Design Health Program Launches at Duke Engineering

July 8, 2019

New program assembles teams across engineering, medicine and business to design solutions for unmet needs in hospitals and clinics

Fellows in the Design Health program

Fellows in the Design Health program

A new program is bridging the expertise in Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, School of Medicine, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and Fuqua School of Business to create real-world solutions to pressing needs in health care. Officially launching in August of 2019 after a successful pilot this past academic year, the Duke Design Health Program offers an intensive nine-month experience in which students and trainees actively identify, validate, prioritize and create solutions to problems that impact human health.

The competitive extracurricular program is open to graduate and undergraduate students from the Pratt School of Engineering and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, second-year MBA students from the Fuqua School of Business, residents and fellows from Duke’s School of Medicine and students from other schools across Duke. In partnership with Duke Health, students will form teams and immerse themselves in various clinical environments, where they’ll observe any challenges that physicians, health care providers, or patients face. They’ll then use these observations to design and prototype clinical tools to address these challenges.

“Medical development too often begins with the incremental specification of a solution, and then after some years of development you end up with a product that meets your specified needs,” says Paul Fearis, a senior lecturing fellow in Duke’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) who is among the faculty leading the program. “This program will instead help students start the design process all the way back in the operating room, at the patient’s bedside or at the nurses’ station. We’re immersing these students into an environment where they can directly see what problems they can address, and then develop practical, real-world solutions.”

Students can pursue two roles through the program, including Design Health Associates and Design Health Fellows. Associates are students from any school within Duke who help design and execute the project.

Design Health Fellows can be graduate students or medical trainees from any school. As the most in-depth role, Fellows are expected to participate in a three-week summer boot camp to start the clinical immersion process and receive additional training.  

“This is an unparalleled opportunity for our clinical fellows to be immersed with engineers and MBA students and learn the process by which they can take common clinical problems and build solutions,” says Manesh Patel, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiology, director of the Duke Heart Center and partner of the Design Health Program.

“As a physician you try to do everything you can to improve patient care and patient outcomes, and that’s typically though the traditional patient and physician interaction in the clinic and hospital,” says David Manly, MD, a third-year cardiology fellow at Duke. “The Design Health program was a unique opportunity to make an impact through an entirely different avenue.”

Helmed by Eric Richardson, Fearis and Joseph A. Knight, the Design Health program utilizes the diverse backgrounds of its leadership team to better prepare students for careers in industry. Both Richardson and Ann Saterbak, a professor of the practice in BME, helped develop innovative design programs at Rice University prior to their arrival at Duke, and Fearis joined Duke after 28 years in the medical device consulting industry. Knight, an adjunct professor in the Pratt School of Engineering and Core Faculty in Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, will bring his business background to help bridge the gap between business and medicine.

“Design Health participants will receive hands-on coaching and mentorship from experts in medicine, product development, engineering and entrepreneurship,” says Richardson. “Our goal is to educate students across Duke to identify problems in health care and empower them to solve those problems.”  

“When you’re on a team of engineers your perspective can sometimes be limited to your own knowledge about the topic, but when you’re actively working with physicians you have a whole new perspective on the problem you’re working on and what solutions are available to you,” says Maggi Strom, a master’s student in Duke BME.

Currently in its pilot year with 11 Fellows, the Design Health Program is part of a larger push across both Pratt and BME to provide real-world design experience for engineering students interested in careers in industry. Saterbak is currently leading the First-Year Design experience, which allows new engineering students to design projects that address a need for community partners. Palmeri has also helped launched new design courses for both graduate and undergraduate BME students, including the two-semester Medical Device Design course and the three-semester BME Design Fellows program.

“The Design Health Program provides a chance for our students to identify and prioritize problems or areas in medicine that have been underserved,” says Richardson. “Beyond building up practical design skills, it gives our students a chance to immerse themselves in a clinical environment and then create novel solutions with an interdisciplinary team.”

To learn more about the Design Health Program, please visit the official Design Health website here.