New health sciences faculty takes shape: Viewing health care as an investment

Nov 03, 2005, vol. 34, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes

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Like a baby moving from infancy into early childhood, the defining features of Simon Fraser University's newest faculty are taking shape.

With the appointment of 10 new faculty members and the launch of its first graduate program, the faculty of health sciences is maturing into the kind of trans-disciplinary research body that its founders envisioned.

A university-wide faculty search committee has hired researchers known for their collaborative work in diverse, health-related disciplines. Their research reflects a deep understanding of the gestalt of cell-to-society solutions needed to resolve biological, social, environmental and many other problems defining human health.

Many of the new faculty will teach courses in and conduct research connected to the faculty's inaugural graduate studies program - a master of science in population and public health.

Michael Hayes, one of the architects of the faculty and its associate dean, says launching the program first aligns with the faculty's ultimate goals: to find solutions that lead to sustainable health policies and help policy developers make a paradigm shift toward viewing healthcare as an investment, not a cost.

“Growing poverty, an aging population, increasing infectious and chronic diseases and declining health dollars are fostering a costly disease burden that is making our current acute care-based system unsustainable,” explains Hayes. “In addition, we see healthcare as the cost of coming up with medical magic bullets to cure diseases. But if we can view healthcare as an investment in preventing diseases in the first place, then we reduce the cost of and need for so many magic bullets.”

This kind of paradigm shift requires a good grasp of the myriad factors determining population health. The newly appointed faculty members have devoted their careers to researching and dealing with these factors.

Craig Janes and Kitty Corbett, appointed as tenured professors, will teach in the population and public health program.

Arun Chockalingam has been appointed professor for a three-year renewable term and director of the gobal health program, a second masters program coming on stream. Chockalingam has extensive experience in combining basic sciences, epidemiology, clinical research, and community-based intervention strategies to design programs aimed at reducing chronic diseases on a global scale.

Tim Takaro and Michel Joffres, who teach in the population and public health program, have been appointed associate professors with tenure.

Appointed associate professor for a three-year renewable term, Steve Corber teaches in both the faculty graduate programs, and is dedicated to fighting infectious diseases globally.

Corber takes a big picture view of how such diseases become major health hurdles in populations plagued by long-standing social and environmental issues like illiteracy and isolation.

“By bringing together these appointees, we're seeking to merge our research into an understanding of how population health issues transcend economies and geographies to become global, not just third-world health problems,” says Hayes.

Michael Forlenza, Marina Morrow and Rochelle Tucker, appointed tenure track assistant professors, teach in the population and public health program.

Morrow, whose research interests include mental health reform and mental health and social inequity, will eventually be part of a research team that the faculty envisions focusing on the management and prevention of mental illnesses.

“This team's research will dovetail beautifully with the work of some of our research associates in criminology, psychology and education,” predicts Hayes.

Leilei Zeng is an assistant professor of biostatistics in both graduate studies programs. “We were seeking a researcher strong in statistical analysis and methodologies to collaborate with faculty, as biostatistics is emerging as the quantitative basis for health research,” explains Hayes.

Christine Joffres, a newly appointed research associate, is continuing research aimed at evaluating the delivery of Canada's health care services and prioritizing government funding of them.

A second round of 10 or more appointments, jointly made with the faculty of sciences, will help the health sciences faculty mature into a global incubator of molecular biological solutions to infectious diseases.

The appointments will begin in the New Year, and mesh with the graduate programs. Notes Hayes, “So much of the burden of global illness is as a result of infectious diseases, such as AIDS, West Nile and SARS.”

The global health master of science program will be launched in the new year.

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