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Katarina Braune: From Cyborg to Resident Physician and Pediatrician

Hacking Health Team Interview Blog Series

Meet Katarina Braune, Hacking Health Berlin Co-Chair, digital clinician scientist, patient advocate and medical doctor. We’re pleased to have a leader and digital health enthusiast such as Katarina on the Board of Hacking Health’s Berlin Chapter. Today, we want to share more about her journey as a medical professional, a person living with type 1 diabetes, her recent success in becoming board-certified as a Pediatrician, as well as her involvement in the DIY digital health scene and her experience living as a cyborg.

Here’s a recent interview we had with Katarina which should give you further insight into her professional life and ambitions, digital health interests, more on why she joined Hacking Health and highlights from past digital health events. Enjoy getting to know our Team!

Interview with Katarina Braune | Blog post by Alexandra Verzuh | Hacking Health Berlin

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First of all, I heard you have now passed a huge step in your medical career. Congratulations on your recent achievement! What just happened?

Thanks a lot! I just finished my specialty training as a resident physician and am now a board-certified specialist in pediatric and adolescent medicine.

What did you have to do to achieve this? How do you feel now?

The exam preparation for the specialist exam felt a bit weird at first. During medical school, people basically study all the time and there are lots of skills to develop. On the one hand, it felt like just yesterday when I last sat down with a big pile of medical literature and exam protocols, and carefully went through them until I devoured all of the information – just like in the old days. On the other hand, I felt like “Wait a minute, I thought I already graduated from med school! Why do I have to do this again?”

The main difference between the exam prep for med school and the specialty examination was that I could combine a lot of my practical experiences with theory from textbooks. A piece of advice to my fellow residents: Trust the personal expertise you’ve developed over the years. Also, no one knows all of the answers. If you have succeeded in your job in the past years, you will most likely pass the specialty exam. Don’t panic!

… and how it feels now that I’m done. Well, years and years of working hard and studying has finally paid off. Final destination: Pediatrics. It is an awesome feeling!

 

What motivated you to become a pediatrician of all things?

Working in pediatrics is something that you either love or hate. What I like about working with kids and their families is the important role that compassion and empowerment play as part of their care. Positive vibes and laughter are essential parts of our job. And don’t we all need a little more of that in healthcare? Also, I am more the companion-type of a physician than an old-school doctor with a god complex. My primary goal in delivering care is to make patients and their families experts in their own condition, and support them when and where they need it. Pediatrics is a perfect medical field for that.

What does digital health bring to your practice?

The potential of digital health is huge. It can provide wider access to care for people who would otherwise not be able to benefit from it and improves quality of care by offering better access to information and data. Unfortunately, the road of implementation is long in many healthcare settings and in day-to-day life, I often get frustrated with the available tools and the poor user experience on both the patients’ and the therapists’ sides. I wish regulatory frameworks and the speed at which we move in medicine and healthcare would be more on par with the otherwise rapidly evolving world we live in.

You’re no stranger to the hack yourself. How have you been involved in the DIY digital health scene?

Yes! In fact, I literally hacked (my own) health. I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 20+ years and am part of an online community of people with diabetes called #WeAreNotWaiting. Collaboratively, we create open-source systems for automated insulin delivery by using existing medical devices and re-engineering their wireless communication protocols. It has now been four years since I hacked into my own insulin pump and connected it to a do-it-yourself app on my smartphone for algorithm-controlled automation.

How is life as a cyborg?

Pretty good! I have lived most of my life with robot body parts. I started using an insulin pump as a kid, and ever since I have not spent a day without my body being attached to some sort of diabetes technology. But I can definitely tell the difference between human (essentially, my own) or artificial intelligence operating them. An algorithm is never tired, stressed or busy with other matters. Going “closed loop” made such a positive impact on both my physical and mental health. Managing type 1 diabetes is a 24/7 job and it was a huge game changer to automate it. By doing so, I’ve managed to take care of a good part of it.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the looping scene?

Over the years, the #WeAreNotWaiting community has created excellent resources to read.  They are freely available online in many languages. My advice would be to start there and take the time to learn all of the aspects of managing diabetes with a closed-loop system. It’s important to understand how the systems and the components work. Also, make use of the amazing community that has evolved through open-source AID. I have met some of the smartest, kindest, most generous and genuine people there.

How and why did you get involved with Hacking Health?

When I joined the Charité as a resident physician, I was looking for others with an interest in digital health and found Akira Poncette’s profile on LinkedIn. Akira was one of the co-founders of the Berlin Hacking Health Chapter and a medical resident just like me. As we both wanted to connect with others interested in digital health, we initiated a series of meet-ups for digital health enthusiasts at the Charité. Later, we were able to establish Health Hackathons at the Charité and the Berlin Institute of Health, and continue to grow our network.

What have been some highlights from the previous events you would like to share?

It is always touching and inspirational to hear why people decide to commit a full weekend to attend a Hackathon. Some of them are motivated by their personal stories or because they have a loved one that lives with a health condition. Some work in a completely different field and are looking for purpose. 

Last year, we held an ad-hoc online remote Hackathon to combat the challenges around COVID-19. People from all over the world collaborated and I was stunned by how they even found out about Hacking Health and were willing to spend an entire weekend with us, even if they lived in a completely different time zone!

Furthermore, it makes me incredibly happy to see people thrive from Hacking Health events. This includes people who became successful with their hack later in life and are now CEOs of their own companies, researchers with a reputation in their field and people that have found their future cooperation partners at one of our events, to people who dared to take the next step to create a fundamental change in their lives. Hackathons are always full of unexpected surprises and opportunities.

What are the challenges you face as an organizer of such events?

As with every online or in-person event, things can go wrong all the time. It is important to note that none of us are professional event organizers by training. Most of us have a full-time job in healthcare, research or tech and do this as volunteers. It takes a dedicated team, a lot of creativity and definitely some caffeine to successfully prepare and run Hackathons.

Why are Hackathons important in this field?

The challenges of our time such as pandemics, hunger, antimicrobial resistance and climate change among others, won’t be solved within the four walls of a hospital or a research institute. We can only win as a society if we accept to take some of the responsibilities in our own hands, and think of how everyone can contribute individually. Hackathons bring members of the global community together that would otherwise never have met. We need to learn how to work together across different regions and backgrounds, and how to establish fast collaborations. 

It seems you are pretty engaged. What is something you do to unwind?

I am an ENFP personality type and thrive by spending time around great people. But when I do need to disconnect, there is nothing that charges my batteries better than spending time at the seaside, amongst good food, good music and other things. 

 

If you’re interested in connecting with Katarina, please reach out to her through the following channels: 

 

Stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts about our Hacking Health Berlin team. But for now, read our recent blog post about Hacking Health’s Berlin Chapter.

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by Alexandra Verzuh
Alexandra is a strong marcoms professional with a global focus and over ten years of international experience in communications, writing and marketing; widely travelled with a passion for healthcare, health tech, digital innovation and technology. She is also a Certified Transformational Coach with a BA in Psychology and an MSc in International Business Management.

Hacking Health BerlinKatarina Braune: From Cyborg to Resident Physician and Pediatrician