The ongoing pandemic and the unique challenges to health care delivery it continues to create have brought to light the need for medical professionals to have a broader skillset to solve the most complex and pressing challenges. Because of this need, and to ensure technology and clinical care are optimized to an individual patient’s needs, Drexel University recently launched an unprecedented offering for future leaders in STEM and health disciplines: a new minor in pediatric engineering. The new program is the nation’s first minor in pediatric engineering for those in STEM and health fields and among the first concentrations or minor degree programs in the country that explore this growing discipline.
The new graduate level minor also comes at a time of expansion of niche offerings in higher education, as public and private higher education colleges and universities have added 41,446 degree or certificate programs since 2012.
The pediatric engineering minor consists of a broad interdisciplinary curriculum to train students from the fields of science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, psychology and other related degree programs in childhood injury and disease, health care and treatment, and prepares students to apply design-thinking biomedical engineering principles to drive innovation in research laboratories and in patient-centered care at the bedside.
“Current medical interventions treat our children as if they are little adults,” said Amy Throckmorton, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and co-director of the minor degree program. “Children have unique anatomy and physiology that dramatically change during growth and development, and pediatric diseases are complex and distinct from adult diseases. Our children deserve personalized therapeutics and our very best in medical care, technology and treatment.”
Throckmorton added that this program will prepare tomorrow’s health care leaders to develop these new solutions and contribute to the latest technology and body of knowledge tailored specifically to this patient population.
“Innovation in health care discoveries and technology for children has lagged decades behind the progress seen for adults, despite the rare and distinct needs of the pediatric population,” said Paul W. Brandt-Rauf, ScD, MD, DrPH, dean of the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. “Thanks to ongoing and new collaborations with clinical experts at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and industry partners, our minor degree program will educate and empower our students to be the engineers, clinicians, and entrepreneurs charged with closing this gap, which in general cannot be met simply with smaller versions of adult technology."
Grounded in the fundamentals of biomedical and pediatric engineering, the program gives students the option to take a broad array of electives, spanning topics like cardiovascular engineering, biomedical ethics and law, medical device development and biomedical mechanics. These course options help to ensure graduates are nimble and adaptable for a variety of careers in pediatric engineering and health care and are particularly prepared to develop innovative therapies, devices and treatments to improve children’s health.
"The profound and complex heterogeneity of the pediatric life cycle demands nuanced considerations in terms of therapeutics and interventions,” said Jamie L. Wells, MD, an adjunct professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. “Painting care with a broad brush like the overly simplistic notion of scale is insufficient to accommodate the fluid nature of the developing child. This newly emerging field of pediatric engineering accounts for these very real and human factors."
Eligibility for the program
Drexel’s minor in pediatric engineering is open to Drexel graduate students in STEM or health-related programs who demonstrate a mathematical skill requirement of at least calculus I.
“This minor degree is designed for our Drexel students. However, non-Drexel students or professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree could also enroll as non-matriculated student.” said Andres Kriete, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems.
Why Pediatric Engineering is Growing
Throckmorton and colleagues recently wrote an editorial in the journal Artificial Organs on "The Newly Emerging Field of Pediatric Engineering: Innovation for Our Next Generation,” sharing why this unique educational training is so critically needed and how new lessons are learned every day in this field.
For example, the authors cite a newly observed “Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome” in children that is associated with COVID-19 which helps researchers understand why adults experience a more intense “hyperinflammatory response” to the disease. Additionally, researchers do not know the long-term effects of the pandemic on children, including remote schooling and missed medical appointments—new challenges which those in health and STEM fields will need to tackle for decades to come.
“[Pediatric engineering] commandeers design to suit the specific needs of the child, while anticipating the dynamic growth and development into adulthood,” the authors wrote. “We are growing a new pipeline of educated scientists and engineers who will have developed a unique toolbox of skills that they can use to tackle unmet clinical needs in global pediatric health care for years to come.”
Program details and required courses are available at the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems website.