Connecting Technology and Compassion at Carle Illinois

By Meghan McCoy, English, '18

Illustration by Karolina Malaczynska, Graphic Design, '18

Doctors worldwide are known for their years of education, training, and literal life-saving skills. As arguably one of the most difficult educational pursuits and professions, the schools and students who decide to undertake an M.D. program face rapidly-changing technologies, global patterns, and diseases. This means the world of medicine is challenged to evolve in order to meet myriad challenges facing humanity.

Luckily, Carle Illinois College of Medicine--Champaign-Urbana’s brand-new medical school--is doing just that.

Opening in July 2018 as the world’s first engineering-based college of medicine, Carle Illinois College of Medicine is essentially the answer to a question that Dr. Judith Rowen, who was named the new associate dean for academic affairs in November 2017, says has been asked for the past few years.

“The vast majority of medical schools are based on what is called the Flexnerian model, which was created in 1910 by Abraham Flexner,” Rowen explained. “He outlined a program for medical education that involves two years in the laboratory and classroom, followed by two years in the clinic and hospital. But obviously medicine has changed since then, [and so] we have to change medical school.”

The question: How to create a new form of medical training to meet the challenges facing medicine today? The answer: Create a brand-new medical curriculum that “integrates the biological and clinical sciences alongside engineering and technology, and medical humanities, throughout the four year degree,” said the college of medicine executive associate dean Dr. Rashid Bashir.

While Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s summer launch is a familiar topic to the Champaign-Urbana community, the focus of technology and engineering in their program is a new concept. As Carle Illinois students progress through their four years at the school, they will focus on medical innovation and applying new technologies.

One of the people who best understands this incredibly exciting task is Professor Thenkurussi (Kesh) Kesavadas, co-director, JUMP simulation & education center at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. . Kesavadas, who in 2014 was named the first director of the Health Care Engineering Systems Center at Illinois, described healthcare advances designed from engineering and technology that seemed more reminiscent of a Star Trek episode than a hospital.

“We are looking at how engineering can help people’s health. A lot of basic research goes on in campus, so what we are trying to do is look at those technologies and see how we can apply those to health and people,” explained Kesavadas.

“One area, which we broadly call Smart Health Technologies, [uses] sensors that can track everything from movements to vitals, while Virtual Reality could potentially simulate different kinds of patients and give doctors a chance to practice skill sets in a virtual environment, instead of first on real patients.”

Although it might seem like students wouldn’t incorporate these technologies and engineering concepts until later in their education, Rowen emphasized how each course is connected by a series of “threads” that begin on day one and weave throughout the entire degree.

“All of our courses are integrated, and one of our threads is engineering-innovation,” she explained. “We want to make sure that throughout the curriculum students are exposed to the concepts important in innovating, [like] creativity, curiosity, entrepreneurship, etc.”

To make sure that students receive the depth of exposure the college of medicine is hoping for, students will be introduced weekly to a new case that challenges them to think from both a medical and an engineering point of view. For example, Rowen described how one of the first cases students work on is a patient with chest pain. In this case she wants the students to think about not just how to take blood pressure and treat an abnormal result, but to also consider how blood pressure physically happens. Specifically, “blood pressure is an engineering concept,” said Rowen.

In addition, Rowen affirmed how each course is staffed by a physician, basic scientist, and an engineer. This structure exemplifies the college of medicine’s three-tiered approach and how the college plans to create physician-innovators. Every course is also designed to implement the “four C’s,” or curiosity, competence, creativity, and compassion, that shape Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s’ philosophy.

Technological innovation in combination with compassion initially feels like an oxymoron. Bashir was quick to clarify why compassion is just as vital to technological innovation in the practice of medicine. “At the end of the day this [compassion] is so critical. We are not replacing the physician with the machine,” said Bashir. “The idea is to provide information and flexibility to the physicians to become better and more compassionate, and make connections with patients at a human level.”

Cultivating the “four C’s” in their students may be one of the most important components of the college of medicine’s program. But implementing a groundbreaking curriculum focused on technology and engineering takes a great amount of technological support and development. This is where Technology Services at the University of Illinois has been essential.

Senior designer Rick Hazlewood with Technology Services is working behind the scenes with the college of medicine to format Compass 2g, a course website that professors will use to upload coursework, grades, assignments, or other materials. Responsible primarily for assisting faculty, Hazlewood described that his main tasks involved “working on how they [professors] are going to manage class rosters, how we’re going to migrate students, and how many course spaces professors need.”

Going a step further, Hazlewood explained that his job is not just formatting and developing Compass 2g before the summer term begins, but also helping faculty learn how to conduct general upkeep. “We’re teaching professors how to upload rosters, how to do some of the maintenance themselves . . . and finding out if what they want is compatible with what the students are needing,” he said.

These goals, namely formatting Compass 2g to be user-friendly while helping professors better understand how to solve day-to-day problems, will support everyday tasks and help to ensure that professors and students can focus on creating new research and becoming the physician-innovators the college of medicine envisages.

When asked what role Technology Services plays at the college of medicine, Rowen responded “They’re playing an enormous role. We’re talking about the people who make sure we have a wireless network and VPN [virtual private network]. the kind of stuff that has to happen behind the scenes. We couldn’t function without this, and I think this is true of students in any field.”

Supported by Technology Services and hundreds of personnel who ensure no detail is overlooked, there is little doubt that Carle Illinois College of Medicine will produce phenomenal physician-innovators who treat patients with both ingenuity and compassion.