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Spirit® is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Physicians 2.0

Texas A&M University’s Engineering Medicine program is producing a new line of innovative doctors known as "physicianeers."

Physicians 2.0

Texas A&M University’s Engineering Medicine program is producing a new line of innovative doctors known as "physicianeers."

The medical world has seen numerous technological advances in recent years. From MRI machines and CT scanners to telehealth, new inventions solve problems and improve health care for all. Oftentimes, though, doctors recognize the need for a solution but lack the engineering skills to design one. Imagine the innovations in a world where doctors have knowledge of health care needs and the inventive expertise to solve those issues. Texas A&M University’s Engineering Medicine (EnMed) program aims to make that world a reality.

A partnership between the College of Engineering, the College of Medicine and Houston Methodist Hospital, EnMed launched its inaugural class in 2019 during the Lead by Example campaign and exemplifies the way Texas A&M is shaping the future. This transformative program is unique in allowing students to earn a medical degree and a master’s in engineering in four years. The engineering degree program focuses on the design, development and implementation of medical technologies. Through development of their own ideas or collaboration with EnMed partners, every student is required to contribute to the development of a medical solution to a health care challenge before graduation. Through these requirements, EnMed will produce doctors and innovators who will help advance the world’s health.

Texas A&M University's Engineering Medicine (EnMed) program, which launched its inaugural class in 2019, is unique in allowing students to earn a medical degree and a master’s in engineering in four years. Every student is required to contribute to the development of a medical solution to a health care challenge before graduation.

Based in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, the program recently expanded its footprint in the area with a new building that will create additional opportunities for Texas A&M to impact medicine. Thanks to the support of donors like Sue Smith and Craig Brown ’75, Jean and Frank Raymond, and Randall Shepard ’71, the program is currently training 59 students in its first two classes, with plans to admit 50 students annually. For current students Priya Arunachalam ’23 and Zachary Richards ’19 ’23, EnMed allows them to pursue their passions while training them to become medical providers of the future.

A New Model

By providing an education that integrates engineering and medicine, EnMed is producing a new kind of physician: “a physicianeer.” These professionals will have the training of a traditional doctor while possessing the engineering and business expertise to design new medical technologies and understand what is required to commercialize them for the medical market.

“The goal is to transform health care through filling the medical profession with physicianeers,” said Dr. Michael Moreno ’09, EnMed’s director of innovation. “Our students learn that every problem they encounter while treating patients is an opportunity to design a better solution.”

EnMed is a first-in-the-nation program where students earn degrees in both medicine and engineering in four years. At the heart of this approach is the philosophy that medicine and engineering are fundamentally linked. “The most practical way to solve our health care problems is through this convergence of the physical and life sciences,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, executive dean of EnMed. “Bringing those two fields together is natural because, in nature, they are interwoven.”

The program facilitates this connection by covering the same topics in both medical and engineering classes. For instance, as students study the respiratory system, they also learn about respiratory devices for patients. The program also blends the language used to describe engineering and medical concepts to help students become effectively bilingual in both fields and think in both simultaneously.

“EnMed has shown me that engineering and medicine are two sides of the same coin,” said Richards, a second-year student. “Both involve groups of people identifying needs and problem-solving to meet those needs.”

 

Zachary Richards '19 '23 is a second-year student in the EnMed program. He earned his bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering at Texas A&M, where he researched the bone-regenerating properties of stem cells. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)
The program's "physicianeers" will have the training of a traditional doctor while possessing the engineering and business expertise to design new medical technologies and understand what is required to commercialize them for the medical market. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)

Beyond the classroom, EnMed students gain real-world experience by working closely with doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital, ranked the number one hospital in Texas nine years in a row and a Top 20 Honor Roll hospital nationwide. This collaboration starts in their first year and expands in their fourth semester as students begin interacting with patients during a clerkship phase.

“Working with Houston Methodist doctors is incredible,” said Arunachalam, a second-year EnMed student. “These doctors are who we aspire to be, and having them as role models around us makes our goals more tangible.”

The program offers flexibility to provide each student with an individualized education tailored to their career goals and culminates in an Innovation Portfolio. To complete the program, each student works with a mentor or researchers in the Texas Medical Center to develop a new device, technology or system with a goal to commercialize their innovation.

“The innovations they create or develop can focus on helping a patient, protecting a clinician or improving the way a hospital system operates,” Moreno said. “There are numerous problems that may be addressed. EnMed students want to help improve the quality of health care in general for all of humanity.”

An Austin native and business owner, Priya Arunachalam '23 earned her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University followed by an MBA in health care management and entrepreneurship. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)

Innovator Material

EnMed attracts students like Arunachalam and Richards who are natural problem-solvers and hold bachelor’s degrees in areas such as engineering, physics or computer science. An Austin native and business owner, Arunachalam earned her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, where she collaborated to launch a few startups that never reached the market. She noticed that many of her classmates experienced the same issue and decided to earn an MBA in health care management and entrepreneurship from Johns Hopkins to learn more about the business side of startups. During that time, she co-founded a company that provides cold storage solutions for health and nutrition delivery in sub-Saharan Africa.

Arunachalam was attracted to the EnMed program because of its focus on not just producing an innovation but also successfully introducing it to the medical field. “My understanding of the business world made the program more appealing because I saw an end result for all the physicians coming out of the program,” she explained.

She hopes to become a surgeon and expand access to health care by devising a new type of hospital system. EnMed is providing the environment she needs to help achieve these goals. “Meeting so many physicians early on is invaluable,” she said. “Learning medicine while maintaining an engineering lens also keeps me in that innovative mind space.”

A second-generation Aggie, Richards earned his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering. During his time at Texas A&M, he researched the bone-regenerating properties of stem cells and received an innovation grant from the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology to develop 3D-printed scaffolds for facial bone repair. For his talents, he was awarded the Craig Brown Outstanding Senior Engineer Award.

When he discovered EnMed, Richards knew it was the perfect way to stay involved in research while also pursuing his goal to become a doctor. “EnMed provides the combination of engineering and medicine that I crave, and it’s laying the groundwork for an influential medical career,” he said.

Although he is still exploring different specializations, he plans to incorporate his engineering and development skills into his career. “I feel so well-connected to the people around me and to different opportunities,” Richards said. “That’s how EnMed helps us achieve our goals: It’s not just the education and the personal experience but also the connections we are building with each other and the people who know the ins and outs of medical innovation.”

Like Arunachalam and Richards, many students have participated in innovations or research prior to joining the program, and these creative energies have continued through EnMed. Some students have already begun tackling medical problems in their first year, such as solutions to treat GI disorders or improve hospital systems, while Richards and others worked together to make open source ventilators and created a mask-fitting app for physicians when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It’s surprising how much extracurricular work they are doing,” Moreno said. “They are going above and beyond.”

An Expanding Signal

The EnMed program continues to expand its influence in the Texas Medical Center. In fall 2020, the program moved from its previous classroom space in Houston Methodist’s West Pavilion to its own home in the Discovery Tower, a newly renovated 18-story building containing classrooms and a state-of-the-art makerspace. The facility is part of EnMed’s new 5-acre Innovation Plaza, which will contain two additional buildings: Life Tower, a 19-story student housing and parking facility, and Horizon Tower, a 30-story building containing professional office spaces, retail areas and green space. As the largest new project in the Texas Medical Center, the development broke ground in October 2020 and is scheduled for completion in 2023.

EnMed is emerging as a key part of the Texas Medical Center in Houston. The program now has its own home in Discovery Tower, a newly renovated 18-story building containing classrooms and a state-of-the-art makerspace. 

These facilities are another example of the university’s commitment to leading by example. “Within the Texas Medical Center, there are many medical institutions and contributors, but none of them do what EnMed does,” Pettigrew explained. “Our program establishes a very unique role for Texas A&M within the Texas Medical Center, and the expansion has tremendous future potential for establishing our university as a global leader in this new field.”

EnMed was built on a collaborative mindset, and Innovation Plaza will further this focus through new professional spaces that allow medical experts and Texas A&M faculty and students to more closely interact and problem-solve. In addition to expanding health-related research and funding, the development will help increase the health care technology market in the Texas Medical Center and create new startup companies and jobs.

“Innovation Plaza will be a community for discovery,” Pettigrew said. “It will stimulate imaginative ideas and facilitate the development of products that will bring better health to the planet.”

Inventing Tomorrow

EnMed’s innovative approach is supported by donors who share the program’s transformative vision. These include Sue Smith and Craig Brown, leaders of the Craig and Galen Brown Foundation, as well as Jean and Frank Raymond of the Frank J. and Jean Raymond Foundation. Both couples committed $5 million gifts through the Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation to create an endowed chair for Houston Methodist researchers involved in EnMed and to fund students’ Capstone Innovator Awards projects.

Smith and Brown, who also founded the landmark Brown Scholars program at Texas A&M, believe EnMed combines their passions for medicine and innovation in a world of rapid technological advancements. “EnMed is very exciting not only because it is a first-in-the-nation program but also because it holds the promise to transform medicine and impact patients and communities worldwide,” Smith said.

“EnMed will produce a new doctor,” added Brown. “The combination of engineering and medicine is a new field, and it will lead to life-changing innovations.”

The program’s focus on innovation also interested Raymond, an engineer and entrepreneur who created Texas A&M’s Raymond Ideas Challenge, a campus-wide competition for students to submit ideas for new products, services or solutions. The Raymond Foundation also provides five scholarships to Aggies each year. “EnMed is the start of something unique,” Raymond said. “I have such enthusiasm for supporting young people who are excelling in college and looking for opportunities to excel in the future.”

Donors like Randall Shepard ’71 are also supporting EnMed students with scholarships created through the Texas A&M Foundation. A member of the College of Science and College of Medicine advisory boards, Shepard recognizes EnMed’s potential to solve problems beyond this world and created his gift to promote research on the effects of space travel and exploration on humans. “I want students to go beyond the limits to solve problems we are just beginning to identify from space exploration,” he said.

With such robust resources, EnMed’s students can look toward innovative careers that will forever shape the health care industry’s future. As for its supporters, they’re in agreement on the indelible transformations that will follow. 

“Where do I see EnMed in 20 years?” said Brown. “Beyond my imagination.”

To fulfill EnMed’s mission of improving the world’s health, the Texas A&M Foundation partners with the Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation to fundraise for the program and its future physicianeers. To learn more about giving opportunities, contact Karen Slater '88, assistant vice president for development, at (979) 436-9108 or by submitting a message using the form below.

Contact:

Karen Slater '88

Assistant Vice President for Development
Health Science Center