RACHEL HUGHES/THE VARSITY

U of T’s Department of Physiology is launching a professional, full-time Master of Health Science (MHSc) program to start in September. The course-based, one-year program aims to combine an education in physiology with emerging trends in health care, the only one of its kind in Canada.

The MHSc program comes in response to a survey conducted on potential employers to determine current gaps in their environment. One of the trends that surfaced from this survey was using wearable devices, such as Fitbit, to monitor various physiological processes. Employers involved in this and other types of big data collection tended to lack personnel who could understand the physiological implications of large data sets.

“A lot of people… are increasingly using wearable devices to track their heart rate and so on,” said Dr. Helen Miliotis, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and the new MHSc program director. “But [while] all of this data is being generated… there are not a lot of people that are able to not only understand how to analyze [the data], but secondly how to understand the biology of what is actually relevant.”

Prospective students should have a basic understanding of physiology, and an interest in learning more about the emerging trends of big data in health care.

The coursework and work placement aspects of the program have been curated to prepare students to meet these needs. The courses will deliver a deeper understanding of clinical physiology, big data in health, commercialization, and collaboration in physiology. Students will also work one-on-one with a faculty member to address a specific topic of their choosing.

Some personal tailoring is possible for the new MHSc. Students can select seminars to attend throughout the program’s two terms and can select three elective physiology courses.

Students will be guided on professional development and how to apply for jobs. “They also have a number of hours where they go out and choose what they want to learn more about, whether it be project management… commercialization, entrepreneurship, so students [will] have a number of opportunities to tailor their program to what their career interests are,” said Miliotis.

After the two terms of guidance and coursework, students will participate in a four-month-long practicum, during which each student will participate in a work placement. This placement may entail working at a research institute, a hospital, a startup, or another organization in the biotech sector.

“For example, we know of cardiologists [whose] patients are using wearable devices to track their progress, but these cardiologists have a gap in their team,” said Miliotis. “They need someone to be able to interpret the data, but can also have a conversation with them as to how that might impact patient care, so we foresee students filling those gaps.”

The placement will provide hands-on professional work experience, enhance the student’s understanding of their chosen stream, and give each student a glimpse into a potential career path. At the end of the program, students will be prepared to enter newly emerging careers related to commercialization, clinical application, and big data analysis in health.

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