What is Integrated Human Biology?

Head of anatomical model

We believe in building bridges at Bastyr. The new Bachelor of Science in Integrated Human Biology is a prime example. The program gives students the scientific groundwork to excel as future medical students at naturopathic or allopathic (MD) schools, while also supporting Bastyr's holistic perspective of wellness. The degree program includes a research focus that prepares students to continue their studies or to pursue working directly in laboratories. Lynelle Golden, PhD, chair of the Department of Basic Sciences, spoke to us about why she's excited about the new offering.

What's unique about this program?

Historically, science education has been very discipline-specific. But if you look at scientific research and applications in the real world, they're very interdisciplinary. You may still have a specialty, but effective research projects in the health sciences require scientists from different disciplines to work together. Working collaboratively across disciplines is also increasingly important in health care.

We're building a biology program that doesn't separate concepts by discipline. Instead, ideas from different disciplines are introduced together to provide an understanding of human biology. To use an analogy, it is easier to put together a complex puzzle if you can refer to the complete picture to see how the pieces fit. The human biology program is organized so that the concepts in anatomy, physiology biochemistry, physics and molecular biology connect clearly to the larger picture of human biology. Even though there are still some discipline-specific courses, these courses will also include direct applications to human biology.

What does that look like in the classroom?

It changes things dramatically. For example, a lesson on how the function of the heart changes during physical exercise would consider the cells that make up the organ, the chemistry within those cells and the physics of blood flow. In a traditional biology program those elements would be taught in separate courses.

What is the research aspect of the program like?

Ultimately, research is “doing” science. The program emphasizes science process through inquiry-based laboratories, and courses that introduce students to statistics and critical evaluation of scientific literature. Also, Students may participate in a research project with a faculty mentor, which helps establish a stronger foundation to support them as graduate or medical students. Other biology programs certainly allow students to work on research projects, but the opportunity is built into the human biology curriculum in a way that should make it easier for students to get started on a project.

Bastyr researchers looking into alternative medicine are collaborating with people at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. If you look at many of the research faculty at Bastyr, they are great collaborators who work across disciplines. Both research and medicine are very collaborative processes, and the human biology program encourages the type of interdisciplinary thinking that supports collaboration.

What sorts of careers and further studies will this be most useful for?

It's an excellent pre-medical education. The prerequisites and requirements for the integrated human biology curriculum include all of the courses that are required for admission to allopathic and naturopathic medical schools. The curriculum's focus is on competencies and problem-solving, rather than rote-memorization, which reflects recommendations from the National Science Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges. This program is especially good preparation for the naturopathic medicine program at Bastyr because the curriculum for the naturopathic medicine program will also be organized in an integrated format beginning in fall 2012.

We expect that many human biology graduates will go on to graduate school, and others will be prepared to get a job in a university research lab or at a biotech company.

What are the advantages of studying life sciences at a school that also focuses on mental and emotional well-being?

Bastyr is a wonderfully unique place to study biology. Understanding human biology is only one component that allows us to support health and wellness. It is essential to recognize the interaction between biology and the psychological and social factors that are also essential for maintaining our health and well-being. The diversity of programs and interests at Bastyr provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary work that promotes wellness.