#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.
#UofTMed International Student Reflection by Anat
Israel with a secure job and bright prospects, relocation to Canada was a bold move for Anat Segal-Shalev. Faced with an opportunity to further her academic credentials, Anat chose a professional program that would allow her to fill gaps in knowledge and train her in critical problem–solving skills in health. As she approaches the completion of her 2-year master’s degree at the TRP, she reflects on her journey.
An Exploration of New Boundaries
I used to have a great job at a big pharmaceutical company in Israel. I loved my job and enjoyed being a part of this global industry, but when an opportunity to move to Canada emerged, I knew I wanted to take the time to study. I started searching for a degree, and my first option was UofT, as it is so well known and has a renowned reputation. My background and qualifications as a pharmacist led me to the IMS, where, I came across the Translational Research Program serendipitously.
I read about the program and it made me curious and excited. Even though the field of translational research was new to me, I immediately understood how necessary this field was becoming in the healthcare world. In addition, I could not find a similar program almost anywhere else in the world that focused on competencies in problem-solving in healthcare. This made me even more confident that such a program would give me an added value and an eminent advantage in the competitive healthcare environment I was a part of. I, therefore, decided to apply to be part of the 2017 cohort and prepared for a big transformation in my life.
As an international student, my learning experience was intensified by the move to a new country. I had many gaps in knowledge and in understanding the health innovation pathway and often felt different from most other students. However, there is no better program to feel unique in. I had the privilege of meeting phenomenal people, who embrace diversity and differences. They taught me how to see diversity as an opportunity to learn and grow. I learned to think more open-mindedly without getting easily intimidated, to expect the unexpected, and to be willing to ask for help if needed. The program enabled me to grow both as a person and as a professional.
The TRP is a greenhouse for students who are eager to explore their own boundaries and challenge others to do so with them. It offers exceptional opportunities that push students outside of their comfort zones, to look far ahead but also deep inside themselves. The best part is that the learning experience is so rich and varied, that I learned even more than I expected. I never knew I had the ability to develop so many new skills and evolve so much in such a short period of time.
There are so many gaps in our healthcare system, and there is a need for people who will drive change with new ideas and innovations, using the unique approach of translational research. Thanks to the program, today, I am ready to take on challenges in the healthcare environment with a more comprehensive approach.
Bio: Anat Segal-Shalev has ten years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. She holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and recently completed her Master of Health Science in Translational Research degree from the University of Toronto. Connect with Anat on Linkedin.
Stories go beyond simply entertaining us, they capture the essence of what it means to be human.
A photo essay by Craig Madho for the TRP | August 19, 2019
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 196, Used with Permission)
This photo, titled “Grannies’ tug-of-war, Centre Island”, has become one of my favourite photographs of old Toronto. It was taken in the 1920s by a photographer named William James Sr. James was an early practitioner of human interest and candid photography, which is sometimes considered to be documentary-style photography. Through his pictures he was able to capture what life was like in his adopted home—hailing originally from Walsall, England, he first landed in Quebec with his family before taking the train into Toronto.
Now, there are many things I love about this picture of women playing tug-of-war: the playfulness of the act, the mix of levity and competitiveness along each of their faces, the fact that they’re all wearing their Sunday best, and, I mean, look at those shoes—killer! But what pulls me in is how James was able to capture this moment, frozen in time, which would have otherwise been lost. Pictures like these are stories in themselves and give us a gateway into the lives and values of old Torontonians so we can see how we have evolved.
It’s easy to write off taking pictures like this as frivolous, but having these works is imperative for us to understand our past and grow from it. I work as the editor for a magazine called The Local, we are an independent online magazine exploring health and social issues in Toronto. Our approach to storytelling is unique: we take a data-driven yet authentically human approach to storytelling on pressing issues facing the city. We have no shortage of data, but what good are numbers, especially in healthcare, if you don’t understand how they impact an individual. Documenting lives, in the same way, that James does in these pictures, enables us to capture the humanity behind some of our most pressing health and social issues. That is why the work of people like James and his contemporaries are so important for helping us understand the human nature of old Toronto and how we might use those same techniques to understand the present day.
The collection of photographs by the James family, numbering just over 4000 items, can be found for free on the Toronto Archives website. Here are a few select images that I found that paint a picture of what Toronto was like through the eyes of William James Sr.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 21A, Used with Permission)
Prior to the amalgamation of the suburbs into the newly incorporated Toronto in 1834, many of the roads remained dirty and unpaved. While the city worked infrastructure improvements into its budget, it would not have been uncommon to see kids running around and playing in muddy roads.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 57, Used with Permission)
This was an ambulance given to the Toronto General Hospital by Sir John Eaton, son of Timothy Eaton, the department store magnate for whom the Toronto Eaton Centre is named after. During this time period, it was still not wholly uncommon to see horse-drawn ambulances carrying individuals to the hospital. But as automobile manufacturing began, it was becoming less common.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 115, Used with Permission)
What these men are precariously carrying across this steel beam is a forge, which is an item used to heat metals so they can become more malleable. It’s unclear whether this act of bravery was standard practice at the time, but it is nevertheless impressive.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 51, Used with Permission)
It’s not summertime in Toronto without the auto show. Taken in 1913, it would appear that car shows in this city have a long history.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 122, Used with Permission)
But you can’t talk about automobiles without talking about streetcars. Pictured here is a streetcar at the Woodbine racetrack waiting to start. Taken between 1908-1912, it’s perhaps clearer now that the inspiration for the initial design came from a place with warmer weather year-round. I don’t dare imagine hopping on one of these during a Toronto winter.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 116, Used with Permission)
There’s no greater satisfaction than finally finishing a project, and that’s what’s captured here. This group of workmen is laying the last stone on the Canada Life building. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the large building on University and Queen Street West, across from Osgoode Hall. Interestingly, the spire of the Canada Life building is still an option for you to find out what the weather will be like tomorrow. That weather beacon is the oldest device of its kind in the country.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 180A, Used with Permission)
This group of students, led by Dean Howe of the University of Toronto, is a botany class from 1910 walking through High Park. Presumably, the flowers being held by some students are samples that they will study. As a U of T graduate myself, it’s hard to imagine wearing such a dapper suit to class—especially one in which we’re hiking through a park.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 123, Used with Permission)
As if taken out of a Hollywood movie, this image shows postal workers sorting and stamping mail. In the electronic age, it’s hard to believe that this is what it was like before the invention of label printers.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 166, Used with Permission)
For some, it’s hard to imagine that people even live on Wards Island, let alone living on the island in a tent city. Prior to becoming a transplanted cottage country, Ward island was home to a small tent city that inhabitants called home. Though this black and white image gives the illusion that this is an artefact of forgotten history, there still exist Torontonians that remember this not-so-brief reality.
(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 160A, Used with Permission)
This image was taken in 1913 of a group of swimmers having their picture taken in their bathing suits at Hanlan’s Point. Now Toronto’s only clothing-optional beach, the contrast between the modest swimsuits then and the liberating nature of the beach now is a clear demonstration of how we have evolved as a city.
Going through the Toronto archives I am constantly amazed at the pace of change in the city. To think that the house that I’m sitting in right now writing this piece, located comfortably in North York, was once a part of a sprawling farmland that extended down to the lake is unfathomable. Within the century the city of Toronto expanded outwards into the suburbs and up into the sky, forming the familiar glass condo towers we see today. Seeing the work of photographers and journalists like James, I sometimes wonder if the stories that we tell today will one day add to this growing picture of what Toronto is like now. One can only hope.
Craig Madho is the Associate Editor of The Local, an independent magazine exploring urban health and social issues in Toronto. Read their most recent issue, The Parks and Rec Issue, which explores the changing conceptions of how we play, document the joys and conflicts that take place within our commons, and ask a fundamental question: who are parks for? Craig is a TRP alumnus (Class 2018) and his other blogs can be found here.
#UofTMed TRP Student Reflection by Ankita
“How can I reinvent myself?”
“How do I understand and navigate the complexity of the health care system in Canada?”
“How can I learn to speak the language?”
These were the questions that plagued Ankita when she first moved to Toronto. An internationally trained physician with over seven years of clinical experience under her belt, she began her quest for graduate programs that would allow her to grow both personally and professionally by providing the right mix of exposure and hands-on learning. Her forage ended at the Translational Research Program offered by the University of Toronto. To her, the TRP provided the best amalgamation of innovation and tradition in the realm of research. As she approaches the end of her first year in this distinct program, she candidly shares her experience with us.
“A Journey of Transformation”
People talk about reinventing themselves. The Translational Research Program has been an integral part of my journey to do just that, reinvent myself. The journey has been challenging as all changes are meant to be – disheartening at times and exciting at others, but most importantly, refreshing all the same. So let me start from the very beginning.
As a physician trained abroad, I have considerable experience in speaking with patients. Clinical research questions usually arise from problems faced in practice by healthcare providers. I have conducted traditional research studies in order to answer these clinical questions, but, unfortunately, the results have lacked impact. The TRP was instrumental in making me aware of the need to validate any such inquiry to explore the desired effect. The crux of this program for me can be summarized as – “Explore, Understand, and Talk to people before defining your need”, which will lead to drafting the research question. Enlisting a need from the perspective of end-users is the only way to design a project to ensure that it translates into real life to demonstrate an impact. The end goal of all research is to help improve human life, therefore, thinking of how we can make an impact on someone’s health should direct the journey.
My experience through various projects in this program has changed my approach towards problems. I now pursue issues with various tools and guides to navigate a challenge. The beauty of the TRP and the framework we employ is its versatility. I have applied this knowledge in the challenges I face in my day-to-day life, as well as the scientific challenges presented to us during the course of last year. TRP has been instrumental in my professional and personal growth. I have had a chance to interact with influencers from various sectors of health care; policymakers, clinicians, financers, and innovators to name a few. I have also had the opportunity of contributing towards student-led organizations such as the Pillars of Health and Geo-health Network. The message of these communities has resonated with me and inspired me to explore health in broad contexts including geographical, political, social, financial, and policy in addition to service delivery. The coalescence of policy, science, geography, and society is extraordinary in its complexity and fascinating as a field of study. TRP has provided me with an environment conducive to explore the health landscape in this exciting era of health innovation.
In my second year, I am excited to work on my capstone project which is an interdisciplinary project that will address a real need of real people with a demonstrable impact at the end. The support of our mentors throughout the program allows for a guided journey to implement my learnings in the real world. Translational researchers would have an integral part to play in the near future to ascertain that the benefit of research reaches the masses in two ways – health care research and health system navigation to address current gaps by understanding and bringing multiple lenses to the table.
For my future endeavours, I aspire to be a physician in Canada to integrate my role as a translational researcher to the clinic with the ultimate aim to improve health care in Canada.
RIDE to Conquer Cancer
By: Dr. Nancy Mingo, #TRP Student | June 30, 2019
It was quite light at 5:30 in the morning, but the shadows were still long. It was a stunning June day when I swung my leg over the bike and pedaled around the corner. This was the perfect spring weather we had all been anticipating through the damp and cold months earlier. No-one was around to break the silence and I could ride down the middle of the empty street. What a contrast to just a week ago when I was in a pack of almost five thousand cyclists waiting for the start of the Ride to Conquer Cancer. This charity fund-raising event takes place every year over a weekend and is a 220km ride from Toronto to Hamilton (103km) and then Hamilton to Niagara Falls (117km) the following day. It was a glorious day then as well, warm but not too warm, but I could hardly enjoy it. I was wracked with doubts: will I fall over or, worse, fall over onto another cyclist? Would I just give up at some point and take the bus home, too ashamed to text my teammates until later?
I was the oldest member of our team of eight from the Transitional Research Program, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. My younger teammates had been tremendously supportive, beginning back when we first met in September to form the team: TRP Disruptors. They shared all their hard-won insights and training pearls from the last year in the long run up to the event. Even with seasoned members of the team telling me “you can do this; you can do the training, and the fundraising and the team is with you every step of the way”, signing up for the Ride to Conquer Cancer was still daunting. In the end, it started as all projects do: with a plan.
This experience had much in common with the translational research process we are learning about in our program: we had to break down the project into the discovery of a need (underfunding of cancer care and research), the selection of a problem based on that need (how to raise funds), and generate alternative ways of looking at the situation (novel solutions to attempt to raise the money needed). We used our communication skills in writing soliciting emails and pitching the project to possible donors. The team met biweekly then weekly as the time to the ride drew closer, and we were breaking down the project into manageable tasks and ultimately selecting the most successful fund-raising strategies.
Preparing for the ride, Christina, Naomi, and Paige worked extremely hard organizing the fundraising bake sales. Paige took me on my first long training ride to Burlington, and her mom fed us at the end of the exhausting trip. Craig, having completed the event a few times, was incredibly encouraging and really sent the message, “You can do this ride, you’ve got this”. But could I do the ride? Road cycling is not the same as a spin class, and I had never been on a bike for that long. Was there any point in buying special equipment if I wasn’t even going to finish? Would it all end in (my) tears? In the end, Craig was right: with the proper planning, we all could do this, and we did!
Entering the weekend, I felt a part of all the riders in this together. Our eye-catching shirts (thanks, Kaleigh!) meant we could spot the other members of our team as we streamed along through the crowds. At every stop light, we could hear dozens of clicks of fellow cyclists disengaging from the pedal clips. The chorus of “Rolling” and “Clear” heralded the new green light and we were off again. It was moving to see all the yellow flags on the bikes of cancer survivors who were now completing the ride. More moving for me was the displays, on bike and shirts, of the stories of those who did not make it. Sometimes all that was shown were the years for the dates of birth and death; it was astonishing how brief these lives had been. I had expected to find the experience of the ride moving and had expected to find the challenge fulfilling but had not expected to find the ride so enjoyable. We really had a blast! Rich, Derek, and Shanna greeted us with cheers and refreshments in red solo cups when the last of our team finally made it to the end each day. It was truly a wonderful and touching event and I am so grateful to the team for including me.
From the gorgeous countryside and beautiful woodlands to the grand finale at Niagara Falls, the scenery was spectacular. The comradery and good spirits from all the other cyclists, volunteers, and people cheering were infectious. We really felt that we were doing something worthwhile and it was: the ride has raised over $19 million so far and we are still receiving donations. There is still time to donate as the donation page is open until August. If you are able to and wish to support this noble cause you can do so on our website. No donation is small and no effort is unimportant.
A Journey of Self-Discovery
By: Meghan Lofft, #UofTGrad 2018 | June 28, 2019
Meghan Lofft, a TRP alumna Class 2018 presently working as a Research Assistant for the Foundation of Medical Practice Education: A Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to the development, production, and evaluation of educational programs for community-based family medicine and general practitioners. She enjoys empowering people to move their bodies as a Group Fitness Instructor, and posting close-up pictures of flowers on Instagram as a passionate photographer.
One year post-graduation, she reflects on her experiences in the TRP program and candidly shares her journey and advice to current students.
“So, what job does this program lead to?”
This is one of the most commonly asked questions by prospective students of the TRP. Rightly so, these individuals want to ensure that their time, efforts, and tuition money move them swiftly into their career path, a job, and financial stability; a solution, if you will.
Surprisingly, as a student in the 2016 cohort, I was not thinking along these lines at all. Before TRP, I had spent years trying (and failing) to get into a competitive M.Sc. program that would train me to fit a job description. I heard about the TRP from a friend of a friend and was intrigued when I read Joseph’s message on the website. I applied – without time for a second thought – on the deadline for the September 2016 start. After interviewing with the program coordinators, I had a feeling that was refreshingly contrary to the “we’re sorry, but you’re just not good enough” experiences I’d had with graduate programs so far. I was accepted and had no idea what to expect.
Instead of my solution as the end goal, I entered the TRP with a goal to learn, graduate, and figure out the rest from there.
Now, upon reflection, I realize that the “let’s see what happens” mindset I adopted was a large component of my success as a student in the TRP and after graduation. Fast forward to June 2018; I had my M.H.Sc. degree in hand, a successful capstone project and wealth of TRP knowledge under my belt, and the confidence that I would find a great job in my field by the end of the summer. Cute right?
It’s June 2019 and here are three important things I learned in my first trip around the sun as a TRP alumnus.
Lesson 1: Be patient. Be picky. Chill a bit.
Things in the “real world” move a lot more slowly than in the student schedule of an academic year. Keep an eye out for jobs in your field that actually interest you. It will probably take months to find a position that truly draws you in and fits your qualifications without having to stretch your cover letter. Also, you’ve just finished grad school – it’s alright (and necessary, really) to sit back for a while and channel your brain space towards other interests.
Lesson 2: Make a personal connection stand out.
Applying to positions posted online draws hundreds of applications. The best thing I did in my job search was to make a follow-up call to the hiring manager after submitting my application for the job that I now have. Call (not email, call!) with a simple inquiry, a made-up question even, and make sure you leave your name and flex that TRP title. A Master’s degree focused on translational research is very intriguing to many facets of healthcare (for good reason, as we know!).
Lesson 3: Sometimes you’re just a token interview, and it’s obvious. Take the experience to heart, but not the rejection.
Some organizations like playing hard to get – employees on contract often have to re-interview for their job as a formality and in doing so, the hiring department also has to interview other “potential candidates”. So, if you’re asked to interview at 5:30 pm on a Friday in July and the panel seems somewhat distant or uninterested in your responses – spoiler alert – they might just be fitting in that necessary external applicant. Still, every interview is an excellent experience and, even if it cut your vacation short, you’ll look back on it as a valuable part of the process.
Beyond learning the educational content of my Master’s degree, the TRP taught me how to immerse myself as a professional in our healthcare system. Developing and managing my own capstone project with a fellow colleague allowed me to become confident in my ability to apply the knowledge gained in our learning sessions. Instead of fueling my academic competency into a hundred-page thesis, I was experiencing the healthcare system that was outside of the University bubble. I was challenged to address a realized need; the big-picture, overwhelming, real-world stuff. With no challenge, there is no change. If things are good enough, it takes some disruption and different ways of thinking to realize how it could be better.
As a TRP graduate, I am proud to be a small pebble dropped into a big pond; a mover and shaker in my workplace. With the continual evolution of our policies, practices, and population, the TRP is making sure that healthcare keeps up.