The lecture hall can be a great place for learning the nuts and bolts of bioengineering and engineering design. But what’s often lacking is a true understanding of how this knowledge can be used to solve problems facing physicians and patients today. To fill this gap, Brain Institute investigator Robert Hitchcock, Ph.D., together with University of Utah Health Sciences surgeon John Langell, M.D., Ph.D., Bioengineering researcher Tomasz Petelenz, Ph.D and Design Professor Jim Agutter created the BioImmersion program, which concluded its first run this summer.
“The purpose of this program is to immerse students in the clinical environment,” explained Hitchcock. The students literally peer over physicians’ shoulders as they observe patient consultation, diagnostic procedures, treatment planning, and surgical procedures. “This approach better prepares them for identifying unmet needs in the clinic, and developing unique solutions.”
Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, BioImmersion is open to ten bioengineering and design undergraduates who have already honed their collaborative skills in the BioDesign or Honors Think Tank programs. Small teams that combine students from the two fields of study work together to understand and solve problems that they see in the clinic.
“When combining the analytical, and technical minds of engineering with the open, free-thinking approach of designers, great innovation became the product,” said design undergraduate Tyson England.
More akin to an entrepreneurial environment than a typical classroom, students are expected to take on their clinical responsibilities independent from course instructors. They are the ones who coordinate the logistics of getting into the hospital, arranging meetings with doctors, nurses, and technicians, and coordinating team efforts and follow-up.
“We’re working the same way that engineers and designers are in today’s industry,” said fourth year bioengineering undergraduate Alyssa Lolofie. “The work that the students put into the course is completely related to our dedication.”