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In 2018, Carlos David Jimenez Morales became the first in his family to graduate from college.
Later this month, he will blaze another trail, becoming the first graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Graduate Certificate in Health Care Innovation program, a collaboration between the VCU School of Nursing and VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation.
Morales, who previously earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences and a master’s of product innovation degree from the da Vinci Center, considers himself a lifelong learner.
“My biggest interest growing up was learning,” said Morales whose family is from El Salvador. “Whenever I was curious about something I would try and find ways to learn about it.”
Growing up as a first-generation student in a Latinx family, Morales set out to meet his family’s expectations.
“Your family expects for you to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “My uncle, David, was a dermatologist. I always had an interest in health care. My uncle was always an inspiration.”
It turned out he wasn’t suited to be a physician when he realized he didn’t enjoy working in a medical environment.
“I thought to myself how can I be a doctor and not be in that environment,” he said. “That’s when I became interested in psychiatry. I thought I would become a psychiatrist. But as I was completing my degree I realized it would take a lot of time and require a lot of money.”
He learned about the da Vinci Center during a VCU career fair. The center is a collaboration of VCU’s schools of the Arts and Business and colleges of Engineering and Humanities and Sciences and VCU Health.
“I always had a curiosity about solving problems,” he said. “I was always interested in learning more things. With a degree in psychology I could learn more about that field and how I could combine both interests.”
He became interested in health care innovation after working on assignments for the da Vinci Center and the Health Innovation Consortium that focused on current challenges in the health care field.
“A lot of the problems we have today are things that could be solved with physical products, something we could create,” he said.
When the Graduate Certificate in Health Care Innovation program was announced, he saw it as a real plus for his career. He specifically referenced three projects (two group and one individual) that he worked on for one of his nursing classes that centered around a hypothetical clinical unit. The two group projects, which included everything from examining why the unit was needed to how it hired new employees such as a clinic nurse manager and an advanced practice nurse, were made stronger by the diversity of the team.
“The nurses in our group gave us an understanding of what it was actually like for them,” he said of the assignment. “It taught you how to understand the problem and create a solution.”
Students also worked on a project related to COVID-19 and masks.
“We came up with an application that showed the right way to make and wear a mask,” Morales said. “What’s been great about the health care focus is we can empathize with patients and that aligns with what we learn in product innovation.”
Talking to people about their experiences and solving different problems is dynamic, he said.
“I am curious and like to learn. It gives me the satisfaction of being able to learn from others,” he said.
Allison Schumacher, director of academic alchemy at the da Vinci Center, describes Morales as a sponge for new information “with an obvious passion for research and ideation.”
“Carlos is a driven and engaged student who brings his curiosity to every team he works with,” she said. “His personality is reserved and calm but his brain is constantly working on identifying problems in the world around him and developing creative solutions. If there is an opportunity he can take advantage of, he jumps right in, researches, iterates and builds prototypes.”
Morales is currently exploring possibilities in health care within the scope of product innovation.
“I lean toward entrepreneurship,” he said. “I hope down the line to get experience and go back and create a product or solution that has a direct impact on people and solves a problem.”