New health faculty fills gap in services

January 08, 2004, vol. 29, no. 1
By Carol Thorbes

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A new faculty of health sciencesat Simon Fraser University “will fill a gap in services in B.C.,” says John Blatherwick, chief medical health officer of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

The regional health administrator elaborates, “Other post secondary institutions in B.C. have core faculties of medicine, nursing and allied professionals. They've also covered the technical side of environmental health, laboratory medicine and nursing. SFU is the first to dedicate a faculty to taking a multi-disciplinary approach to health, something very much needed in the 21st century.”

SFU President Michael Stevenson says the faculty is a natural evolution of the university's deepening focus on health. It is one of SFU's top research priorities. More than 120 faculty members throughout the university are involved in health-related research. Stevenson notes that the new faculty could not be timelier. “Concerns about HIV, West Nile virus, SARS and potential bioterrorist agents have heightened awareness of the need for more effective ways to contain or eradicate historic and new infectious agents.”

The faculty's research and teaching programs will bridge social and natural science research with a variety of health-related investigations spanning a number of disciplines.

The areas of investigation include: social roots of disease, organization and social dynamics of clinical practice, factors that control health-related institutions, systems and policies, and population health outcomes based on factors such as health education, socio-economics, genetics and biomedicine.

Using multiple modes of inquiry and levels of analysis, researchers will collaborate to develop a big picture of health. “The end result,” says David MacLean, “is an integrated understanding of health and its biological and social determinants that can form the foundation of new discovery.” MacLean, named a Canadian Health Hero in 2002 by the Pan American Health Association, is the director of SFU's institute of health research and education (IHRE), the architect of the new faculty.

Its graduate programs will promote research in five overlapping areas: population and public health, infectious disease, aging and chronic illness, brain function and development, and biomolecular interactions.

“Given the pressing global need for more effective solutions to the spread of infectious diseases, the faculty is launching an academic and professional masters program in population and public health first,” says MacLean.

The program will explore collaborative community health research, disease prevention, the complexities of societal investment in health and public policy-making. The faculty will accept its inaugural MSc program's first students in September 2005. Fourteen tenure-track researchers will make up the faculty's initial complement of appointments, beginning in June 2004.

Their selection will be based on their expertise in epidemiology, qualitative research methods, public health/community health, bio-statistics and health economics. The faculty of health sciences will be the permanent home of the IHRE, which develops health-related research opportunities university-wide, and the centre for population data warehousing and analysis.

This centre, still under development, will be a fully integrated collection of databases covering a variety of overlapping data and populations.

SFU has allocated $1.8 million in recurring personnel and operating costs over five years and $1.1 million in nonrecurring start up and equipment costs to mount the faculty of health sciences.

Planning for new facilities to house the faculty is under way, along with an initiative to raise $10 million in funding.

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