Top students drawn to new combined program in health sciences and engineering 

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A new program beginning this September at McMaster that combines engineering and health sciences has attracted many of the best and brightest minds.

A group of 128 students from throughout Ontario, across Canada and around the world will be starting their first year in the Integrated Biomedical Engineering and Health Sciences (iBioMed) program. The inaugural cohort was selected from more than 920 applicants.

Arjun Raghavan, who calls Winnipeg, Man. home, is an incoming first-year student. An aspiring MD candidate, he was interested in the program to gain a solid foundation in biomedical engineering that would be applicable to his future practice of medicine in a clinical or research environment.

“I applied to iBioMed because I was attracted by the curriculum offered by two well-known faculties, engineering and health sciences,” Raghavan said.

“The program’s well-structured curriculum is the perfect avenue to realize my goals, i.e. meeting the requirements of admission to medical school while acquiring a biomedical/mechanical engineering degree. I found this to be unique among Canadian universities.”

The iBioMed program is the first in Canada to offer an interdisciplinary five-year biomedical program that integrates engineering with health sciences. It is also the only health sciences program in health, engineering science and entrepreneurship.

After a common first year, students will enter either the Bachelor of Engineering and Biomedical Engineering or the Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences in Health Engineering Science and Entrepreneurship degree stream.

Chelsea Angeles, an incoming student from Mississauga, Ont., said the new program was a natural choice as it allows her to pursue her interests in both the wonders of the human body as well as the technicality of science.

“I am definitely looking forward to the self-discovery process which this program offers as it provides opportunities for individuals like myself to truly get a gist of what the engineering and health sciences program entails,” said Angeles.

“Being able to put my knowledge and skills to the test while determining my strengths and weaknesses may seem a little frightening, but definitely rewarding and exciting. I cannot wait to further explore the world of engineering and health sciences simultaneously while getting the chance to truly get to know myself, as well.”

It is an exciting time for both faculties as they welcome this high-calibre group of students, according to Hubert de Bruin, co-director of the program.

“We had a great response during the application process and the cut off was at 94 per cent for high school students, which is impressive,” said de Bruin, professor of electrical and biomedical engineering.

“The program attracts people who are flexible in their learning and want to have a much broader education.”

De Bruin said the combination of exceptional students and talented instructors will equate to a successful first year that will only grow the program’s reputation.

“We want to give the students the best experience possible with this high-quality program,” he said. “This is the only program of its kind combining the strengths of the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Health Sciences and I think it is a winning formula.”

Collaboration is a key part of the five-year program and will be fostered through a series of project-based design courses. These projects are intended to develop students’ working knowledge of contemporary issues related to society, ethics and professionalism while developing biomedical engineering solutions to real-world health-care problems.

“When you talk to researchers in biomedical sciences or you talk to clinicians who are practicing, there are all sorts of challenges, but there are not currently tangible solutions,” said Michelle MacDonald, co-director of the program and associate professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at the Faculty of Health Sciences.

“We are bringing these health-care specialists into the classroom and bringing their health-care problems into the classroom, and asking students to propose solutions as part of these projects.”

One first-year project will be done in partnership with Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at McMaster. iBioMed students will be asked to develop on-campus solutions for people with accessibility challenges.

“We’ll be looking to recruit volunteers from SAS to come into the classroom, talk about their challenges, review the solutions and provide their feedback,” said MacDonald.

“This can have a tangible impact locally and it fosters interdisciplinary experiential learning that is at the core of this program.”

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