As a child growing up in Mexico City, Fernando Cordova knew he wanted to be an engineer. He loved building Legos and taking apart radios to find out how they worked. But Cordova also gravitated toward the life sciences, and considered going to medical school. He found his niche with biomedical engineering and the U.S.
Cordova is a Senior Application Consultant with Brainlab, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland. Brainlab develops, manufactures, and markets software-driven medical technology that supports targeted, less-invasive surgery treatments. In his position, Cordova collaborates with hospitals and clinicians, providing technical and clinical support to physicians across the mid-Atlantic states.
Cordova moved to the U.S. to study biomedical engineering and pursue a bachelor’s degree at The University of Texas at Austin. With English as his second language, Cordova found the speed of his classes challenging. He also needed to repeat preparatory classes that he took in high school in Mexico in order to earn his degree. But Cordova persevered during his 6-year path to complete his undergraduate degree. “I knew it would be worth it. And there is nothing better than what I am doing now.”
Initially, Cordova thought he wanted to pursue the field of drug discovery. But his exposure to circuit classes at UT Austin helped him gravitate more toward instrumentation and the electrical and mechanical engineering components of the field. An internship Cordova completed at Patton Surgical during his senior year at UT Austin helped him solidify this shift. “I helped design trocars, or ports that make it possible to insert cameras and instruments into the body during laparoscopic surgery,” added Cordova. This internship would give Cordova a taste of what to expect in his future career, which is primarily spent in operating rooms, assisting doctors with brain surgeries.
Today, Cordova supports the use of Brainlab’s image-guided therapy tools for use in neurosurgery, oncology, orthopedics, ear, nose, and throat, and spine and trauma procedures. The technologies developed by Brainlab give surgeons a comprehensive picture of where they are operating in real-time, which is imperative when removing a brain tumor or treating a spinal injury where there is little room to maneuver without damaging nerves or other tissues. Cordova is present during surgeries to ensure proper use of the equipment and answer surgeons’ questions.
“I work closely with surgeons, and over the course of the past few years, I’ve now developed friendships with them,” says Cordova. “I’m lucky in that I get to see the rewards of my work. I collaborate with doctors on medical cases where we are able to remove a deep-tissue brain tumor, because we have a technology that allows for precise navigation. And, I’ve been able to meet with patients after these surgeries, which is fulfilling.”
Cordova advises undergraduate and graduate students pursuing biomedical engineering to “follow your passions, take risks, explore opportunities to be creative, work in industry through internships, and participate in lab research.”