By Jennifer J. Salopek
On March 12, the board of trustees of the University of Illinois approved a new medical school for the Urbana-Champaign campus, a plan that has been under development for over a year. The proposed new school, to be known as Carle-Illinois College of Medicine, will feature unique partnerships with U of I’s College of Engineering and with Carle Health System to deliver a small niche program for physician–scientists and engineers. Students who complete the five-year curriculum will graduate with a master’s in engineering and an MD. In a series of interviews with Wing of Zock last summer, officials and experts explained their vision for the new medical school.
The genesis of the concept is widely attributed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who has described it as a “game-changer.”
“This will be the first college of medicine begun expressly with a focus on the relationship of engineering to medicine, fundamentally founded on the strengths of our engineering school,” she said.
An economic development study conducted by consulting firm Tripp Umbach revealed the potential for biosciences research to drive local economic growth and development; estimates of economic impact are as great as $1 billion per year by 2035, a number Wise called “conservative.”
Firm founder and president Paul Umbach sees rich potential for new approaches as the delivery of health care evolves. “With patients, you can go only so far with medical understanding. Doctors increasingly must create solutions for patients rather than following accepted care pathways. They will have the opportunity to develop and deploy innovative tools and commercialize them.”
The time is right, Wise said. “Biology and zoology have been the basis of the way we teach medicine. That’s a 20th-century model. All medical schools are changing to a case-based curriculum that emphasizes problem solving. We will be bringing in engineering at the same time, to address the quantitative aspects from the very first day.”
She also noted that the program won’t be for everyone. “The dogma of medicine can be dangerous,” she said. “We will be seasoning the medical profession with the kind of student we’ll be educating, who relies on hypothesis-driven research.”
Carle Health System, the only fully integrated health system in the state, is making an investment of $100 million over the first 10 years and will have equal partnership on the oversight council that will govern the school. The school may be able to use Carle’s insurance and patient data to drive studies and understand solutions. “This gives us huge potential to improve the health of our community,” Wise said.
Normand Paquin, PhD, MBA is associate director for research at the College of Engineering and has been serving as project coordinator for the medical school proposal since February of 2012.
“We are seeking a win–win that benefits the entire state,” he said. “In terms of fields of endeavor where engineering can have the greatest impact in the coming decades, health care is one where we can play a transformative role. We see the opportunity to drive improvements in health care from the ground up.” Although Paquin notes that other examples of medical/engineering school cooperation exist, such as those at Harvard and MIT, his institution plans on breaking the mold. “We are looking to real fusion rather than building on top of existing structures.”
“We believe that by starting from the beginning with engineering principles, we have the ability to educate a new generation of doctors with innovation backgrounds who are better equipped to achieve the Triple Aim,” Wise said. “If we are successful also at developing the next generation of devices and data, perhaps patients won’t have to go to the doctor’s office anymore.”