Houston Methodist and Texas A&M celebrate inaugural class of “physicianeers”
The new engineering medicine program at Texas A&M University and its first students received an official welcome this week with “EnMed: From Vision to Reality”—a joint inaugural symposium.
The event, hosted by Houston Methodist Hospital and Texas A&M, celebrated the program’s launch and debut class of physician-engineers.
Three years ago, leaders at the Texas A&M College of Engineering as well as the university’s College of Medicine and Houston Methodist proposed a new joint program called Engineering Medicine (or EnMed) that marries the two disciplines. The integrative experience converges the medical school curriculum with engineering and entrepreneurship to train physician-engineers—“physicianeers”—to “effect better medical education, research and creation of technologies to improve the health of the planet,” EnMed Executive Dean Roderic Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D. said during the Oct. 28, 2019 symposium.
“No such program had been established. Nevertheless, these three institutions had the foresight to pursue this promising approach, envisioning a transformation of medicine in health care,” Pettigrew added. “The understanding of how engineering and biology and all scientific disciplines are seamlessly woven in life is core to EnMed. It is the fundamental concept on which EnMed is based. From this greater understanding of how human life really works at the molecular, cell and organ system levels will come the practical solutions to unmet medical and health care needs.”
EnMed is a dual-degree, engineering-based medical school and requires all students to have received their undergraduate degree in either engineering (whether electrical, mechanical, material science or another type) or computer science. Students begin the program with a three-week engineering boot camp followed by four years of medical school integrated with engineering and mathematics at the Texas A&M campus in the Texas Medical Center.
“The EnMed program is a paradigm shift that will become synonymous with transformation in health care as we know it,” M. Katherine Banks, Ph.D., Texas A&M’s dean of engineering based in College Station, said during her opening address to the students. “This program will prepare you as a professional with the skills to diagnose symptoms and treat patients along with the ability to solve complex problems and understand technology development and applications.”
The event also featured special guest speakers including bioengineer Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University; molecular biologist Peter Agre, M.D., 2003 Nobel laureate in chemistry and director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University; and Renaldo Nehemiah, retired track and field star and former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver.
In a conversation about breaking barriers, Nehemiah discussed his secret to success.
“What’s always driven me is a passion—a passion to freely do what I could do without boundaries and limitations,” he said. “I lost my mother when I was 14 years of age. She was 37 with breast cancer. During her last years on this earth, she knew that there were things I wanted to accomplish—always hearing the naysayers what you can or cannot do. I remember my mother saying as if it were yesterday: ‘If man can think it, man can do it. Don’t let man tell you what you couldn’t do.’”
Ultimately, failure is temporary but essential to progress, Nehemiah told the future physicianeers.
“You’re going to have to fail to in order to learn. What holds people back is fear and fear is self-imposed,” Nehemiah said. “When you take defeat off the table, there’s nothing left to do than to go all in. … You might surprise yourself. Incremental gains are still successes.”