Med School Dean Shares Thoughts on Physician Innovators

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PMY 497: Med School Dean Shares Thoughts on Physician Innovators

Session 497

Our guest today is Dr. Mark Cohen, the Dean of Carle Illinois College of Medicine. We had a great conversation on what it means to be a physician innovator.

Back in October of 2017, the former dean of Carle Illinois College of Medicinefirst came here to announce the recruitment of the school of medicine. And now, Mark is the current dean of the school.

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[03:15] A Little Background on Dr. Mark Cohen

During college, Mark saw the opportunity to create an impact for taking care of patients who are very ill. He was an engineer with a knowledge in the biology sciences. So he was  thinking about how to apply some things he learned in engineering school to improving how we think about taking care of patients.

'Once you have that foundation of knowledge, sky's the limit for whatever you want to do in your life.'Click To Tweet

Mark explains that the skill sets doctors bring to the table nowadays are very diverse. There are so many things that can add value to those conversations around how to take care of patients and how to be involved in research teams.

There are now more opportunities to think about how to solve bigger problems in medicine and utilize those skill sets to their fullest advantage. There are so many ways to break down barriers globally for health care access.

[05:57] The Thesis That Formed the School

At Carle Illinois College of Medicine, there was a thesis that created the world’s first engineering-based curriculum at a medical school. It’s been four years since they have graduated their first class.

'There's incredible value in bringing engineering-based design and patient-oriented design into the field of healthcare.”Click To Tweet

Mark says being able to meld together engineering-based principles and healthcare development brings great value in terms of innovation that advances the future of medicine.

In an institution that has a similar vision and mindset, they were able to utilize that to become physician innovators. Mark says they’re incredibly proud of their first class having 100% match, which was a big deal when you’re a new medical school. Not only that, but they matched into their top choices.

And they feel the result just reflected how the curriculum was helpful to them and the experiences they had to get to that point.

[09:36] The Key Traits of Being a Physician Innovator

Mark stresses the importance of how they had to build the infrastructure necessary to build those solutions, regardless of where their physician innovators go. Even as a resident, they can be incredibly effective.

Coming into a new environment and seeing those challenges in the health care system, it’s helpful to have the tools that need to be developed.

Advocacy for Change

Another key trait of a physician innovator is being an advocate for change, where they never accept the status quo. 

Not all places are as willing to think about change as much as other places. And so, it requires people who are going to step up and advocate for that change, to be meaningful. Mark clarifies we can’t always rely on the status quo because medicine is a constantly changing field.

The Ability to Adapt

He adds that we have to adapt and be able to think about the future of how to solve these problems that are becoming more and more challenging.

When you look around the world, innovation is a huge component of healthcare and other countries. And to be at the lead of this, Mark recognizes the fact that they have to also be training people that are going to be nimble in this environment. They have to be able to adapt and advocate for those changes that need to happen to make healthcare better.

Learning How to Apply Their Newfound Skills

Currently, what they’re seeing are students who really want to think about that intersection of technology and medicine and be at the forefront of where it’s heading. They know how to, not just utilize those new technologies, but also apply it to research as well as other areas of medicine, that can bring meaningful change. Mark says this is the kind of student that wants to be a part of that change.

[16:27] Is There a Chance for Non-Engineering-Based Students to Be at Carle Illinois?

Mark reveals that more than a quarter of their class are non engineering-based students. Then the skill sets they develop at the school utilize those design principles.

Their goal is to give people the tools to think about how to take complex problems in medicine, and break them down into things they can solve. 

They work together and use that cognitive diversity to solve these problems. They look for a way to prototype, implement, test, and make sure the solution is solving the problem for the people experiencing it.

Then they’re able to advocate for how that can be implemented and scaled so they get to patients. It’s the whole roadmap that can be challenging to navigate sometimes. So they have to have the right tools and skills which they will learn along the way.

[18:13] A Look Into Their Curriculum

At Carle Illinois, they integrate engineering design and applications into all aspects of the curriculum. Students work in teams. They not only think about case based problems and medicine, but they ideate around other ways to think about solutions. 

They learn how to apply things like, not only solving problems around diagnosing a patient with aortic stenosis or a heart failure. But they’re actually able to figure out how interventions can change the flow rates and utilize that as they think about how to create a new device in the future.

'That fresh pair of vision lets you see things in a way that people who have been in there doing it for many years may often miss.'Click To Tweet

Their curriculum allows the students to really ask those questions of why they are doing things this way or if there’s a better way to do it. They start to ask those tough questions and work with clinicians and engineers to try and think about how they can solve them.

The integration happens at all phases of the curriculum. It allows students to express their curiosity and creativity, in a way that allows them to do that with patients as the center of that thought process and how to improve healthcare.

Mark believes it’s a very powerful teaching strategy to be able to incorporate some of that design thinking in all aspects of healthcare. 

[22:56] The Impact of Physician Innovators in Primary Care

Mark claims we need more innovators in primary care. They have a large rural based health system that takes care of patients in a wide geographic area. They deal with a lot of problems around access, getting specialty care into low resource communities, etc.

One thing that pandemic has taught us, Mark says, is that digital health is something that is going to be impactful. How we can utilize that to better take care of patients in their communities is key.

The Role of Physician Innovators in Preventive Medicine

In terms of primary care innovations, there are so many things around preventive medicine that a physician innovator can engage in. For example, people are now using wearable technology to monitor patients in their homes. You can now measure your heart rate, blood pressure, weights, all those things.

When you think about chronic diseases like heart failure, diabetes, and cancer, doctors can now monitor those patients in their home environments. They’re able to utilize innovative machine learning algorithms to tell when patients are having an exacerbation before they get to a point where they have to come to the emergency room. They can take care of them earlier in their communities and make an impact as a preventive measure.

All this is going to really revolutionize, not only access to care, but also the applications of technology in the primary care setting.

[25:36] The Future of Carle Illinois

The key is listening to what students’ experiences have been, and what things they think would be better. They are committed to working with students so they can continuously improve.

They hope to expand some of the research opportunities, and their curriculum to allow new ideas to move into the clinic more effectively and create larger impact. They’re also building new corporate relationships that will allow them to scale some of their new ideas on a global setting.

Creating an Impact in Medicine

Most of their students have the mindset of being able to create meaningful impact and meaningful change through innovation and working to solve problems in medicine.

Creating Change Agents Around the World

Mark says their graduates are now interns. What they’re seeing is that many of them are staying engaged with the college so they can be alumni mentors for current students.

And since they’re all in different locations building their innovative ideas out, they can create a broader national network through this process.

'Traditional teaching has incredible value, but it doesn't always focus on some of the forward-thinking issues that we need to think about as rapidly as the world is changing.'Click To Tweet

Creating Corporate Partnerships

The school is also creating several new corporate partnerships on campus, allowing their students to have access to those thought leaders in the industry.

They have individual lab environments where students can work on creating everything from new molecules to 3D printing, prototyping, machine fabrication, or even mixed reality with augmented and virtual reality devices.

Students have this full spectrum of not only creating new ideas, but then bringing them into the lab to test them, to prototype, and to build with engineering people. They’re thinking about the opportunity to move it outside of the university, making up this whole ecosystem that allows students to take their ideas and do more with them.   

[38:15] What If You’re Not Creative?

Mark argues that everyone has some creativity in them, and the key is how to unlock that creativity to think about how to apply it to solving problems or asking the right questions.

This is why Mark emphasizes the importance of having mentorship and a diverse group of faculty with a variety of experiences and backgrounds to provide that student with guidance.

Asking those right questions, and learning how to do that process more effectively, is something that these students get plenty of experience with. Then when they’re out in their residencies, they’re going to be asking different questions in their specialties.

“It's just this ability to utilize that creativity and harness it in a way that allows them to see that process and see how they can make a difference.”Click To Tweet

[40:07] Final Words of Wisdom

If you are interested in solving problems in medicine, and being that advocate for change in medicine and healthcare; if you’re thinking about where technology and medicine intersect, and how that can be a thought of and applied in a way to build the future of medicine – then Mark thinks that you’re the kind of student who will flourish at Carle Illinois.

You will have the opportunity to make an impact on where healthcare is going. You will have a great opportunity to improve health care and utilize technology and resources from a variety of different fields – to solve big problems in healthcare. And if you want to be a part of that, Carle Illinois will show you how to do that, so apply now!


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