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Physician, Educate Thyself

At Illinois, students inject the study of medicine with other disciplines
Illinois Alumni June 2010

The bioengineer wants to develop a cure for blistering skin disease, and the neuroscience student believes her understanding of how zebra finches learn songs could help combat degenerative neurological ailments. The biochemist dreams of applying her knowledge of the molecular foundation of the immune system to help fight infectious disease. The philosopher hopes to play an important role in teaching medical ethics and even guiding policy.

Each of these students is a University of Illinois Medical Scholar, earning both a medical degree and a doctorate in a field of basic research. Achieving even one of these degrees is hard enough, but to study for both simultaneously? These are students who dream of being physician/scientists, driven by a rare combination of intellectual curiosity and a desire to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. They can fulfill that dream in the University of Illinois Medical Scholars Program.

Take John Selby ‘99 ENG, MS ‘01 ENG, PHD ‘07 ENG, for example. Selby, whose three Illinois degrees are all in mechanical engineering, is now enrolled in the UI College of Medicine. He says that except for a joint program at that time between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Illinois is the only institution that offered such a combination of studies.

Selby sees his M.D./Ph.D. program as the interface between classic engineering, which takes a reductionist view, in which data is broken down to less complex equivalents, and medicine, which is part science and part art.

“I want to do work in an area that is not traditional medicine and not traditional engineering,” he says.

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