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UM to couple medical training with bioengineering

The University of Maryland hopes to provide health professionals with expertise in both medical sciences and bioengineering, and is launching a new dual-degree program to accomplish that, officials said Thursday.

The degree — an M.D. combined with a Ph.D in bioengineering — will be offered by the School of Medicine on the Baltimore campus and the A. James Clark School of Engineering, on the College Park campus.

The idea is to train physicians to apply the principles of engineering and the scientific method to their research so they are better equipped to develop medical technologies that could be commercialized.

“The intersection of bioengineering and medical science holds special promise for developing powerful new health care treatments,” UMCP President Wallace D. Loh said in a statement. “By combining forces, UMB and UMCP will help make Maryland a major center for advanced medical devices and techniques.”

UMB already offers a number of joint M.D./Ph.D. programs — such as in biochemistry or molecular medicine — but this is the first to involve both campuses. Baltimore does not offer engineering, but it’s one of College Park’s specialties.

Those dual-degree programs, including the new one with UMCP, are part of the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at UM’s School of Medicine. Dozens of medical schools nationwide offer MSTPs, which are funded by the National Institutes of Health to train a pipeline of biomedical researchers and academics.

All students enrolled in the MSTP get help paying for their education. Some will receive MTSP training grants that cover the entire cost of tuition, plus a modest stipend.

Others get smaller grants — either from the university or from a variety of other public and private sources — but all students receive some level of financial support throughout the eight-year program, according to John Fisher, a professor and associate chair of the engineering department.

There aren’t many slots available, however. The entire class of 2014 has only 12 M.D./Ph.D. students, Fisher said. There isn’t a specific number of seats set aside for bioengineering, or any of the other programs

Students who enroll in the new dual-degree program will complete two years of medical school in Baltimore before heading to College Park to begin the bioengineering portion.

For their third year, students will enroll in the Clark School to complete required courses and two or three rotations in laboratories affiliated with the school’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering. They will also research and defend their dissertation and complete a semester-long teaching assistantship.

Then, students will return to the School of Medicine to complete their clinical rotations. UMB will confer the doctor of medicine degree, and UMCP will confer the doctorate of bioengineering.

The program is the latest result of the “MPowering the State” initiative — a partnership because UMB and UMCP focused on combining the expertise of each institution to address the state’s most crucial fields, such as public health and law.

“This program will enable us to work together to educate the next generation of leaders in medical research,” UMB President Jay A. Perman said in a statement. “Graduates will be well-positioned to help translate scientific discoveries into clinical research and practice.”