#UofTMed Alumna Reflection by Razan
After the completion of her undergraduate studies, Razan wanted to make a positive difference in the field of healthcare. She thought that the only two choices she had to achieve her goal were to either go to medical school or work as a lab researcher. That was until she came across the Translational Research Program, where she could focus on patients within their contexts and needs while working on solving real-world problems. As she looks back, she reflects on her journey with the TRP in this candid blog.
An Unconventional Journey
“Define the need, bridge the gap, keep it user-centric.” To most people in healthcare, this might not mean much, however, to a Translational Research Program (TRP) graduate these are words to live by.
I graduated from the Translational Research Program as a part of the second cohort back in 2018. My capstone project, completed along with three fellow students, was on cancer outpatient nutritional status. We investigated nutritional education programs throughout Toronto and interviewed cancer outpatients to find the gap between the dietary recommendations and the integration of these recommendations into their daily lives.
Six months after graduating, I landed my current role as a Knowledge Translation Coordinator at a not-for-profit organization, the Aphasia Institute. Aphasia is a communication disorder most commonly caused by a brain injury or a stroke. People with aphasia are intelligent, competent individuals who still can make decisions — however, their difficulty with speech masks this competence.
Healthcare professionals have difficulty communicating with people with aphasia, and this gap leads to negative health-related quality of life and high social costs on identity and family relationships. The Aphasia Institute has begun addressing this gap by designing a method of facilitated conversation called “Supported Conversation for Adults with Aphasia (SCA™)” to assist healthcare professionals in communicating with people with aphasia.
Within my role at the Aphasia Institute, I am coordinating the dissemination of SCA™ resources to healthcare professionals nationally and internationally. Throughout different dissemination projects, I find myself reeling in skills learned through the TRP. From the facilitation of interdisciplinary meetings to user-centric testing and iterating, the skills gained through the TRP experience are invaluable to my work.
I find myself using the Toronto Translational Framework when planning for testing and distribution of the resources, and I find myself putting different “hats” on to cater to various stakeholders in this field. Driving change through the dissemination of different ideas and innovations is fulfilling, and the Translational Research Program has paved a new way of understanding the healthcare system, which has and will continue to aid me with healthcare projects throughout my career. Define the need, bridge the gap, keep it user-centric – the TRP words I live by.
Razan is one of our TRP alumni who have discovered ways to make an impact on healthcare outside of the research or clinical settings. As Razan said, sometimes you must put on a different “hat” to change your perspective. The roles of translating knowledge and implementing change to the healthcare system are crucial to the uptake of innovation, and through a human-centric approach, these changes can be designed for the people who need them.
Andrei Iliuta & Christina Beharry| October 6, 2019
The Translational Research Program isn’t simply about creating a network of diverse individuals. A major emphasis for those in the program is on building community – meaningful bonds and relationships between these people. To achieve this, classes are structured in a way that group work and inter-team collaboration is a must, but that’s not the only way we’re encouraged to interact. A part of the “hidden curriculum” of the program involves encouraging students to connect outside of class, with regular social outings, which are planned and executed by the social committee.
Love And Learning At The TRP
TRP Alumni Andrei Iliuta (class of 2017) and Christina Beharry (class of 2019) have recently announced their engagement. In their joint-blog, they share their experiences in finding love and how the TRP played a role in their lives.
Andrei: As I left the TRP with its tightly knit community and entered the wider world of IMS at the beginning of my Ph.D. program, it quickly became obvious that it would be far more difficult to find like-minded individuals. After all, we only had one course in common and barely had a chance to interact in our vast amphitheatre. I continued to attend TRP social nights and one time I remember suggesting humorously we should do a board games night. The answer was – I should do it myself (and that was from Moni)! So I joined the social committee even though I had no experience with this sort of activity. It turned out it was fun to be creative in a more socially-oriented way and it helped me step out of my comfort zone.
Christina: I had completed my undergraduate studies at UofT, but I found my experience rather isolating. I didn’t make meaningful connections to people within my program, because it felt like everyone was against each other rather than working together. As a result, I only focused on studying and didn’t get a chance to participate in campus life. When I was accepted into this program, it was important to me to try and get a bit of that experience, which is why I joined the social committee.
Andrei: We both ended up on the social committee but we didn’t really get to talk much. I was the only alumnus, surrounded by younger people with a different academic background from mine, and it felt a bit odd. What did Christina and I think about each other? Not much, if at all. I remember our longest conversation occurred when she showed us a shot of a Pollock painting. I just said I wasn’t much of a fan of abstract expressionism!
Christina: After months of meetings, we knew each other by name, but that was it. I like to think that we truly met at the end of year social which was planned by the committee we were both on. One thing that most of our classmates don’t know about us is the fact that we’re both poets. I only found out during the social, when one of our friends and fellow TRP alumnus, Ibrahim Alshaygy, mentioned that Andrei had recently published a book. He had bragged about buying two copies, and that’s when I realized that I had to talk to the author before the night was over.
Andrei: It was funny, we suddenly made eye contact and Christina, smiling, said she wanted to learn more about my writing. So we mainly talked about that – about when we started writing and what we tended to write on. Writing (along with literature in general) has always been one of my greatest passions – quite possibly, the one I’d be pursuing now exclusively if it was lucrative enough (but I sadly don’t see myself publishing a handful of bestsellers)! Unsurprisingly, in addition to her natural warmth and charm, it was the one thing that drew me to Christina.
Christina: I think what attracted me most to Andrei was his patience and kindness. Most people have a difficult time believing is that the two of us are extremely alike (except for our taste in music, though he did convince me to go to several metal shows).
We both love reading, writing, birds (thanks to me!) and all things nerdy! While we may not seem like it in public, we both also have very similar personalities and approach life in a very similar way.
Andrei: Interestingly, when I attended an orientation activity for graduate students in September of 2017, one of the faculty speakers quipped “should we look about hard enough, we might eventually win a mate!” Turns out there was some truth to that. Although I wouldn’t necessarily have expected it to happen within the confines of my old program. Maybe the strengths of the TRP also shone through in that particular conjuncture as Christina and I came to know each other in a small, comfortable social space where people were encouraged to mingle and share ideas and dreams.
Christina: When I first started the program, I was so focused on how different everyone was from me, instead of noticing that we all had similar qualities that lead us to be in the same room. Perhaps the TRP acts as a bit of a vetting process, similar to those matchmaking sites, and that’s why things worked out for us. At the very least, we would never have met if we both weren’t in the same program, so we do have the TRP to thank for that!
Andrei and Christina would like to invite their friends from the TRP to join them on Friday, October 11th, 2019 at 7 PM at Fran’s Upper deck to celebrate their engagement!
Zoya Retiwalla | TRP | Oct 4, 2019
What comes to your mind when you hear the word translator?
Your answer would possibly be ‘someone who converts the written word from one language to another’. A translator in the health sciences plays a similar role, in that the person translates the language of scientific research into applications that improve medicine, health, and healthcare.
The healthcare field is undergoing rapid transformation. This change in tide has brought with it a slew of questions – how are things done, how should things be done, by whom, and what repercussions would this evolution bring forth?
A novel kind of professional is emerging – an applied scientist. These scientists are not always found conducting experiments in a lab or defending their research, they are instead found using science. They believe that the process of turning observations into interventions that could help improve patient care.
Translators combine science with unique strategies, out-of-the-box approaches, and actionable thinking from a vast range of disciplines. Disciplines that have seldom been associated with the essence of pure science – business, design, law, and communication.
The Translational Research Program – the first of its kind in Canada, is designed for current and aspiring innovators from interprofessional backgrounds such as – basic scientists, applied scientists, researchers, clinicians, engineers, innovators, entrepreneurs, advocates, networkers, influencers, and risk-takers.
Our students learn creative problem-solving skills, strategies, and competencies to translate scientific knowledge into applications that improve medicine, health, and health care. Through flexible coursework; team-based, real-world translational challenges; and extensive mentorship and networking, we facilitate self-directed and collaborative “learning by doing.” Students gain experience, expertise, and practical insights into the development and design processes. The curriculum covers the translational landscape and strategies needed to develop, test, and implement innovations.
What motivates you?
What are your goals?
How do you want to improve healthcare?
These are the questions that will actually help you answer the question – “Are you a translator?” If you want to learn how to have a tangible impact on patient care and be part of bringing interventions that improve health, then the Translational Research Program may be a program fit for you.
Learn more about who we are and what we do.
By: Nida Zafar, 2018
In patients with polycystic kidney disease, it’s an effective therapy to reduce kidney volume. That is one of the conclusions researcher and TRP graduate (Class 2017) Andrei Iliuta came to during his fellowship with Dr. York Pei at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, where he studied sclerotherapy.
“That is a good thing because kidney volume is considered to be a marker for polycystic kidney disease,” said Iliuta during a one-on-one interview. “If you reduce it, there’s a chance you’ll slow down disease progression” he added.
He did this project through the use of interviews with stakeholders relevant to his work. This includes nephrologists and interventional radiologists. “I asked them questions about what they thought barriers to the diffusion of this new treatment could be,” he said.
Iliuta credits TRP with aiding him in his continuing projects. He said that is where he was able to learn how to effectively perform the qualitative analysis necessary to perform qualitative research into the barriers to dissemination and adoption of this new treatment.
“I learned a lot about how to sell one’s idea, how to make it interesting and easily understandable to people who are not accustomed to the language we use on a daily basis and how to defend a project successfully to obtain the necessary funding,” Iliuta said.
The TRP also teaches the “different steps one must follow [to] shape an idea, intervention, or drug effectively from the very first studies to actual implementation and commercialization.”
The TRP program emphasizes the Translational Thinking Framework. Through the use of human-centred design, the problem is iteratively explored and analyzed. The TRP students develop qualitative research skills such as interviewing techniques and focus groups. It stresses understanding the challenge from the perspective of the people at the center of the problem and allowing them to be engaged in the problem exploration.
This is key to understanding the problem, who is at the center of it and how to find a solution. Solutions are explored and shaped only after the problem is well understood. In Iliuta’s case, he had a treatment but no clear path to disseminate it and ensure it would be first validated and then adopted.
Through this process, Iliuta explored not only the challenge of dissemination and adoption but he also learned that before a fixed solution can be reached, the researcher may have to go back and improve the solution to accommodate what is learned about the system, the context, and the community where the solution will be adopted. It’s not about the final product but improving it to be better, something TRP emphasizes.
Iliuta came to Canada in 2001 when his family got a work opportunity at Laval University. Before Iliuta moved to Québec, he lived in Romania with his family. He spoke French for most of his life which he learned from living in Belgium between the ages of 5 and 7 and attending multiple French-language schools across Europe.
Iliuta recently finished a poetry project. The published book titled “Le Nouveau Monde” contains classically structured poetry. The book is in French, to pay homage to his French-speaking background.
“The themes range from mythological ideas and images to more personal events in my life,” he said.
His favourite piece of poetry from his book is inspired by the famous Austrian painter Gabriel von Max’s artwork on one of Jesus’ miracles. The artwork is on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Iliuta not only has a love for poetry but literature as well.
“I was introduced to books when I was very young by my great grandmother. It just stuck with me and it has become a tremendous passion in my life. I don’t know where I would go if I didn’t have the time and ability to read and write,” he said.
Iliuta is currently a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto studying kidney disease and focusing on anabolic interventions. He hopes to become a principal investigator and have an independent practice, while also becoming an accomplished writer.
Path To Translation
By: Zoya Retiwalla | TRP | October 17, 2019
“With no challenge, there is no change and with the continual evolution of our policies, practices, and population, the TRP is making sure that healthcare keeps up,” says Meghan Lofft – TRP alumna Class 2018, describing how the TRP helped her in discovering herself.
Healthcare is undergoing a dynamic shift with the ever-evolving spectrum of translational science. These days, in health science, it seems like everyone is talking about “Translation”. It comes in numerous flavours and seldom does everyone at the table agree upon the meaning. Simply put, translation is the process of turning observations in the laboratory, clinic, and/or community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public — ranging from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioural changes (NCATS-NIH). We at the TRP believe translation is the process of turning knowledge, observations, and discoveries into interventions (via application or commercialization) that positively impact the health of patients. Breakthrough scientific research is an indispensable cornerstone of healthcare. However, if this research never truly translates into the clinic, interventions that could improve patient health would never be found.
We at the Translational Research Program, take a patient-centered approach to translation, to promote evidence-based interventions that are impactful to patients and help improve lives. Our philosophy at the TRP is to raise actionable questions and prepare individuals to translate observations into innovations.
If this ideology intrigues you, come meet our team and learn how you could become a part of our unique program that is more than just a degree. It is a hands-on leadership experience that will change the way you approach problems in healthcare.
Meet our team to learn more at our upcoming info sessions.
The TRP is designated to be a “Professional” program but there is no formally recognized profession of Translational Research within the scope of health science or healthcare. What then does it mean to understand the TRP as a professional program, Translational Research as a profession, and perhaps more significantly, professionalism broadly as applied to healthcare and the health sciences?
As it turns out the academic designation is perhaps the easiest to deal with. A graduate program, masters or PhD is understood to be a course of advanced study. A master’s degree historically has been understood as a step towards a PhD that moves a student beyond a bachelor’s information dump towards a better understanding and more critical thinking required in PhD programs. However, some master’s programs are intended to provide students with advanced understanding towards a specific field of work—think law, engineering or business. These types of programs generally have been course-based (rather than thesis-based) and have prioritized domain-specific knowledge or applied research to support a career trajectory rather than groom students specifically for PhD programs.
Recently, a range of professional master’s programs have been developed that seem to aim to provide students with advanced standing but are generally only loosely affiliated to a specific profession or field of work. These programs seem to focus on the credentialing to be able to give students a professional advantage or designation and provide degrees as a measure of accomplishing a minimum standing in a series of courses.
Perhaps at the other end of the professional program spectrum has seen the rise of professional programs that continue the tradition of advance study but also incorporate professional-oriented skills or competencies. This type of program, in the context of graduate degrees, is more difficult to categorize according to established taxonomies, because it may not be specifically affiliated with a specific professional domain, may not have a basic or discovery research focus, but may still allow for advanced study as well as a focus on skills and competencies that may be understood to be transferable and professional.
The TRP falls into this latter—ill-defined class of “professional” master’s programs. It is intended to allow students to pursue self-directed advanced study—the self-directed nature and a current lack of a formally designated profession of translation means it is not affiliated with a specific profession (our students are interprofessional). The TRP is not thesis-based so it does not require a written tomb for graduation—though students produce reports, white papers, artifacts, and other forms of deliverables. The lack of a thesis, however, does not mean that students are not engaged in research and the generation of new knowledge. In practice, most Capstone Projects to date have involved a high level of research and methodological rigour, including research ethics approvals and highly structured protocols. However, these have generally been focused on innovation and impact rather than publication.
Admittedly, articulating the skills and research accomplishments of our graduates is an important area for improvement. Demonstrating the depth of understanding and the achievements of students in familiar research domains (despite the ‘professional’ designation of the degree) means that our students have significant value to the research community both before and after the program, and are not barred from pursuing PhDs or other advanced study opportunities when they choose to.
The opportunity for students to pursue advanced study while simultaneously developing transferable workplace skills, means that the program provides an unconventional type of educational experience that blends the rigour of a traditional masters degree with knowledge that allows students to excel in areas that involve multidisciplinary collaboration, creative problem-solving, teamwork, navigating ambiguity and leadership—not usually competencies historically prioritized by traditional research masters programs.
This is perhaps half of the “what” of the TRP related to its professional designation. The “How” and the “Why” of professionalism will remain for Part 2: Defining Professionalism and Part 3: Significance of Professionalism in Translational Training.