Feature Story | 8-Jan-2024

Rice bioengineering curriculum cultivates human-centered approach to medical design

NIH award backs clinical immersion program with a medical humanities angle

Rice University

HOUSTON – (Jan. 8, 2024) – A five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will support the development of an innovative undergraduate bioengineering curriculum component intended to cultivate inclusive design principles for Rice University students contemplating a career as medical practitioners or medical technology innovators.

Sabia Abidi, an assistant teaching professor of bioengineering at Rice, and Kirsten Ostherr, Rice’s Gladys Louise Fox Professor of English and director of the Medical Humanities Research Institute, have won NIH support for a clinical immersion project that seeks to enhance Rice’s undergraduate bioengineering curriculum to further address inequities in health care delivery and account for the complex clinical settings in which medical devices are used.

In collaboration with the Texas Heart Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital, the new immersion program will enable a group of participating Rice bioengineering juniors and seniors from diverse backgrounds to observe and interact with clinical settings in a pediatric intensive care unit and a cardiology and heart surgery center. In addition to clinical observation, the program will introduce students to key aspects of physiology, technology, communication, entrepreneurship and health care disparities that impact the development of medical technologies and devices in order to cultivate an inclusive, human-centered approach to medical design.

“We’re taking a very intentional approach to providing an educational experience that has the potential to transform the trajectory of the engineering design process from its earliest stages, leading to more effective solutions and better trained bioengineering graduates,” Abidi said. “Through this project, our team hopes to really get students thinking about what populations are not being served and how to make sure their needs are really being met.

“There is so much that you take for granted in a hospital setting. I think it’s very important to look at things from different stakeholders’ points of view. Our hope is that whenever students engage with medical design and seek a solution in their capstone project, they are informed by a perspective that takes health care inequities into account.”

In addition to Abidi and Ostherr, the team includes Parag Jain and Satid Thammasitboon from Texas Children’s Hospital and Mehdi Razavi from the Texas Heart Institute. The team of faculty and physician investigators is equipped with wide-ranging expertise in cardiology, entrepreneurship, pediatric critical care, medical humanities and bioengineering as well as a track record of successful collaboration in publication and performance in national design competitions.

“I’m excited about this collaboration with Sabia and our colleagues in biomedical engineering, because bringing the medical humanities together with the people who are making the devices and our colleagues in the clinic really helps us address all of the pieces of what it means to care for the full person,” Ostherr said.


This release can be found online at news.rice.edu.

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CAPTION: Kirsten Ostherr (left) and Sabia Abidi (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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Department of Bioengineering: https://bioengineering.rice.edu/
George R. Brown School of Engineering: https://engineering.rice.edu/
Medical Humanities Research Institute: https://mhri.rice.edu/

About Rice:

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of architecture, business, continuing studies, engineering, humanities, music, natural sciences and social sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 4,574 undergraduates and 3,982 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction, No. 2 for best-run colleges and No. 12 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

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