Q&A: Deep Dive into the Biomedicine Program, Part 1
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Q&A: Deep Dive into the Biomedicine Program, Part 1

In part one of this podcast, we talk with Dr. Mitchell Scheiman, director of Salus University's Biomedicine program, dean of Research, and professor in the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO). He talks to us about the uniqueness of the Biomedicine program and how it can advance any healthcare career. 

Dr. ScheimanDr. Mitchell Scheiman:

I'm currently the program director for the graduate program in Biomedicine, but my professional training is actually as an optometrist. I graduated from optometry school way back in 1975, so this is my 47th year as an optometric educator and administrator. 

Over the years, I've served in many different roles. I started as a clinical instructor, I've done didactic teaching, I've been chief of a clinical service here at Salus University. Eventually, my career moved into the area of research and that's one of the reasons I'm talking to you now. And finally, in the last five years, I've become pretty much a full-time administrator. I'm currently dean of Research here at Salus University and director for this program in Biomedicine. I'm also very involved in my own research and mentoring, and very excited about this particular program.

Q: What is there to expect from the Biomedicine program?

A: This is a very different program from your traditional PhD program that's out there. If you're exploring PhD programs, you know that typically what you have to do is to apply, get accepted and sometimes you have to move to a different area of the country, different state, different city. You may have to sell your house, uproot your family if you have children, it could mean changing schools, all that. 

Typically, you can't work when you do a full-time PhD program. This program is very, very different. First, we have a small student body. We typically have four to eight students per year in our classes. Currently, we have 12 active PhD students in our program.

The other thing that's different from your traditional program is that the students come from various backgrounds. So, if you're an optometrist, you're not going to be in school here, doing your PhD with just optometrists. If you're a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, or an audiologist, you're going to be working with students from very, very different backgrounds. Because the program here is not specific to a health profession itself, it's in Biomedicine. It's how to do research. We bring together professionals from many, many different backgrounds and the one thing that they have in common is that they want to become capable, independent researchers. 

doctor lifting research materials out of containerAnd that's what we really teach here. We're not teaching optometry, we're not teaching occupational therapy, we're not teaching speech-language pathology. We're teaching any individual from any of these professions how to get involved in research.

In addition, if you're in our program, you're going to be working with international students, not just students from United States. We currently have students from China, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The one thing they all do have in common is they're in a healthcare profession of one type or another. 

Currently we have six optometry students in the program, two speech-language pathologists, one occupational therapist, one audiologist, and we even have one person who's doing cancer research in our program right now. So, it's a very personalized experience. You interact with students from all of these different programs. 

The other big difference is that unlike the traditional program where you may have to uproot yourself and move to a different city, different community, and all of what that entails, here there's actually a virtual option, which is very relevant given the current state of affairs with the pandemic.

So, you can take this program without leaving your home, without leaving your community, without changing anything about your current way of life. Except you probably would have to, instead of working full-time, you may have to reduce the time commitment a little bit. 

The way this program was designed was to provide an option to those students who felt they couldn't do a PhD because of the way it changes their life entirely in so many different ways. Here, you can maintain your lifestyle, your home, your situation for your family, and you can still do the PhD program. 

Most of the students are doing the program using this virtual option. However, there's also an on-campus option for students who want that experience. They want to leave their city or their country, particularly the international students. We have a lot of students from Saudi Arabia, from China, they want the experience of living in the United States for four years. They love that. That's a draw. So, that is an option as well. It's the best of both worlds.

You can choose the option that suits your needs and is best for your particular situation. And we actually set up the research. You might be curious, "Well, how do I do research if I'm not at Salus University?" Well, we actually set up the research in your local area. 

Q: What is the curriculum of the program like?

A: The program is 84 credits over four years. Twenty-four of the 84 credits are actual courses, and they're online courses. If you're doing the face-to-face option, there's online content and then you also meet with your professor for at least an hour a week. 

The way those courses work is there's typically a video/audio presentation, readings, then there's assignments to do, and often a discussion chat room that you have to interact with the other students. And it's all asynchronous, so it can be done at any time that's best for you. You don't have to be there from 1 to 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. It could be 1 to 2 a.m. on Tuesday, if that's what's best for you. 

Dr. Scheiman talking to student

Now, the other 60 credits are all research-based, so they’re your actual research that you'll be doing over the four years. You're taking a few courses each semester, and then you're involved with your research. The very beginning of the program, the very first semester, is all about helping you, guiding you to develop the research question that you want to address over the next four years.

We assign a primary mentor, a secondary mentor, and this all takes place in the first semester. The curriculum is all about achieving the objective of graduating students who have the ability to become capable, independent researchers in whatever healthcare profession you're currently involved with. The actual degree reads a little bit differently from a traditional PhD degree. It's going to say that you have a PhD in Biomedicine with a concentration in let's say, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, optometry, or audiology. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that in this program, we don't actually offer you advanced courses in your area of specialty. If you're an occupational therapist, you're not going to be taking advanced courses in occupational therapy. All the courses are related to how to do research, courses like research methods, statistics, a lot of courses on statistics and statistical analysis and planning, principles of clinical research, epidemiology, budget development, grant writing.

That's the nature of the coursework. If you're an occupational therapist or an optometrist, and you want to get advanced information about specialty, well, it comes from the research you're doing. You're doing the research in the area of interest, and you're going to be exploring information that's necessary in order for you to complete the research in your area of specialty. 

Every student goes through the same steps every semester, but there is flexibility. Certainly, there are some students who finish in four years. We have some students who have finished in five years. Life happens. This program is really designed for the mid-level career individual. When you reach that point in your career, often there are many, many things going on. You may have a family, you may have kids. And so sometimes, things have to be deferred. 

But the great news, is in the nine years we've had the program, we have more than a 90 percent completion rate. Almost everyone is successfully completing this curriculum that I just described.