MEM Launches Healthcare Systems Engineering Concentration

The new concentration will leverage a unique partnership between Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program and Lake Forest Hospital.

Long before there was a hint of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Northwestern University Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program was already in the process of establishing a new concentration meant to benefit healthcare systems. This spring, the new Healthcare Systems Engineering concentration was approved, and MEM students will be able to specialize in it beginning in Fall 2020.

The concentration is one of four available to MEM students, including Managerial Analytics, Product Management, and Project and Process Management. 

"Healthcare is a unique setting that often has unique challenges and opportunities," said MEM Program Director Mark Werwath. "This concentration will prepare students to work in the fast-moving and now very scrutinized healthcare setting. This setting has been dominated by clinicians and in most cases has not seen the positive impact of leading-edge analytic, operational and simulation techniques that the overall field of operations research and engineering management can provide."

The concentration is unlike any other offered within Northwestern Engineering, Werwath said, and it will feature a specialized course in healthcare systems engineering as well as a new practicum course offered in partnership with Lake Forest Hospital. The new class will be taught by Rebeca Khorzad (MEM '05), who is a process engineering specialist at Lake Forest Hospital. 

MEM and Lake Forest Hospital have previously partnered on other projects, and the hospital has changed its hiring plans and overall job descriptions to incorporate the MEM skillset within the process engineering department. In fact, earlier this year, systems engineer Urvi Thakkar (MEM '19) spoke about her internship at Lake Forest Hospital and how it led to her full-time job there.

Although healthcare systems are being heavily scrutinized now with the current pandemic, Werwath explained that this concentration is one that will matter and be important long after COVID-19.

"While the pandemic is truly a global crisis, the need for operational efficiencies is an ever-present challenge to healthcare providers," he said. "During a pandemic, healthcare systems' tools and techniques can be used to help quickly re-engineer the healthcare setting as needed. At its core, healthcare systems are more needed now during the pandemic due to severe capacity constraints in the healthcare delivery systems. Our new concentration is intended to help hospitals address and properly engineer these critical capacity constraints. 

"During normal times, the lack of top-line growth potentials in health care and the need to manage bottom-line results through careful cost containment techniques that improve rather than degrade patient outcomes is the ultimate goal of the concentration."