Alumnus Reflection: the Journey to Translational Research

Written by Craig Madho

The healthcare landscape has always existed with two very clearly defined pillars: researchers and practitioners. While they exist in different capacities in the hospital setting, the roles can always be reduced down to one of two binary states. As the body of research in Toronto began to grow, the need for a third pillar rapidly emerged – not one that exists parallel to researchers and practitioners, but one that bisects them and creates a bridge for moving research into practice: a translational researcher.

As a student at the U of T, I took a non-linear path from my bachelor’s degree to my master’s degree at the Translational Research Program (TRP). I completed my BSc at the University of Toronto in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology as a specialist student. Being in the specialist program, I had the opportunity to undergo a Professional Experience Year (PEY) working with an industry group in the field. I was fortunate to get a PEY at the Applied Health Research Centre (AHRC) in St. Michael’s Hospital as a Research Assistant where I helped manage phase 2-4 clinical trials both nationally and internationally. During my time at the AHRC I was given several opportunities to see how high impact research was being reduced to practice and I was given the chance to help facilitate that movement. That was the moment I knew my interests were not in discovery research, but in how to best utilize that research to improve patient outcomes.

When I returned to finish my BSc, I quickly started searching for opportunities to learn more about how to move research into practice. I read about how business circles create customer profiles for identifying target customers and understanding markets; I looked at how engineers solicit design specifications from users when developing devices; I immersed myself in knowledge translation literature to understand how these circles were approaching moving healthcare research into practice at the patient level. Taking this a step further, I worked in a health tech software development start-up where I was able to learn and practice these skills directly.

I was considering graduate programs as the next step in my career development when I learned about the TRP. Reading about the TRP, I realized that this program was a platform where these interdisciplinary ideas were brought together in the healthcare lens. I see this nexus as being invaluable because, at its core, these concepts involve building healthcare interventions from the perspective of the end-user, which in this case is the patient. This was exemplified by one of the capstone projects, the Timely Project that tackled the lengthy wait times for mental health service access at U of T. Seeing the impact of this project convinced me that the TRP would be a good home for my curiosity. This is why I joined the TRP: to be on the forefront of building a healthcare system that is authentically patient-centric and is accessible to everyone.

My capstone project, which is the professional masters equivalent of a thesis project, looked at how to improve cancer outpatient nutrition by assessing nutritional resources and understanding how to revitalize them from the context of patient needs. My capstone partners (Kathleen Mounce, Razan Bouzeineddine, Julia Antolovich) and I had the pleasure of working closely with 3 key cancer patient resources in Toronto; ELLICSR, Wellspring, and Gilda’s Club; as well as several cancer patients that access these resources. Through our work, we identified gaps in programming that can be addressed by these groups in order to help deliver education on maintaining a proper diet as a cancer outpatient, which helps not only reduce the physical side effects of chemotherapy but also helps reduce long-term recurrence of cancer.

In addition to my capstone work, I applied a user-centric philosophy to several of my extra-curricular activities. During my time as a student, I was one of the co-presidents of the Institute of Medical Science Students Association (IMSSA). Outside of IMSSA, I was the co-founder of the IMS Peer-to-Peer Mentorship program, a member of the Student Alumni Faculty Engagement Committee, lead organizer of the Pillars of Health (an annual TRP networking event) committee, and a lead on the UofT Talks organizing committee. Through my work with these various student groups, I strived to instill the importance of co-creating with the target users in mind to create an experience that is both valuable and meaningful. For my work with these groups, I have been graciously honoured with the 2018 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, the inaugural Graduate Community Development Fund Award, and the Roncari Book Prize.

Now that my time as a student in the TRP has come to an end, I am very grateful for the mentorship and opportunities given to me. I plan to take my experience and learnings into a career as a healthcare innovator, knowledge mobilizer, and translational researcher working with the various groups I met as a master’s student. My current projects include working with the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE) as a knowledge broker on various innovation projects related to health issues in Toronto’s aging population, such as opioid use in seniors, as well as supporting NICE in their new Intergenerational Homeshare Project, which seeks to break down generational barriers to provide affordable housing for students while also tackling big issues like senior social isolation, aging in place, and ageism. In addition to my work with NICE, I am working with the editorial team at The Local, a hyperlocal healthcare magazine run out of UHN OpenLab, to tell the story of population health data and highlight health gaps in Toronto’s communities. As research moves forward, I hope to continue to work closely with the healthcare system to ensure that we are able to deliver the best possible patient-centred care.

See Craigs article with The Local’s series Unsung Heroes: Ghirmai the Interpreter and connect with Craig on LinkedIn or Twitter.