Robert Wesley, 3D Printing Engineer, 3D Printing Center at Washington University Medical Campus, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, BJC HealthCare
Robert Wesley is a Tennessee native who started his career at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. It was there he was introduced to in-hospital 3D printing. As a biomedical engineer in pediatric cardiac surgery, he worked to expand the hospital’s 3D printing capabilities and vision beyond its congenital heart program. A couple of years later he did consult work for a few southeastern children’s hospitals with emerging 3D printing programs, before finding his way to St. Louis Children’s Hospital of BJC HealthCare. In St. Louis, Robert runs the operations of the 3D Printing Center at Washington University Medical campus which services all 15 BJC hospitals, Washington University School of Medicine, and local/regional hospitals, under the direction of Christine Pavlak, Dr. Shafkat Anwar, Dr. Kamlesh Patel, and Dr. Eric Eutsler.
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Robert: My first encounter with 3D printing was during my first job at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Like many, during my final interview, I thought the 3D printing hearts were being implanted in patients. I realized that was naïve at the time, but I was interviewing for a job I didn’t even know existed at other hospitals. On the job, I learned that while the current technology isn’t quite there, there’s still much value in using 3D printed models for surgical simulation, intern/resident education, and patient consultation.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey/company/career/research in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
Robert: I started out as a research biomedical engineer fresh out of grad school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to contribute to the existing body of work. I keep up-to-date on what is happening within this unique industry. I was challenged with acquiring a large scale 3D printer too expensive for an existing budget. I poured a lot of time into researching the clinical and dollar value of a smaller service and creating projections for what it could return to the hospital with a larger program.
Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Robert: Robert Hannan and Dr. Redmond Burke
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Robert: I think the greatest motivation comes from patients, people I don’t even see 99% of the time. I have to believe that what I’m doing will help make a difference in their care.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Robert: The biggest obstacles in my line of work plague many others. There’s no health insurance reimbursement for 3D printed models used for patient care. The materials and/or equipment are expensive to buy and maintain. Many believe that this level of 3D printing is plug-and-play with a turn-around time of minutes or hours within the same day.
Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?
Robert: The price of larger scale machines and materials create a problematic barrier to programs that don’t have a budget to match.
Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?
Robert: Greater adoption, reimbursement, and more rapid development of these technologies.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?
Robert: I can’t remember when or where I heard this, or if I had thought of it on my own before hearing it, but you often hear that a biomedical engineer is “a jack of all trades and a master of none.” Keeping this terrible saying in mind, you will be challenged for what you think you’re worth, what you know, and what you’re capable of learning on the job. The job market tends to look better with the more experience and education you accumulate. If you stay committed to what you want to do and continue to learn about it, one day you’ll be the expert in almost any room you walk in and the people you work with will look to you for answers.
Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
Robert: “Contact the 3D Printing Center at Center at Washington University Medical Campus for your clinical 3D printing needs.” Is that too much self-promotion? Seriously, I would like to let more people know that this technology exists locally to them. The most accomplished feeling I have is when I 3D print a model for a patient who was previously diagnosed as inoperable (and he/she thrived after surgery).
Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Robert: Just like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Whenever I would travel for conferences, I lost some of my own money, but I would learn a lot about what others were doing with similar capabilities and I was able to keep up-to-date with what the “rock stars” of the industry were doing.
Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
Robert: My waking life is currently split in two. Outside of work, I’m usually swimming, cycling, running, racing or traveling for a race. I’ve been racing since I was 15 years old and it has grown from cross country 5Ks to Ironman distance events.
Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?
Robert: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”- Steve Prefontaine”
In whatever you do, you commit to giving the best of yourself to it. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Robert: Current and future innovations through collaboration.