Training a new kind of doctor. Tackling old problems in fresh ways. Sparking a healthcare revolution. Visionary leaps like these can be propelled only by a visionary program.

Ours is innovative at every level, from the way we design curriculum and leverage engineering thinking, to our commitment to bringing more great minds to the table.

Dr. Blair Rowitz and Professor Dipanjan Pan:

Revolutionizing healthcare through bench-and-bedside collaboration

“Problem solving to make a difference in people’s lives” was at the heart of Dr. Blair Rowitz’s decision to pursue a career in medicine. Now, nearly a decade into his career as a general surgeon at Carle, he can speak to how rewarding that work can be—and how frustrating it is when healthcare limitations prevent him from being able to help.

“I’d say most physicians experience some sort of problem we wish could be solved every single day,” said Dr. Rowitz, the associate dean for clinical affairs at Carle Illinois. “We just don’t have the time to sit down and work on them. Physicians also aren’t usually trained in problem solving using systems thinking, and we don’t usually have access to the people who have that expertise—the innovators of the world.”

In other words, the hurdles are many, so physicians’ ideas most often fade away. But Carle Illinois is working to level those hurdles by creating more opportunities for collaboration between physicians and engineers.

The collaboration between Dr. Blair Rowitz and Professor Dipanjan Pan shows what’s possible when physicians and engineers connect. “Many doctors would just say ‘If the technology isn’t there, it isn’t there,’” said Professor Pan. “But doctors like Blair [Rowitz] don’t stop trying to do better for their patients. If you’re making a real difference in a person’s health, that’s the real impact and reward of your work.”

Our focus is creating innovations that enhance physician-patient relationships. The technology alone, without that level of personal care, just can’t accomplish what is needed to improve health care.

—Dr. Blair Rowitz, associate dean for clinical affairs at Carle Illinois

Dr. Rowitz, for instance, long wished that someone would develop an absorbable stent for gastrointestinal repairs. The idea came as he cared for a patient experiencing years of health setbacks after multiple surgeries, but he said many patients would benefit from such a device. With an introduction to Dipanjan Pan, PhD, an assistant professor of bio-engineering at Illinois, Dr. Rowitz’s concept is no longer just an idea. Professor Pan was already well into developing an absorbable, customizable stent for the heart, and was eager to collaborate with a clinician.

“We immediately hit it off and realized we were already doing what Blair needed. It was just a matter of scaling it up to a much larger device,” said Professor Pan. “I put students on the project right away.”

Their collaboration is just one example of what’s possible when physicians and engineers team up.

“The idea at Carle Illinois is to always start with a clinical need,” said Professor Pan. “Most engineers are currently solving problems and creating tools without knowing what they’re for. It’s backwards. It should be a physician saying to engineers, ‘Here is a problem. Now let’s develop a tool.’ And when physicians work with engineers on solutions, it will be a much faster innovation process, from bench to bedside.”

Dr. Rowitz refers to this approach as “patient-centered innovation” or “problem-driven solutions,” adding, “With this approach at the center of Carle Illinois, we can change the scale of clinical innovation in a way that can change the world.”