Perspective: Engineering in Medicine
By Dean Joseph J. Helble
The decision of the Thayer School faculty three years ago to develop “Engineering in Medicine” as an area of strategic growth has led to a broad expansion of medical-related activity. Thayer professors have launched new collaborative research programs with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and have created courses on a wide range of medical topics, including cellular and molecular biomechanics, protein engineering, and imaging. Half of Thayer School’s 47 faculty members — the highest total in our 142-year history — conduct research and/or teach in the Engineering in Medicine area, including 10 tenure- or research-track assistant professors hired since 2006. This targeted faculty growth comes at just the right time, as we are experiencing significant enrollment increases in all of our programs.
Our Engineering in Medicine focus includes tremendous opportunities for our students in the classroom and the lab. Thayer has developed two new programs with Dartmouth Medical School (DMS). One is a five-year M.D./M.S. program to provide medical students with quantitative engineering skills they can carry forward into their careers as clinical practitioners; it complements our research-focused M.D./Ph.D. program that trains medical research scientists. The second is a new undergraduate major in biomedical engineering sciences that provides an opportunity for top students to seek early admission to DMS, enabling them to spend their senior or Bachelor of Engineering year focusing on research rather than on medical school applications. While our alumni records indicate that at least 3 percent of our graduates go on to earn an M.D. — a large percentage for an engineering school — we anticipate that these new programs will lead many more engineering students to careers in medicine, perhaps even surpassing the record set by the class of 1978, in which nearly 15 percent of our A.B. engineering graduates went on to earn the M.D.
Whether or not students pursue the M.D., our Engineering in Medicine focus is preparing them to develop the next generation of medical advances. With the current national focus on health-care reform and increasing interest in quantitative, evidence-based medicine, Thayer students are in an ideal position to help turn difficult problems into much-needed solutions.
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