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UTSA, UT Health Partner for Dual Degree Program in Medicine and AI

A five-year program coordinated by the University of Texas at San Antonio and UT Health San Antonio allows students to work toward a medical degree and a master's in artificial intelligence at the same time.

University of Texas at San Antonio,UTSA
(TNS) — UT Health San Antonio — the largest health-sciences university in South Texas — and the University of Texas at San Antonio have partnered to create what they say is the nation's first dual-degree program combining medicine and artificial intelligence.

Under the five-year program, students can receive a medical degree from UT Health's Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine and a Master of Science in artificial intelligence from UTSA's University College. The program aims to train new physicians to learn about AI and become leaders in using technologies in diagnostics and treatment.

"This unique partnership promises to offer groundbreaking innovation that will lead to new therapies and treatments to improve health and quality of life," UT System Chancellor James Milliken said Thursday. "We're justifiably proud of the pioneering work being done at UTSA and UT Health San Antonio to educate and equip future medical practitioners on how to best harness the opportunities — and address the challenges — that AI will present for the field of health care."

Artificial intelligence refers to computer systems that emulate aspects of human cognition. They can accomplish human-level tasks such as visual perception, speaking, language understanding and learning.


The universities are launching the program amid a race to train and expand the nation's workforce in how to use such technologies.

UT Health and UTSA have launched numerous AI-fueled research projects in recent months and they expect the new program to prepare students for an increasing use of the technology in health care. Those include customized patient treatment plans, robotic surgeries and drug dosage. Additionally, UT Health and UTSA have several research programs underway to improve health care diagnostics and treatment with AI.

"Our goal is to prepare our students for the next generation of health care advances by providing comprehensive training in applied artificial intelligence," Dr. Ronald Rodriguez, director of the new program and a professor of medical education at UT Health, said in a statement. "Through a combined curriculum of medicine and AI, our graduates will be armed with innovative training as they become future leaders in research, education, academia, industry and health care administration. They will be shaping the future of health care for all."

University officials said they plan to train graduate students in data analytics, computer science, and intelligent and autonomous systems. Also, the students could conduct research with professors in MATRIX: The UTSA AI Consortium for Human Well-Being at UTSA, an environment focused on researching designs and uses for AI that enhance human life, according to its annual report.

The program started coming together in 2019 when Ambika Mathur, dean of the UTSA Graduate School, and Dr. Robert Hromas, dean of the Long School of Medicine, worked with their teams during the COVID-19 pandemic to devise a curriculum that could help tech-savvy physicians in the emerging AI job market.


Dhireesha Kudithipudi, director at MATRIX, said Wednesday that she recalled being asked to lead the the effort at UTSA. In the following months, she began meeting faculty from business, engineering and sciences on campus, and prepared and collected surveys from students at UTSA an UT Health.

"We went a little more in depth because we didn't want to leave any stone unturned as we developed this highly dynamic training program," Kudithipudi said. 'We wanted to prepare this with a little bit more rigor from our end in understanding the students' needs and how we can best offer this to them."

Kudithipudi said that students accepted in the dual-degree program will take a leave of absence from their medical education to complete two semesters of AI coursework at UTSA. Students will complete 30 hours of credits, including nine credits in core courses; an internship; 15 hours in data analytics, computer science or intelligence and autonomous systems concentrations; and six hours for a project.

Medical students in the dual-degree program will also receive ethics training in the use of AI, Kudithipudi said. For example, in the AI practicum course, she will give students "the framework of questions they can ask based on recent research that's happening in AI ethics, so students actually think about these before starting a dialogue about AI solutions," she said. "Who are the primary group of people who can benefit from this solution and what is the positive impact and what is unseen?"

"There are known unknowns and unknown unknowns," she added, "so how do you understand what those things in this space are?"

School officials said UT Health enrolled medical students in a pilot program in 2021. Three students have been accepted into the dual-degree program for the fall 2023 semester, including two who are finishing their fourth year of medical school.

"These students are trailblazers, who are working at the intersection of medicine and AI," Kudithipudi said. "It's phenomenal the type of solutions they will build in a range of applications, whether it's early diagnostics, remote sensing or health care policy. The students are going to make a difference."


In recent years, UTSA has been rolling out new AI-inspired programs.

Launched in 2020, the MATRIX has partnered with researchers from UTSA, UT Health, Southwest Research Institute and Texas Biomedical Research Institute. Kudithipudi led classified and nonclassified research for clients including the U.S. Air Force, Sandia National Labs in New Mexico, and Xilinx, a tech and semiconductor manufacturing company in California that was acquired by AMD.

UTSA's Master of Science in AI was launched in 2022, she said, as nationwide interest exploded amid the release of ChatGPT, the generative AI chatbot that has captured international attention for being able to create text, images and videos based on prompts.

The university has been developing best practices for the use of AI on campus, as faculty hold informational meetups to learn more about the technologies and study its potential use in producing deep fakes, which are AI-created video, audio and pictures that depict real people doing and saying things they haven't done, for example.

"The citizen science of AI is happening right now, where everybody can contribute to the development of AI, but AI researchers or scholars or domain experts have been seeing this trend so much ahead of time," Kudithipudi said.

Meantime, the use of AI has been accelerating in San Antonio health care as academic institutions, nonprofits and private medical centers have been increasingly investing in technology that can aid in producing notes for electronic medical records, scan medical images, and aid in diagnosing and treating patients.

©2023 the San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.