D’Arcy Named First Barr-Spach Medicine and Engineering Scholar

New endowed scholarship supports medicine-engineering initiatives, honors faculty mentors

By Jeni Baker

Duke second-year medical student Joshua D’Arcy, M’19, has been chosen as the inaugural recipient of the new Barr-Spach Medicine and Engineering Scholarship.

The scholarship was created by a gift from Maynard Ramsey III, M’69, G’75, who established an endowment to honor his Duke mentors, biomedical engineering professor and associate professor of pediatrics Roger C. Barr, BS’64, PhD’68, and pediatric cardiologist Madison S. Spach, T’50, MD’54, HS’54-59.

The endowment also provides seed money for faculty research collaborations between the schools of medicine and engineering.

The Barr-Spach Scholarship—administered through Duke MEDx—will support D’Arcy as he completes a Master of Engineering degree through the Pratt School’s innovative new Doctor of Medicine-Master of Engineering (MD-MEng) dual-degree program.

Designed to create a pipeline of newly minted MDs with engineering expertise, the program seeks to foster innovation in health care and “prepare our doctors to think more deeply about developing novel solutions that help patients, solve problems and serve society,” says Brad Fox, program director and associate dean for master’s programs at the Pratt School.

“The MD-MEng degree is another example of Duke’s engineering and medical schools working together to better educate graduates, and we’re very thankful for Dr. Ramsey’s generosity in creating a scholarship that helps students take advantage of all it offers.”

Honoring Mentors

Maynard Ramsey III, M’69, G’75, established the Barr-Spach Medicine and Engineering Scholarship in honor of his Duke mentors, Roger C. Barr and Madison S. Spach, whose careers spanned the two disciplines.

Roger C. BarrRoger C. Barr is a professor of biomedical engineering and an associate professor of pediatrics. His research has involved mathematical analysis and computer simulations of electrically active tissue—particularly in and around the heart—and the development of computer systems for simultaneous high-speed recordings of cardiac voltage channels.

Madison S. SpachMadison S. Spach is a James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Medicine and professor emeritus of pediatrics in the School of Medicine. A renowned pediatric cardiologist and scientist, his research examined electrophysiology and the mechanisms behind cardiac dysrhythmias. On the faculty from 1960-1996, Spach developed Duke’s training program in pediatric cardiology.

MD-MEng program prepares physician-inventors

In addition to being the first Barr-Spach Scholar, D’Arcy is the first student to pursue Duke’s novel MD-MEng dual degree option.

By giving third-year Duke medical students an opportunity to receive specialized training in engineering design and technical problem-solving, says Fox, “The program supports physician-inventors who will focus on developing new products and technologies and drive innovation in medicine.” 

“Many of medicine’s grand challenges will be better addressed by minds that are prepared with the skills and tools that the MD-MEng program provides,” adds Duke MEDx director Geoff Ginsburg. “MD-MEng trainees will not only be well-versed in clinical and population-health challenges, they will be integrated into and speak the language of the engineering community, which will work to provide solutions to these challenges.”

The program is a signature example of the kinds of interdisciplinary training opportunities that Duke MEDx seeks to foster, he notes.

“MEDx aims to create innovation at the interface of medicine and engineering, and the MD-MEng program lays the groundwork for developing the next generation of researchers who will be more prepared to carry out cross-disciplinary research and lead programs at this nexus,” Ginsburg says.

“We’re excited to support Joshua D’Arcy as he embarks on this less conventional career path as the first Barr-Spach Scholar, and expect that others in the future will want to emulate him.”

Pushing for proactive health care

Set to begin his Master of Engineering work in fall 2017, D’Arcy is already thinking big.

“Today’s medicines and surgeries are hugely successful in many ways, but every medication has side effects, and every surgery holds a risk for complication,” he says. “By using health policy and advancing technology, we can help prevent people from getting sick in the first place, which will ultimately protect them from the potent effects of modern medicine.”

D’Arcy—who holds a bachelor’s degree in biomolecular science from the University of Michigan—is optimistic that the MD-MEng degree will give him the foundation he needs to effect change.

“My hope is that this dual degree will put me in a position where I can help push our healthcare system to be more proactive and less reactive,” he says. “I believe this is possible through existing methods and technologies such as data mining, machine learning, and wearable health devices.”

D’Arcy hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll pursue a career as a practicing physician with an engineering background or as a practicing engineer with a medical degree.

Currently immersed in clinical training, he also serves as a teaching assistant for “Healthcare Markets and Policy,” an accredited School of Medicine course he designed with help from Duke faculty and classmates.

“My intent is to follow the path with the greatest opportunities and chances to succeed in my goals,” he says. “I’m equally open to both directions and excited for the future.”