Public Release: 

The doctor is in: UH engineering students find medical mentors

Summer internships explore hands-on research at The Methodist Hospital

University of Houston

HOUSTON, Aug. 12, 2005 - In a joint effort with The Methodist Hospital (TMH) in the Texas Medical Center, University of Houston biomedical engineering students have been gaining exposure to career possibilities in the medical field.

Initiated by Dr. Mike Lieberman, director of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, this program provides summer internships for students in biomedical engineering, each of whom is assigned a mentor and given a $5,000 stipend. In its inaugural year, the program allows the interns to take a participatory role in their mentors' research, covering topics such as hematopathology that deals with blood diseases, neurointerventional radiology that is dedicated to central nervous system vascular diseases and endovascular radiology that looks at arteries and veins from the inside.

This summer, interns will be working in the labs of pathologists, neurologists, radiologists, cardiologists and neurosurgeons. Of the program's eight participants, five are UH undergraduate students - David Wallace-Bradley, Eugene Chaung, Nilou Ebrahimi, David Panthagani and Alina Raza.

"I have always been interested in medicine, but endovascular radiology was something I hadn't been exposed to," Ebrahimi said. "The best part of this is becoming familiar with the different fields of biomedical engineering. All of us who are interns see now that there are so many different fields we can go into and still use our engineering knowledge to solve problems."

Additionally, what students are learning in their respective labs at TMH can be directly applied in a classroom setting. Matthew Franchek, a mechanical engineering professor and director of UH's biomedical engineering program, likens the complementary learning to being enrolled in two universities.

"In our biomedical engineering program, the goal is a student-centered experience, and this is what we're doing," Franchek said. "At UH, students are learning the engineering sciences, life sciences and mathematics. Methodist is pulling it together in context and teaching them medical science."

While research is the main focus of these internships, the students also improve their communication skills through developing presentations, abstracts and posters. Dr. Patricia Chévez-Barrios, director of the ophthalmic pathology program at TMH, organizes weekly lectures for the students that detail the origins of the mentors' projects and how each researcher is dissecting his or her problem. The mentors give the first lectures, but the students conduct the final portion of the sessions, explaining their objectives and detailing the work they've accomplished.

"Another advantage of the program is the students' experience in a professional setting," said Veronique Tran, UH assistant professor of biomedical and chemical engineering. "Being on location at Methodist gives the students the opportunity to network, meet physicians, researchers and scientists, and to directly observe where their research is applied. Our goal is to eventually engage every UH biomedical engineering undergraduate student in research or other 'real world' experience, such as summer industry internships."

Observing the application of their research assists students with what Franchek calls "just in time" learning. The students learn theory during the academic year, and the application of their studies in this summer internship reinforces what they've learned, better preparing them for the upcoming school year.

"At the end of the day, we are producing students who are second to none," Franchek said. "We are helping to create students who are capable and unique, and we're extremely proud of this program. We are creating the next generation of scientists and engineers and physicians, and it's a labor of love. This is a cross-disciplinary experience and an interdisciplinary education where students are the clear winner, and because the students win, society does, too."

The University of Houston System and The Methodist Hospital recently signed a 30-year partnership agreement to expand health science and medical education programs, as well as enhance health care for the community. The affiliation between the two institutions allows them to share resources, educational opportunities and participate jointly in research efforts and technology transfer. Since the strong ties between mathematical and physical science and academic medicine are vitally important, such collaboration is a key to the translation of biomedical science into new therapies and prevention strategies for patients.


About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Cullen College of Engineering

UH Cullen College of Engineering has produced five U.S. astronauts, ten members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top ten nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.

About The Methodist Hospital

The Methodist Hospital is one of the nation's largest private, non-profit hospitals with 935 operating beds. The Methodist Hospital is affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dedicated to providing the highest level of patient care, Methodist is the site of numerous medical breakthroughs, such as the world's first multiple-organ transplant in the 1960s, gene therapy for prostate cancer, and the first islet cell transplants in Texas. The hospital is named among the country's top hospitals for heart and heart surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, urology, otolaryngology, ophthalmology, gynecology, psychiatry, orthopedics, and nephrology in U.S. News and World Report's annual guide to America's Best Hospitals. Methodist was recently named one of Solucient's top 15 major teaching hospitals. Methodist's medical staff includes hundreds of physicians listed in The Best Doctors in America.

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