used by previous generations of doctors.
Finding herself managing the professional education of orthopaedic surgeons when the pandemic hit in 2020, Flinker-Jarrett almost overnight had to manage a workforce of grounded reps, a scattered workforce of grounded surgeons, and a mass of hospital registrars cycling through surgical rotations where few surgeries were actually being done.
Her first move was to flip J&J’s established ‘MedJ‘ app and repurpose it for use as a resource platform, essentially turning it into “Netflix for surgeons” whereby clinicians could download content to watch at their leisure.
Next, in what was the second year of the pandemic, J&J brought virtual reality (VR) to Australia, loading up headsets so the registrars could conduct knee, hip and trauma surgery in a virtual hospital. This quickly proved popular with hospital staff clamouring to take their turn in the J&J virtual world while for Flinker-Jarrett, engaging young, intelligent doctors in a way that was both informative and fun was the perfect outcome, providing them with a skillset she knew they may otherwise never have accessed.
“These doctors had missed seeing surgeries in person so the virtual experience was a real eye-opener,” she said. “They would take the headset off and say, Oh, I get it now! Virtual is no longer gimmicky and has proven to be a gamechanger in medical education. Registrars can even take a headset home, login and practice surgery in their pyjamas.”
A range of new age medtech tools
Despite its obvious popularity, Flinker-Jarrett says VR is just one tool in J&J’s professional education toolbox, with the immersive experience popular but not without its limitations as it still forces the user to make the right decision before progressing, but the future is likely to be quite different.
“Imagine a surgeon being able to program in the exact specifications of their patient and practice a surgery in advance, with a brain surgeon putting in the tumour size and location so as to determine the best way of removing it,” she says. “It’s not that far-fetched.”
In the meantime, J&J offers other experiences such as its ‘TISSverse’ (Technology Innovation Seminar Series), an online metaverse resource where hospital stakeholders can learn more about data privacy, cyber security, and educational platforms available for healthcare staff, and its wearable technology options such as Rods and Cones and Proximity that enable trainee doctors to ‘sit in’ on surgeries, the trainees viewing the operation from the perspective of an experienced surgeon.
The range of innovative options born out of Covid reflects both J&J’s ability to pivot rapidly to the change in circumstances, and the company’s customer-focused culture, enabling people like Flinker-Jarrett to think outside the box to solve problems.
While the swift uptake has not been without hurdles, it is a practical demonstration of a company that even in a pandemic, did not lose sight of both its customers and patients.
“Our customers are surgeons, registrars, nurses and hospital C-suites, but we had to engage with legal, privacy and cyber security to problem solve,” Flinker-Jarrett says. “We continue to meet these challenges head-on, for example by engaging an expert from the Australian Cyber Securities Commission to speak in the TISSverse.
“Technology is moving at an alarming pace and patients are increasingly demanding the latest technology, but a lot of hospitals don’t have the IT infrastructure to support what is available now, let alone what is coming. If hospitals don’t get their IT infrastructure and platforms up to speed, they are going to miss out on what the future holds.”
Choose your own adventure
It’s been 13 years since Flinker-Jarrett walked away from the family business and took a short-term contract with J&J, but the fact she has found her niche in medical education – and helped to transform the area almost overnight – is a credit to both her and J&J, her employer giving her the space to make magic happen.
Yet also deserving of a mention is Flinker-Jarrett’s father who, reluctant to let his young daughter play computer games, taught six-year-old Kylie computer programming so she could build her own games.
“At the time, I hated him for it, but he wanted me to develop an understanding and a curiosity for all things tech, so it clearly worked,” she laughs. “I made games where you chose your own adventure, but the downside was I always knew how each adventure would end so it was quite boring.”
In many ways, Flinker-Jarrett’s journey through Covid has also been ‘choose your own adventure’ as this former interior designer courageously forged a path into unknown territory and, in doing so, changed the future of medical education in Australia.
She says being in the right place at the right time was one part of the story, while living in a country that is ambitious and adventurous when it comes to new technology also contributed.
“Australians take on technology very, very quickly. We’re high-level adaptors, particularly in the medicine device industry. Other than Japan, Australia is the highest user of knee navigation in the world,” she said.
“Now we are also leading the way in using the metaverse for education in medical devices and MedTech. Covid provided an opportunity for us to showcase differentiation in how you present information and educate people and we are creating different, unique and enjoyable experiences.
“Australia has tended to fly under the radar but we now have an opportunity to show the region and the world what we can do, and that we can make a real difference. The virtual world will never replace in-person contact but no longer should we see a ‘one and done’ learning experience like a cadaver lab.
“Prior to Covid, medical education had not changed in almost 100 years, but we have taken things like gaming and turned it into a gamechanger. This is about helping our future leading surgeons learn to use the world’s best technology and maximising their learning experience. We are engaging them early in their careers and partnering with them on their learning journey.”
As for the future, Flinker-Jarrett said what was previously only in the movies is now a reality, and she can’t wait to see what comes next.
“Where we will be in 2030, nobody knows but we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and it’s so exciting to be a part of it.”