Open Access Research article

Convergence and translation: attitudes to inter-professional learning and teaching of creative problem-solving among medical and engineering students and staff

Howard Spoelstra1, Slavi Stoyanov1, Louise Burgoyne2, Deirdre Bennett2, Catherine Sweeney2, Hendrik Drachsler1, Katrien Vanderperren3, Sabine Van Huffel3, John McSweeney4, George Shorten2, Siun O’Flynn2, Padraig Cantillon-Murphy4 and Colm O’Tuathaigh2*

Author Affiliations

1 Welten Institute, Research Centre for Learning, Teaching and Technology, Open University of the Netherlands, Valkenburgerweg 177, 6419 AT Heerlen, Netherlands

2 School of Medicine, Brookfield Health Sciences Complex, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

3 Department of Electrical Engineering, ESAT-SCD, and iMinds Future Health Department Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, B-3001 Leuven, Belgium

4 Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University College Cork, College Road, Cork, Ireland

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-14

Published: 22 January 2014



Healthcare worldwide needs translation of basic ideas from engineering into the clinic. Consequently, there is increasing demand for graduates equipped with the knowledge and skills to apply interdisciplinary medicine/engineering approaches to the development of novel solutions for healthcare. The literature provides little guidance regarding barriers to, and facilitators of, effective interdisciplinary learning for engineering and medical students in a team-based project context.


A quantitative survey was distributed to engineering and medical students and staff in two universities, one in Ireland and one in Belgium, to chart knowledge and practice in interdisciplinary learning and teaching, and of the teaching of innovation.


We report important differences for staff and students between the disciplines regarding attitudes towards, and perceptions of, the relevance of interdisciplinary learning opportunities, and the role of creativity and innovation. There was agreement across groups concerning preferred learning, instructional styles, and module content. Medical students showed greater resistance to the use of structured creativity tools and interdisciplinary teams.


The results of this international survey will help to define the optimal learning conditions under which undergraduate engineering and medicine students can learn to consider the diverse factors which determine the success or failure of a healthcare engineering solution.

Translation; Interdisciplinary learning; Creativity; Medicine; Engineering