New Degree Program Combines Nursing and Engineering

RWJF alum creates a dual-degree program that could lead to significant savings and advances for underserved populations.

Mary Ellen Glasgow, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC

Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

These days, a degree in nursing is much more than a ticket to a clinical position. It can lead to opportunities in health care, public health, education, government, and soon—thanks to a new program at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania—biomedical engineering.

This fall, Duquesne will offer the nation’s first undergraduate dual-degree program in nursing and biomedical engineering, according to Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN, professor and dean of the School of Nursing at Duquesne University and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program (2009-2012). She came up with the plan in 2012, shortly after becoming the university’s dean of nursing.

“One of the things that is lacking among biomedical engineers is deep clinical experience,” Glasgow says. Nurses, she notes, spend more time with patients than other health care providers and are familiar with inefficiencies in clinical settings. “They’re the ones using the IV pumps and looking at the monitors,” she says—an invaluable perspective in the engineering industry.

Glasgow met with John Viator, PhD, director of the university’s new biomedical engineering program, and he supported the idea for the dual-degree program. Together, they put together a five-year curriculum combining nursing and biomedical engineering courses.

The program could lead to significant cost savings in the biomedical engineering industry, Glasgow said. Many start-up companies have to hire engineers and clinicians to develop products, but that role could soon be filled by one person—such as a nurse-engineer—who has experience in both fields.

Glasgow also hopes students in the program will go on to develop advances for underserved and vulnerable populations in the United States and abroad.

“Engineers can spend years working on something, only to find out it won’t work in the clinical setting,” she said. “Sometimes people don’t truly appreciate what nursing as a profession is, what nurses do, and what great problem solvers they are.”

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This article is part of the July 2014 issue of Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge, a monthly email newsletter from RWJF featuring timely news and in-depth information about research, conferences and grants, our partners, and other organizations working in this field.

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