Whitaker (www.whitaker.org) supports a variety of programs including faculty research (300 projects), creation or expansion of departments of biomedical engineering, fellowships for graduate students (180 students), internships in industry and at NIH (120 programs), creation of teaching materials and conferences, and workshops in biomedical engineering. The foundation has recently consolidated a number of initiatives into Leadership and Development Awards that provide substantial funding to institutions committed to continuing to build up biomedical engineering after the foundation closes its doors.
The foundation held a Biomedical Engineering Educational Summit in December 2000 that brought together 123 institutions from the United States and Canada and 24 overseas institutions (http://summit.whitaker.org). It was designed to review the wide variety of interdisciplinary programs receiving Whitaker support. The summit participants did not agree on one unique curriculum that would suit all schools because each institution has molded its biomedical engineering program to its mission and the needs of its faculty and students. The summit highlighted the fact that like other engineering programs, those in biomedical engineering frequently incorporate real-world problems and tasks into their curricula. Most of the departments emphasize critical thinking, teamwork, interpersonal skills, group decisions, analysis and problem-solving processes, and oral and written communication skills in their courses. Biomedical engineering laboratories are designed to incorporate equipment and procedures that are common in the workplace. In many cases, computer simulations are used when the actual procedures cannot be carried out. The development of biomedical engineering over the past decade demonstrates that a focused effort, such as that undertaken by the Whitaker Foundation, has the potential to catalyze the growth of a new interdisciplinary field, both in terms of its research and its educational curriculum.
Medical school admissions requirements and the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) are hindering change in the undergraduate biology curriculum and should be reexamined in light of the recommendations in this report.