College Station, TX—Texas A&M University and Houston’s Methodist Hospital want to bring engineering into medical education.
Starting next fall, A&M will admit 50 engineering students to be part of its medical class—out of a class of 200—in a program designed to bring in those students’ expertise to promote innovative thinking in medical schools.
“This is based on the fact that medicine is moving more and more towards the technological,” says Mauro Ferrari, president and CEO of Houston’s Methodist Research Institute. “This is now the profile of what the doctors of the future are going to look like.”
Ferrari says the goal is to take the engineer’s mindset of seeking innovations to solve problems and apply that to the patient care setting.
Katherine Banks, A&M’s engineering vice chancellor and dean of the engineering school, says they hope to create what she calls “physicianeers” who will embrace entrepreneurship in greater numbers than medical students in traditional programs.
The program becomes the latest geared toward commercialization of life sciences, medical devices, and health IT innovations in Houston. The city’s biotech ecosystem has seen the second class of startups at the Texas Medical Center’s TMCx accelerator as well as new programming from JLabs and the inauguration of a new AT&T Foundry.
Students enrolling in this program would receive both a medical degree and a Master’s in Engineering. (Some students could earn a PhD in Engineering, Banks says.) They would be in school for about a year longer than typical medical students.
Part of the students’ curriculum requirements is research and potentially prototyping a technology product or service. Banks says she hopes to see future medical students working in such areas as tissue regeneration, robotics and other devices, and communications systems that can improve telehealth programs in South Texas.
Atul Varadhachary runs Fannin Innovation Studio, a Houston firm that acts like an incubator and accelerator for promising biotech companies. Part of Fannin’s mission is to help develop a larger cohort of biotech executives with the business skills needed to commercialize research coming out of Houston’s universities and hospitals. He says the A&M/Methodist program could help in that endeavor.
“The skill sets are important, but even more important is the mindset,” he says. “They’re more likely to be thinking about innovation with that perspective.”