Banner Credit: Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP

A translational researcher must speak many languages and work towards bridging the gap between different worlds of perspectives – of clinicians, scientists, and patients. Perspectives, that are the key to unlocking the potential of healthcare.

Zoya Retiwalla | TRP | October 30, 2019

Translational research is equivocal and encompasses an array of healthcare approaches. Different people have contrasting ideologies about the translational framework and in spite of this, everyone seems to agree on its indispensable nature. In our quest to improve health and medicine, our students at the TRP are taught to apply Translational ThinkingTM to scientific knowledge no matter how distinct their fields of work may be.

Clinicians in our program shared experiences of their application of our translational framework in their clinical practice at our event called “TR In The Clinic.” The event drew individuals from different walks of science, from researchers to clinicians, from health practitioners to health innovators. Facilitated by graduate students from the Translational Research Program, it featured engaging interdisciplinary panel discussions followed by a round of open discussions.

Our panelists – Dr. Gabrielle Freire, Dr. Ibrahim Alshagy, and Dr. Nancy Mingo offered varied perspectives on the barriers faced while bringing about change and how they utilized TRP’s development and design landscape to overcome healthcare problems.

“I noticed that it takes an extremely long time for clinical research to even reach our patients because we are a very specialized field,” said Dr. Freire, a Pediatric Emergency Physician at the Hospital for Sick Children. She believes that Pediatric Emergency Medicine is extremely siloed in terms of the implementation of clinical innovation. She brought perspective from the frontline of pediatric care and outlined the challenges she faced in expanding the reach of her research.

Her endeavor to standardize care for children who present into emergency departments across the country brought her to the TRP. It is during her time here that her manner of approaching problems changed for the better. “It teaches you an approach to solving a problem within our healthcare system and how to troubleshoot and anticipate the barriers that we have to overcome and I find that’s directly applicable to my field of research.”

“All the research we were doing is not translated and as a doctor, I feel that is a problem we are all trying to solve,” explained Alshagy, Clinical Fellow in Reconstruction and Musculoskeletal Oncology at the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital. He heard about the TRP when he was looking for an opportunity to best spend his knowledge in the medical field. An opportunity that would allow him tools to think out of the box. Systematic and collaborative approaches of thinking, he believes, are the cornerstones for patient-centric improvement of healthcare.

By way of example, Alshagy explains that healthcare innovation doesn’t always require exorbitant solutions. When he joined, his hospital didn’t have a navigation room. Navigation is mostly used during surgeries, especially in cancers of the pelvis and the standard way of doing it is freehand. His team saw this as a problem and was troubleshooting, trying to find a solution to an issue that many hospitals over the world were facing. They devised a project wherein they could use a machine that was available in hospitals with ease. Developing a strategy wherein this machine could be used on patients for the purpose of navigational studies, his team could bring about this pivotal change because of how Translational ThinkingTM affected his approach towards problems. “They teach you how to contact people, how to create a venture, how to protect the venture, how to get venture capital to participate. So, it has a business model, it has a medical model, it has a legal model, it has a patient model.”

Dr. Mingo, a family physician from the University of Toronto who has been practicing for over two decades never imagined getting involved in  health policy in spite of her keen interest in the field. “It’s like two steps forward and one step back when trying to find a way to bring about change,” said she, sharing about the barriers she faced attempting to bring reforms in the healthcare process. The probability of learning effective strategies for improving healthcare was what drew her to our program.

Her interest in knowledge translation in continuing medical education for primary care providers got her thinking about best practices. “What is the best practice? What is done is often not what is the guideline. It can take years if not longer to get the best practice in place.” The TR framework gave her a chance to connect with her dream job where she is involved in setting and getting guidelines into the hands of the primary care providers.

We, at the TRP, have a diverse group of students who believe in making innovations widely accessible for patients. Our program gives an overview of the entire spectrum of research and this leads to the clinical application and implementation of translational solutions. Being associated with a robust institution such as the University of Toronto gives us access to the diverse community of hospitals associated with it. Our program provides the numerous opportunities and experiences shared at events like “TR In The Clinic” are a testimony to the fact that effective Translational Thinking can be instrumental in bringing about positive change in patient care