The Nurse Engineer: A New Dual Degree Prepares Nurses for a Career in Biomedical Engineering

Taking an innovative approach, Duquesne University is pooling the resources of its Biomedical Engineering Program and School of Nursing to offer a unique nurse engineer dual. The program combines practical clinical application skills and patient care knowledge with knowledge of engineering techniques and technological advances and will equip students with highly sought-after credentials for a career in biomedical engineering.

Duquesne is the first academic institution to offer this five-year program. Students will gain exposure to all phases of biomedical engineering—including developing technical solutions to clinical problems and evaluating clinical outcomes—and be qualified to work in hospitals or health care technology companies.

In addition to gaining the education required for licensure as a registered nurse, each student will have hands-on experience in biomedical engineering and will have partnered with a health care provider to complete a capstone project that develops a solution to an unmet patient care need. Students can expect to begin their careers confidently with the preparation, knowledge, and worldview usually seen in someone with years of experience in the field.

Opportunities should be plentiful. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for biomedical engineers and nurses are expected to grow much faster than average through 2022.

The program was developed in part by Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN, dean of the Duquesne University School of Nursing. “I think the beauty of this program is that, in a lot of cases, employers would need to hire two people—an engineer and a nurse—to develop health care‒related products,” Dr. Glasgow says. “They need someone to identify the clinical problem and another to develop a technical solution. The dual degree means that a company could hire one person who would have both skill sets.”

Dr. Glasgow continues: “Moreover, this degree will produce a nurse engineer who is on a level similar to a biomedical engineer who has several years of experience because the nurse engineer will also understand patient care and will possess a good sense of how nurses work and what patients need.”

Always an Innovator
Dr. Glasgow describes herself as always having been innovative. Before joining Duquesne University’s faculty, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow. Through her experiences at this time, she had an opportunity to work in an innovation lab at a health care technology company. “I really believe that helped me to think outside the box,” she says.

Dr. Glasgow presented her idea for a dual degree to John Viator, PhD, the director of Duquesne’s biomedical engineering program. Dr. Viator was receptive. Alison Colbert, PhD, PHCNS-BC, associate dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Nursing, also collaborated on the curriculum. Looking forward, Dr. Glasgow hopes to eventually develop a master’s degree program.

Students accepted into the program must meet enrollment criteria for both engineering and nursing, which means they need good SAT scores and quantitative skills, and they must be able to do well in the math courses required by the engineering program. Students will take nursing courses throughout the program.

Positioned in a Health Care Hub
The program is offered exclusively at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. It’s well-situated because health care is one of Pittsburgh’s largest industries. Pittsburgh is a hub for health care and biomedical innovation companies. About one in five private-sector employees in Pittsburgh works in health services. Health services has replaced manufacturing as the business sector that is fueling economic growth in the region. The dual degree program will build on Duquesne’s existing connections with hospitals, startup medical technology companies, and other medical institutions.

“If you’re interested in developing technical solutions to health problems such as preventing falls or improving sensors that detect physiological changes or in creating new applications for telehealth, this degree will give you the skill set to do it,” Dr. Glasgow says.

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