Program paves way for engineering in medicine


The Daily Illini File Photos

Carle Illinois College of Medicine recruits tour the hospital facilities during the showcasing event on Oct. 21, 2017.

By Shreya Goel, Staff Writer

Carle Illinois College of Medicine became the world’s first engineering-based medical school in 2018. The program welcomed its inaugural class in the fall.

Elizabeth Woodburn is a member of this first class of students. She said people who applied took a leap of faith because they had very little information about the program. They also had no older students they could speak with to ask for advice or find answers to any of their questions.

Christine Chien is another medical student at Carle. She said she made the right choice to join the program. She described the atmosphere of the group as inspirational and embracive.

“Everybody seems very excited to train tech-savvy doctors,” Chien said.

Two phases make up the program. Woodburn said Phase 1 is nearly a year and a half long. During this time, students learn about medical technologies that relate to the conditions they are focusing on. During Phase 2, they learn in hospitals through patient interaction.

“Engineering is a thread that is woven into our curriculum rather than appearing as an isolated course,” Woodburn said. “Rather than simply learning how to interpret an ultrasound, we learn about how it operates and the physics behind the different settings.”

Chien describes the engineering-based learning experience as having two main components. First, professors at the University present and speak with students about their research, and they are updated on any developments. The second element provides students the opportunity to work on and improve that research. 

When asked about the best part about being a student at Carle, Kanesha Overton, another student in Medicine, said it is the college’s dean: Dr. King Li. She said he inspired her to think and create.

“He has helped me think about big and small ways to innovate,” Overton said. “Everyone is always looking for the next big invention, but small inventions mean just as much.”

Woodburn said she enjoys the freedom within the program. She can direct her learning in the way she wishes. This encouraged her to ask questions and investigate things on her own. She said she can expand beyond the traditional realm of coursework.

Carle hosted its first Health Mirror Make-A-Thon in December. This event presented the students with an opportunity to innovate. The winning team was given a grant of $10,000 to continue its research.

“The objective was to create devices that could give actionable data to users about their health,” Overton said.

For the event, participants split up into separate teams. Each team had one citizen-scientist from Champaign-Urbana. After working on their projects together, the teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges.

This class of medical students is working to shape the teaching at Carle so future students can have a better experience. Overton and Woodburn said their feedback is important in achieving that goal.

“We give feedback every week on the pros and cons of the lectures, problem-based learning experience or anything else we want to discuss about the school,” Overton said.

Woodburn said an immense amount of effort was put into developing the curriculum; however, not everything could be anticipated.

The first class of students was active in starting interest groups like Internal Medicine and Emergency, Chien said. This gives students a deeper insight into different medical specialities.

The students of the first class at Carle are also the only students who can provide effective advice for prospective students looking to apply to the medical program.

Carle attracts students who are proactive, self-guided learners, Chien said. The students have to know how to thrive in a nontraditional environment. She encourages students to be outspoken on their passions. She also said they should not be afraid of unconventional interests.

“Know that you are signing up for a more challenging curriculum, but a curriculum that will prepare you like no other school can,” Overton said.

[email protected]