Feb 09 2024-02 Business Administration Faculty Student

iMBA learners collaborate with medical and engineering students to solve healthcare problems

Learners in the online MBA program (iMBA) at Gies College of Business innovate alongside students in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and The Grainger College of Engineering through a yearlong, hands-on project.

This collaborative effort brings together learners from different fields to solve problems patients and providers face in the medical industry, showcasing the role of business in innovation and the role of purpose in business. Learners in the iMBA who have at least 30 credit hours and reside in the US can apply to join the initiative, which serves as the capstone project, called Capstone Innovations, in the final phase of curriculum for medical students.

“It’s fascinating to see that you can take a problem statement for a legitimate problem and use ‘business on purpose’ to bring a solution to fruition by utilizing your business school, your medical school, and your engineering school,” said Monica Beistline Block, an iMBA student who’s participating in the program.

Block (right), who started the iMBA in October 2020, joined the cross-disciplinary initiative in May 2023. She and her teammates – two medical school students, six engineering students, and another iMBA student – are developing a vaginal hysterectomy simulator to make it easier for residency students to learn and practice the vaginal hysterectomy process and, in turn, make the procedures more accessible to patients.

Block’s medical school teammates, called “physician-innovators” in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, identified the problem of doctors not being comfortable performing vaginal hysterectomies due to a lack of training opportunities. Because doctors feel they don’t have enough practice, oftentimes, they choose to perform laparoscopic hysterectomies. While laparoscopic and vaginal hysterectomies are both considered minimally invasive, the laparoscopic procedure poses a higher risk of infection than the vaginal option.

This initiative with the world’s first engineering-based medical school reflects Gies Business’ focus on putting purpose at the center of business, encouraging learners to consider the impact they can make while pursuing their passions. It also reflects the College’s emphasis on collaboration and experiential learning, giving learners a unique opportunity to solve a problem, analyze market feasibility, create a business plan, and develop a working prototype – all while collaborating with students from other disciplines.

“In the workplace, you’re constantly working with people from different departments and with different perspectives,” Block said. “It’s interesting to look at the different medical perspectives, the different engineering perspectives, and figure out that all these different facets are crucial to a great product. It creates that experience that you would have in the real world marketing a product.”

Block explained that the beginning stages of the project focused on formulating the problem statement with the physician-innovators. They then worked on finding a solution and identifying a target market throughout the summer. In the fall, they moved to the prototype phase, adding the six engineering students.

Block, an operations manager, brings a blended perspective to the team, having worked in engineering roles in the energy sector for the last 15 years. She chose to pursue the Gies Business MBA degree to better understand the financial side of running a company, and she’s now gaining experience providing a strategic business mindset to the capstone project team.  

Ravi Mehta, a professor for both Gies Business and Carle Illinois, is the capstone course co-director and coordinates iMBA participation in the initiative. He underscored the importance of business in these innovative projects.

“Innovation is not complete unless it serves a need and people adopt the product,” Mehta said. “Business finds that need, finds the niche, helps bring it to people who need that technology the most. And that is what innovation is. Without business, it’s just an invention. Business is what makes it innovation.”

Past projects have included an anti-fatigue vest for surgeons and a seizure-monitoring baseball cap, among other potentially life-changing innovations.

“I always want to improve things, leave things in a better way than I started,” Block said. “I wanted to pick a project that solved a female problem, and this was a female problem that’s encountered often by women in middle age. That’s part of my drive to want to be part of the project.”

Get involved
If you’re an iMBA student interested in collaborating with the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and The Grainger College of Engineering through this initiative, apply through this form by February 19. You must submit a résumé and video introduction. At this time, students must have at least 30 credit hours in the iMBA program and reside in the US. Contact Professor Ravi Mehta at mehtar@illinois.edu for more details.

Not an iMBA student? Learn more about the iMBA application process to start earning your MBA degree.