Interning at Pacmed: goodbye blog by Aleide & Pim

Pacmed
4 min readMar 5, 2019

By Aleide Hoeijmakers and Pim Hoeven

After six months of working hard and having a lot of fun, our internship at Pacmed has unfortunately come to an end. In this blog we will share our experiences as interns at Pacmed; for students who are thinking about doing their internships at a company (instead of a university) but also for anyone else who is interested! We will first shortly describe our projects followed by some more general aspects of interning at Pacmed, followed by some practical tips!

Why Pacmed
We chose to do our internship at Pacmed for similar reasons: to learn about applying machine learning algorithms on real-world problems and, using these algorithms, contributing to improving healthcare.

Risk prediction at the ICU
Aleide did her Master’s thesis internship for her studies in Artificial Intelligence at the VU University. She joined the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team at Pacmed, who work on risk prediction models for the ICU at the VUmc. The aim of her project was to predict serum creatinine of patients on the ICU in the next 24 hours to provide a better indication of the kidney function. The prediction can be used in the dosing strategies of antibiotics and hopefully limit the progression of further kidney damage or even mortality. The results are very promising, and will hopefully soon guide doctors in taking preventive measures for impending acute kidney damage.

Predicting cardiovascular complications in diabetic patients
Pim’s thesis was written for his Master’s in Econometrics at the UvA. He compared a classical statistical approach and a machine learning approach for predicting cardiovascular complications in diabetic patients. The research had both a clinical and a technical goal. The clinical goal was to help General Practitioners to identify patients that are at risk of cardiovascular complications and adjust their treatment accordingly. The more technical goal was to benchmark different kinds of models for risk prediction and implementing these in a way the Pacmed team can easily use for other risk prediction problems. Pim’s thesis results were well received by his supervisor!

Working closely together with medical professionals
In comparison to doing an internship solely at an academic institute, doing your internship at a company can have some advantages. Pacmed is a company that is connected to many of the big (academic) research institutes, but it’s also a company that develops products for the market. This is a special combination because it ensures that all research and projects that are done are relevant in practice and are a proof of concept that can, if the results are promising, serve as a foundation for actual products that help to improve healthcare. In order to develop such products, all researches are performed in close collaboration with medical doctors to continuously check the clinical relevance. For our thesis we also collaborated with medical professionals which was new to us and a very good experience.

Developing and implementing machine learning models for healthcare is an innovative, emerging method that needs to be developed and implemented very carefully and can be very complex. It can only be done by close collaboration between data scientists and medical professionals, and everyone at Pacmed, including the interns, needs to keep learning from each other continuously. The composition of the team, with ten passionate data-scientists and five young doctors, facilitates learning about both the machine learning and the medical side of the research. We also learnt a lot from the valuable workshops from our colleagues. These workshops, for example about unit testing or explainable AI, often have a theoretical and practical part. Therefore we could immediately apply the taught techniques immediately to our own work.

Work hard, play Ping Pong
Beside the fact that you learn a lot of new things about machine learning, at Pacmed you also get the opportunity to improve our social and professional skills, for example in explaining our findings. Every Friday there is the opportunity to present your work to the whole team during ‘demo’. This is a great moment to start a discussion or get feedback on your work. Afterwards, the Friday drinks start, in which we often play many rounds of ping pong together. In addition, there are many more nice activities to escape the thesis work: like joint boot camps, trampoline workouts and company activities.

Next to the many learning opportunities and the plus side of working in a team, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering an internship at a company. Working with real world data can be challenging and often requires extensive data preprocessing. The needs of the company you intern at and the wishes of your academic supervisor could be different so you might have to shape the project in a way that that works for both parties. At Pacmed the team was very willing to help us out with this and therefore it was no problem, but it’s good to keep in mind when you look for an internship.

We had an awesome internship at Pacmed and want to thank the team for their support and the fun times!

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Pacmed

Pacmed builds decision support tools for doctors based on machine learning that makes sure patients only receive care that has proven to work for them!