Last summer, five undergraduates in Biomedical Engineering (BME) spent the summer at the School of Medicine to participate in National Institutes for Health-funded (NIH) BME Clinical Scholars program. This effort aims to bring engineering expertise to the clinic and clinical problems to the classroom.
For biomedical engineers, it can be difficult to identify clinical problems. Access to both clinics and clinicians is limited. As such, many of the challenges we face in healthcare today cannot be witnessed firsthand by the engineers and students who may have the ideas and solutions we need to better serve our patients. The BME Clinical Scholars goal is “to immerse undergraduates in clinical settings, identify unmet clinical needs, and generate clinically relevant problems and case studies for Biomedical Engineering classrooms.”
And it’s doing just that.
Last summer, BME students Anthony DeNovio, Julia Hartman, Morgan Hunt, Katie Lee, and Megan Thomas were the first cohort of BME Clinical Scholars. Mentored by School of Medicine students in their clerkship year, the BME students became immersed in the clinical environment and were given time to understand challenges, identify problems, and ask as many questions as they needed. This information was spun off into BME design projects, classroom materials, and curricular cases to be made available to all 120 BME students. This is a unique experience for both engineering and medical students.
The BME students apply and are interviewed before being selected for the program. When we asked for a few medical-student volunteers from our third-year class to act as mentors, we were unsure what the response would be. As always, our students surprise me (in a wonderful way). Twenty-five med students stepped forward with enthusiastic offers to help.
The NIH grant supporting the BME Clinical Scholars program covers five students each year for five years. From May to August they are exposed to several two- to four-week experiences in different settings, including the operating room, clinics, inpatient wards, intensive care unit, and the emergency department. The BME Clinical Scholars go everywhere in the hospital looking for ways to make healthcare better for those who work here but, more importantly, for our patients.
Examples of project ideas from last summer’s session include:
- A means to ensure correct positioning of endotracheal tubes during intubation.
- A system to prevent the prescription of incorrect drug dosages, especially in pediatric emergency departments where dosing requirements are different than for adults. This and related problems were identified by multiple scholars.
- A means to prevent or reduce complications and irritation (endophthalmitis) resulting from eye sutures used in intraocular surgeries.
Our medical-student mentors had positive things to say about the program, such as:
- “I learned a lot from working with a student of a different perspective and educational background!” —Nicole Thieken, SMD20
- “This experience was enlightening to me and was a wonderful reminder to continue to look at the structural/systemic issues present throughout our medical system.” — anonymous
- “Thank you for letting me be a part of this program. Two of the reasons I chose medicine were to teach/mentor (both my patients and students) and to work with people who are much, much smarter than me — I’m so glad I got to do a little bit of both this summer.” — John Popovich, SMD20
The second year of the program is gearing up and I look forward to welcoming BME students Jillian Butler, Rebecca Della Croce, Georgia Mackenzie, Jessica Mahoney, and Vinny Sciortino this summer.
With a program like this, there are a multitude of logistics to manage. Thank you to Dr. William Guilford from Engineering and our own Dr. Meg Keeley for partnering to make this happen, to our medical-student mentors for teaching (and, no doubt, learning from) the visiting BME students, and to all who supported this cross-disciplinary effort.
To learn more about the BME Clinical Scholars program, click here.
R.J. Canterbury, MD, MS, DLFAPA
Wilford W. Spradlin Professor
Senior Associate Dean for Education