Researching the Intersection of Technology and Humanness

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Growing up the son of two physicians near Rochester, Minn., Cole Puffer ’15 developed an early interest in science and medicine. He spent his Imagine Fellowship engaged in a comparative-data study conducted between clinicians at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and Akershus University Hospital in Norway.

Puffer started at Luther with a strong affinity for neuroscience but quickly gained an appreciation for the study of the mind through less scientific means. “I have a deep interest in what it means to be human,” he says. “My first year of classes at Luther ignited that sense of wonder, in particular Paideia and my first-year J-term, Big Questions.”

Through his fellowship, Cole worked with physicians at Mayo Clinic to design the study and its databases, as well as an unbiased method of collecting data at the participating institutions. Then he went to the Akershus University Hospital for two months, where he spent two or three days a week doing data collection and the other days shadowing Norwegian doctors in different parts of the hospital. One day, Puffer was shadowing a cardiologist while he monitored a patient who’d undergone minor surgery. The doctor was using an ultrasound machine on the patient’s lower leg but then set it down abruptly, frustration clouding his face. After the consultation, Puffer says, “He looked at me and said something profound: ‘We started using these machines, and we forgot how to be doctors.’”

“That moment really influenced me,” Puffer says, noting that it sparked a new interest in combating the negative role that technology sometimes plays in doctors’ offices.

“In my future career,” he says, “I really want to strive—partially as a direct result of going on this fellowship experience—to have a human touch in my practice and my relationship with my patients. They’re coming in in a vulnerable state—they’re going to the doctor because something is wrong—and the more you can greet that with both technology and a sense of humanity, the more it helps them feel confident in themselves and their treatment, which leaves both parties better off.”

If you had $5,000 to design a learning experience for yourself anywhere in the world, what would you do? This is the question posed to the 10 students that Luther selects as Imagine Fellows each year. To explore giving opportunities at Luther or to help support the Imagine Fellowships, please visit giving.luther.edu

Cole Puffer '15