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Duquesne University to pioneer nurse engineer dual major

| Monday, May 12, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Mary Ellen Glasgow, dean and professor of the Duquesne University School of Nursing, and Dr. John Viator, director of the new Biomedical Engineering Nursing program, at Duquesne on Friday, May 9, 2014.

First, there were nurses.

Now, there are nurse practitioners, nurse managers, nurse anesthetists and soon, courtesy of Duquesne University, nurse engineers.

The Catholic university that pioneered its undergraduate degree in nursing 77 years ago will start the nation's first dual degree in nursing and biomedical engineering this fall.

The beginning of the five-year, 207 credit-hour program coincides with the opening of Duquesne's first engineering program, an undergraduate program in biomedical engineering. The school will inaugurate the degree program with the admission of 20 freshmen biomedical engineering majors this fall.

John Viator, the professor Duquesne brought on last year as director of biomedical engineering, and Mary Ellen Glasgow, dean of the School of Nursing, said the concept of nurse engineers is gaining traction among incoming students in the first biomedical engineering class.

“I'm pretty sure we'll have people converting to the dual major this fall, so we could have our first nurse engineers in five years,” Viator said.

Glasgow and Viator said the dual major will provide engineers with hands-on clinical experience in patient care that will give them a better perspective on the practical applications of solutions to health care problems. For many biomedical engineers, that happens only after consulting and collaborating with doctors and nurses who have hands-on experience in delivering health care.

“We aren't going to be putting out millions of nurse engineers,” Glasgow said. “But those we put out will be a force multiplier.”

She predicted the nurse engineers will help pioneer dramatic advances and efficiencies in health care through their direct experience with patient care.

“Imagine now in a startup situation: Now you need a clinician to identify the problem, hand it to an engineer to develop a solution, and then hand it back to a nurse to test it. Now one person will be able to do that,” Viator said.

On the nursing side, Glasgow said the program has been approved by the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing and the Collegiate Commission on Nursing. Accreditation for the biomedical engineering curriculum is pending and granted retroactively by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology when the university graduates its first biomedical engineers, Duquesne spokeswoman Karen Ferrick-Roman said.

Richard Hart, chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Ohio State University and president-elect of the Biomedical Engineering Society, said biomedical engineers often work in teams that include nurses and doctors.

Hart estimated as many as 15 to 20 percent of biomedical engineers go to medical or dental school, but he knew of only one who went on to earn a degree in nursing.

“The student interest in nursing, I haven't seen. But there hasn't been a clear pathway before. I think it would be an interesting experiment to watch,” Hart said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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