New Study: Carle Illinois Neuroscience Challenge Lab Prepares Med Students for Innovation, Entrepreneurship

11/29/2022 Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

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A new faculty-student research collaboration suggests Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s strategic use of hands-on neuroscience challenges effectively boosts medical students’ innovation and entrepreneurship skills. The findings are specific to Carle Illinois’ first-of-its-kind engineering-infused curriculum, but they may provide evidence for other new engineering-based medical schools on how to effectively train physician innovators.

The new study focuses on student perceptions of how their key innovation skills improved after taking part in CI MED’s Neuroscience Engineering Challenge Lab, the final phase of the eight-week clinical neuroscience course. “The Neuroscience Challenge Laboratory is an example of how Carle Illinois integrates engineering into the medical curriculum to enable students to learn design-thinking and how to apply these principles in medicine,” said Kanesha Overton, a fourth-year medical student and one of the study authors. Carle Illinois uses active-learning methods to develop student skills with innovation, entrepreneurship, and design thinking.

<em><a href="">Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler</a></em>
Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler
Olivia  Campos Coiado
Olivia Coiado

The Neuroscience Engineering Challenge Lab was developed, designed, and led by CI MED Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler and Teaching Associate Professor and Director of Student Research Olivia Coiado. Student teams must apply what they’ve learned about design thinking, design process, decision-making tools, and user-centered design to explore development of an innovative device or intervention targeting at addressing a specific problem within neuroscience. Student innovations must target a specific purpose (diagnostics, symptom treatment, neuro-enhancement, and disease treatment) as well as addressing a neurological disease process (autism, pain/headache, brain tumors, developmental disorders, peripheral nerve disease, autoimmune diseases, autonomic diseases, and ADHD). The proposed solution also must use an emerging technology that would be on the market within three-to-five years. At the end of the challenge, teams deliver an oral presentation in the format of a business plan pitch.

<em>Kanesha Overton</em>
Kanesha Overton

Coiado and Hsiao-Wecksler teamed up with Overton to analyze survey data from students who participated in the neuroscience challenge lab to discover if and how the lab challenge advanced learner skills. “We learned the lab increased students’ understanding of ideation tools, user-centered design concepts, and preparing a business plan pitch,” Coiado said. “This research is noteworthy because it helped the instructors to understand if students are acquiring design/innovation skills to advance the curriculum,” Coiado explained.

The study – published recently in the journal Medical Science Educator – also revealed students felt better prepared for the next steps in the innovation and entrepreneurship training built into the Carle Illinois curriculum. As part of their IDEA projects, CI MED students propose an innovative solution to a significant health care problem that they identified during their clinical rotations. During the final year of medical school, students work in cross-disciplinary teams to develop one of those ideas into Capstone Innovations, potentially resulting in new approaches, technologies, and treatments that advance health care.

Because of Carle Illinois’ unique student population, the researchers found more modest gains in skills that are engineering-based or technology-based.  “We found that the students did not statistically gain a better understanding of the design thinking process, which is expected due to the majority of students having an engineering background,” Coiado said.

Overton also noted that student responses on the survey led to improvements in the content delivered to students and to the project parameters for subsequent years.

Coiado and Overton earlier collaborated on a separate study that explored Carle Illinois’ unique implementation of the ‘innovator’ role in its problem-based learning modules. The study used a qualitative analysis and revealed that medical students’ demonstrated level of compassion was enhanced by being challenged to innovate novel solutions to patients’ health care challenges. The findings were presented at the Biomedical Engineering Society’s annual meeting and placed first at Carle Illinois’ Health Innovation Research Day in the spring of 2022. Overton says the research projects fit well with her interest in medical education as a career path.

“This is an example how faculty and students can collaborate on a medical education study and advance education that can be implemented and serve as a model for other medical colleges that wish to include engineering and innovation in their medical curriculum,” Coiado said.

The article, “Exploring the Intersection of Engineering and Medicine Through a Neuroscience Challenge Laboratory” can be found online here.

Hsiao-Wecksler is the interim director of the Health Care Engineering Systems Center at The Grainger College of Engineering, and the Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Scholar and professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering. Coiado is also a teaching associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

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This story was published November 29, 2022.