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School of Engineering Receives National Institute of Health Grant to Promote Interdisciplinary Training

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Dr. Anita Singh, assistant professor of biomedical engineering 

Dr. Anita Singh, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Widener University, recently secured a $108,000 grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to improve multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary team-based training for students in the School of Engineering and the School of Nursing. The grant funding supports a multidisciplinary Biomedical Device Development course that includes a clinical immersion for biomedical engineering and nursing students so they can translate new devices and technologies.

Singh believes there is a strong benefit for engineering and nursing students to collaborate. “Engineers often have to interact with clinicians in the real world, so why not have them do so while they are in training,” Singh asked when applying for the grant. One of the most prestigious NIH grants, this education mechanism grant is aimed at promoting an appreciation for and interest in biomedical research, providing additional training in specific areas, and/or developing ways to disseminate scientific discovery into public health and community applications.

At Widener, a mix of 30 biomedical and mechanical engineering students and seven nursing participated in the team-based design project course this past spring. Each team of engineering students was paired with a nursing student. Susan Mills, assistant professor of nursing, and Dawn Ferry, director for Center of Simulation and Computerized Testing, supported the course from the nursing perspective.

The course curriculum is based around clinically driven, open-ended problems drawn from unmet needs identified by the students while observing clinical settings including Delaware Orthopedic Surgery, Scheie Eye Institute and A.I. DuPont.

The funded grant will now allow the students to offer improved design solutions that facilitate development of projects as part of their senior capstone. Also, during the course, once the clinical needs are identified, students will participate in two weeks of lab training in the School of Nursing’s Center for Simulation and Computerized Testing in order to better determine resolutions.

For Sarah Townsend, who recently graduated from the School of Engineering, the opportunity to design a clinical solution was one of the most memorable experiences of her time at Widener. “Going into the clinical setting and observing actual surgeries and then using that information to think of a way to make the procedure more efficient and safe was a cool experience.” According to Townsend, it was also helpful to have the nursing student’s input when they were developing their design so they could focus on patient satisfaction.

“The nursing students could provide feedback from the medical perspective on how the user would want to use a specific device,” Singh said.

Nursing students also gained a better understanding of the products they are using and to help them feel more prepared.  

“Just before taking part in this course there were times I would see things in clinical that I thought could be improved, but I didn’t know how to approach it,” Monica McNicholas, a rising senior in the School of Nursing, said. “Though it wasn’t my expertise I saw a need and knew I could offer insight.”

McNicolas worked on a team with Townsend developing a method to support surgery for trigger finger. “It was cool to collaborate our ideas,” she said. “At the end of the day we all want the same thing – to improve patient safety, we just each have a different thought process in getting there.”

Each of the teams focused on the practicality of the devices they were developing, keeping the patient and health care costs in mind and also considering the impact of the market on medical devices.

“It was a great interdisciplinary working experience for our students,” Singh said. “They were able to work with each other, to gain a better understanding of working with clinicians and users.

The course also included lectures and trainings on responsible conduct of research, intellectual property and patenting, FDA and regulatory path and market analysis. Additional guest lectures from experts in the field offered insight into the real world product development process.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website, http://www.widener.edu/.