UI engineering student looks for ways to improve patient care at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Aubree Larson’s decision to pursue an engineering degree at the University of Iowa was an easy one. After her first visit, Larson says she felt she would be supported on the UI campus, and that even if she failed, professors, administrators, and fellow students would help her get back on her feet.

“Every other college I visited, they emphasized how big everything was,” Larson said of her college search. “But at Iowa, I felt like the campus was a community and I felt comfortable. I knew that Iowa was going to support me.”

Aubree Larson

Hometown: Ankeny, Iowa

Areas of study: Industrial Engineering and Business Analytics

Graduation: May 2018

Plans after graduation: Taking a gap year and working in a hospital with similar setting as UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Activities and research:

  • Researched management of heart monitors in cardiac care unit of UI Hospitals and Clinics
  • Research focused on patient care in the internal medicine department of UI Hospitals and Clinics
  • Played for the UI’s women’s soccer team, serving as a student coach after injuries

Four years later, and poised to graduate with honors in May 2018 from the University of Iowa College of Engineering with a dual degree in industrial engineering and business analytics, Larson says with certainty that her instincts were right. The Ankeny, Iowa, native has succeeded in almost every pursuit she has taken on during her college years, including playing on the women’s soccer team, serving as student coach after injuries sidelined her, working as a teaching assistant, and taking on an impressive class course load of engineering, business, and pre-med subject classes.

“I feel like I’m never going to know exactly what I want to do with my life, so my thinking has always been that I might as well cover all the bases,” Larson says. “This has meant a lot of work, but it has also been really exciting. I have loved my time here.” 

In addition to athletics and classes, Larson also tackled two major projects while working part-time at UI Hospitals and Clinics—one involving the management of heart monitors in cardiac care units, and another focusing on patient care in the internal medicine department. The projects allowed Larson to address problems of significant importance to the hospital and helped her grow and mature. As a result of her work at UI Hospitals and Clinics, Larson says she is considering a career in medicine or hospital management. 

“My mom is a nurse and she’s the smartest person I know, so a lot of my interest in medicine stems from her,” Larson says. “Having worked at UI Hospitals and Clinics this past year and having learned so much, I’d like to spend a gap year working in a similar setting. I feel like an extra year of work in a hospital would give me more insight into how a hospital operates and help me determine if healthcare is what I want to pursue.”

Those who have worked with Larson on her projects at UI Hospitals and Clinics say they are confident she will succeed, no matter what career path she chooses.

“For her maturity and ability to problem-solve, I would give her a 10,” says Joe Greiner, a Nurse Practice Leader (NPL) who works in the Department of Nursing, Intensive and Specialty Services Division. “She has taken on a difficult project and followed through with an action plan without much guidance from me. She’s learned about the human factors that are involved in medical care and hospital processes. I think she’s well prepared for her future.” 

“I am amazed how effectively Aubree is able to balance her extra-curricular activities, her academics, and research. She is a committed student who is serious about whatever she takes on. I am proud that she is able to apply what she has learned in her courses to solve real-world challenges.” 

Priyadarshini Pennathur
Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

During the past four months, Larson worked with Greiner and other health professionals in UI Hospitals and Clinics’ Intermediate Cardiology Unit to help evaluate the hospital’s effort to manage the number heart monitor alarms. Larson surveyed nurses about alarm management, collected pre- and post-alarm data, and developed educational materials to help further improve alarm management at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Professor Priyadarshini Pennathur, who worked with Larson on the heart monitor project, says she is impressed with Larson’s ability to multi-task.

“I am amazed how effectively Aubree is able to balance her extra-curricular activities, her academics, and research,” Pennathur says. “She is a committed student who is serious about whatever she takes on. I am proud that she is able to apply what she has learned in her courses to solve real-world challenges.” 

Larson’s other project at the hospital involves a review of patient management in the internal medicine department, which often has a surplus of patients, a situation that can strain personnel and compromise patient safety. Larson is recommending that the hospital add additional staff to the department and is , as well as developing a way to cluster patients in specific areas of the hospital to reduce travel time between patient rooms for doctors and nurses.  

“Unlike some other departments that have patient caps, the internal medicine department can’t turn away patients, so they often have an overflow of patients,” Larson says. “I’m an industrial engineer, but in this case,I’m working more as a systems engineer because I am looking at process bottlenecks and trying to find ways to avoid them.” 

As she prepares to graduate, Larson says she will miss campus life, especially her support network of family, friends, teammates, and professors, which has served her so well.

“There were times when I felt like I didn’t have a place here, but there were people who reminded me that I had a bigger purpose here, that I was pursing big things, and that I was totally capable of doing those things even though I didn’t feel like it in the moment,” Larson says. “That network, my family, my team, they were always there to keep me feeling grounded.”

Larson working on research

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