Students like Amanda Pellegrino and Garett Craig have a unique approach to improving patient care. They have the clinical experiences and patient interactions to help inform them of current health care challenges. They also have the knowledge and lab experience to do something about the challenges they’ve observed. That’s because they recently completed Duquesne University’s Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing dual degree program.
The first of its kind in the country, the BME/BSN program allows students to gain clinical experiences while also learning how to develop technologies to solve real-world clinical problems. For example, Amanda and Garett, in collaboration with BME classmates, created Virtual Individual Telehealth Appliance for Lung Sickness (VITALS), a device that could be used for telehealth monitoring.
In this Q&A, Amanda and Garett share why they chose to pursue this challenging dual degree.
How did you learn of the BME/BSN program?
Amanda: I learned about the program early on and it was one of the main reasons why I chose to attend Duquesne University. I knew I wanted to go into biomedical engineering, but this program sparked my interest because of the nursing aspect and the career possibilities. At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew that I liked being in a laboratory and that I wanted to help people.
Garett: I learned about the program during a freshman year class at Duquesne when a guest presenter spoke about this dual major. Ever since, I have been hooked on being both a nurse and engineer. I have really enjoyed learning such different disciplines and how they can support each other.
Why did you enroll in the BME/BSN program?
Amanda: I enrolled in the BME/BSN program for perspective and background. Through this program, I would be able to interact with patients firsthand and understand current medical needs while learning laboratory techniques and product development to remedy these problems. I found this important because having firsthand experiences will show me where improvements and research are needed.
Garett: I thought about how great of an opportunity this was—to be both an engineer and nurse. I really liked the idea of being experienced and trained in two fields. This also makes someone like myself very useful in the clinical setting, where many viewpoints are needed for successful patient care.
What are your goals once you graduate?
Amanda: In the fall, I will begin a bioengineering PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh. During graduate school, I hope to use my nursing degree and work in a hospital on a cardiovascular, pulmonary or transplant floor to gain exposure and knowledge from the medical perspective.
My ultimate goal is to one day have my own cardiopulmonary tissue engineering and regenerative medicine laboratory where I can develop and/or engineer organs, like hearts and lungs, for transplant. This will make transplants more accessible to those who need them.
Garett: I plan on continuing my education at Duquesne through a master’s program in biomedical engineering. Once I graduate, I intend to work as a clinical engineer, in which both my nursing and engineering backgrounds will be extremely useful. This program has given me the ability to not only problem solve but to also adapt to any change I will face.
What has been your favorite part of the BME/BSN program?
Amanda: My favorite part about the BME/BSN program is when I am able to incorporate one aspect of a major into the other. For example, in a biomedical microdevice elective, a couple classmates and I used our understanding of osteoporosis from nursing to research and design a micro-electromechanical system that detects vitamin D, calcium and estrogen levels for osteoporosis prevention.
Garett: The best part of the program has been all of the friends and experiences I have been able to take part in. From clinicals to projects to networking, I have met and found that this is truly my calling and what I want to do for the rest of my life.
How do you see yourself using both your BME and your BSN as a working professional?
Amanda: In the future, I would like to work in a research hospital doing research in a laboratory while also gaining experience and patient contact on a transplant floor. Ultimately, I would love to engineer organs and work with the patients that receive them so I can understand where improvements need to be made and see the positive effects these organs have.
Garett: This program has taught me how to balance and deal with two different classes of thought. I have talked to many different professionals, and they all have said that having the ability to adapt to anything you are faced with is a must. I plan to use this skill to become successful in my career.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the BME/BSN program?
Amanda: My biggest takeaway from this program is resilience. BME and nursing require two different ways of thinking, and this can sometimes be very difficult to manage. Engineering is very structured and systematic, whereas nursing is memorizing and knowing what is priority.
Through the years, as “nursineers,” we have learned to adapt to situations and provide a new perspective. We have put a lot of sweat and tears into this major and through it all, we have grown and learned to be resilient so we can branch out and pave our own career paths.
Garett: The biggest takeaway has been seeing how useful engineering is in the clinical setting. When I see new technology being used to save lives at my clinical rotations, it’s really inspiring to think that one day I will be the person building and implementing technology for the same reasons.