UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

New bioengineering master's degree bridges engineering and medicine

San Diego, Calif., August 19, 2019 -- The University of California San Diego Department of Bioengineering is launching a new master’s degree meant to provide engineering students with exposure to the practice of medicine.

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In the Clinical Experience course, students shadow doctors in a clinical setting. 

The Master of Science in Bioengineering; Medical Specialization is a one-year program at the Jacobs School of Engineering that will prepare engineering students for careers in the biomedical industry, or bolster students’ clinical exposure in preparation for medical school. The UC San Diego Department of Bioengineering ranks 5th in the nation.

“Students who are interested in medical school may feel that they want to differentiate themselves, or need to fulfill a few more required courses, and often accomplish that through a post baccalaureate program,” said bioengineering Professor Adam Engler, a core faculty member in the new degree program. “The benefit of this program would be that you don’t just have post baccalaureate courses under your belt, but you have a degree associated with it.”

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Bioengineering Professor Adam Engler, a core faculty member in the new degree program, teaches an undergraduate version of the clinical experience course. 

A key component of the program is an experiential three-quarter capstone sequence—clinical reasoning, patient interaction and clinical experience—in which students learn about clinical trials, writing an Institutional Review Board application, how to interview patients, and the terminology used in clinical settings. Students also get hands-on clinical experience, shadowing doctors with the goal of identifying an actionable problem and going through the process of devising technical solutions. This clinical experience course is a more in-depth version of the popular and unique Clinical Bioengineering undergraduate course, also taught by Engler, which has led to the creation of several student startup companies.

“Students will go through case studies and learn about the development of the medical devices that we use clinically today,” said Dr. Kevin King, a practicing cardiologist with a dual appointment in the Department of Bioengineering and in the Division of Cardiology at the School of Medicine, who is also a core faculty for the master’s degree. “Only once we understand the engineering behind these devices and their clinical context can we start inventing the devices of tomorrow.”

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Bioengineering students Neha Chhugani (pictured) and Connie Gean test out the signal strength for safer EEG electrodes they designed for neonatal monitoring in the NICU. They developed the project in the undergraduate Clinical Bioengineering course after shadowing a neonatologist at Rady Children’s Hospital and noticing the prevalence of pressure ulcers on patients.

As a physician, King said he’s been impressed by engineers in the biotech and medical device industries who are conversant in clinical medicine and are able to understand the patterns and challenges of patient care and clinical decision-making.

“My impression is if we arm students with that clinical background coming right out of school, they’ll be very strong candidates for jobs in the medical device or pharmaceutical industries,” King said.

In addition to the capstone sequence, the Medical Specialization master’s degree curriculum includes a course in a life science area (such as biochemistry, cell biology, or cardiovascular physiology); one course in engineering sciences; and the remaining 28 units from any graduate course offering in bioengineering, mechanical engineering, nanoengineering, the School of Medicine or the Division of Biological Sciences. The curriculum allows up to 12 units of upper division undergraduate classes carved out from medical school requirements to fulfill any remaining courses that students applying might need.

“One way this degree will differentiate itself from post baccalaureate experiences or other master’s programs is the strong engineering focus,” Engler said. “It gives students a medical background so they feel more confident going into industry or medical school, but it’s rooted in engineering.”

While the degree is tailored for engineers, students earning related technical degrees—math or physics, for example—are also encouraged to apply. Applications for the first cohort, which will start in Fall 2020, are due December 1st. More information on the master’s degree is available here: http://be.ucsd.edu/masters-science-medical-specialization-curriculum-0

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