Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s first class of students began classes July 2 at what the school says is the first engineering-based medical school.

The school is a partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Carle Health System. It’s goal is to create a cohort of physician-innovators “who exemplify the qualities of compassion, competence, curiosity and creativity.” The students will receive full four-year tuition scholarships, privately funded, worth more than $200,000 each.

“We are so excited to welcome our inaugural class – the very first that will chart the course of our new medical school and set the model of excellence and disruptive innovation that the health care industry needs today and in the future,” said Rashid Bashir, the executive associate dean and chief diversity officer of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

The unique, engineering-focused nature of the curriculum led to stringent admission requirements beyond the usual premedical track, the school says, such as high-level mathematics, computer science or other quantitative courses. Twenty-two out of the class of 32 students have engineering degrees, five have mathematics or computer science degrees, and five have biology or biochemistry degrees – and 13 have graduate degrees – 10 hold a master’s degree, and three a Ph.D. Half of the students women and half are men and each speaks an average of three languages. Six of the students, or nearly 19 percent of the class, are underrepresented minorities in medicine.

In another departure from standard medical education, the students will receive clinical immersion from the start. The clinical training will incorporate engineering principles, problem solving and innovation as well as the classroom curriculum, said Dr. Blair Rowitz, the associate dean for clinical affairs of the college and the associate chief medical officer of surgical services at Carle Foundation Hospital.

“While the idea of incorporating engineering principles into medical education is not new, our direct and holistic integration, particularly into the clinical training process, is the first of its kind in the world,” Rowitz said. “We will accomplish this by bringing engineers into our patient care sites – operating rooms, clinics and hospitals – to work directly with students and faculty to identify and develop collaborative innovation and research ideas. At the end of each clinical rotation, the students will be asked to develop and propose an engineering-based solution to a clinical problem they encountered in the patient care setting.”

The school says the students are eager to be the first to experience the college’s case-driven, problem-based, active learning curriculum, which also includes mentorship, simulation, access to the university’s medical maker lab, medical humanities and more.

“When I think about how I want to grow in healthcare as a future physician-innovator, I feel compelled to fill gaps not just in knowledge, but also in communication and understanding,” said incoming student Elizabeth Woodburn, an Illinois alumna, with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering. “Creating a solution isn’t enough; medicine presents a constant stream of challenges that require a tailored blend of foresight, expertise and willingness to try a different approach.”

The first class of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine will graduate in 2022.