U of T launches new Master of Health Science program

Innovative course-based program will explore big data in health and commercialization of health technologies

U of T launches new Master of Health Science program

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.

In conversation with Dr. Sandeep Dhillon

An admired physiology professor discusses his career and gives advice to U of T students

In conversation with Dr. Sandeep Dhillon

Aside from being an accomplished scientist and physician, Dr. Sandeep Dhillon is also a well-loved physiology professor at U of T. Students have described Dhillon as down to earth, humble, and genuinely enthusiastic about teaching. Despite the complexity of physiology, Dhillon finds ways to make his lectures entertaining and engaging for students. Recently, The Varsity had the chance to talk to Dhillon about his teaching style, his experiences as a student, and his advice for current U of T students.

The Varsity: Your physiology lectures are well-attended and students provide positive feedback about your teaching. What is your approach to teaching?

Sandeep Dhillon: I try to bring humour into my teaching. I think if you have the basic physiological topics or the basic concepts, you can bring in the clinical scenarios and then you can throw in the humour. I think something as simple as being enthusiastic about your topic really drives you. I am immensely enthusiastic about physiology, student learning, and making sure that students understand things. When something clicks, you can see it. It gives you that instant gratification. My teaching style definitely evolved after speaking to some of my mentors, who helped me and nudged me in the right direction. They told me that when it comes to teaching a large class, you have to approach it like a performance.

TV: How long have you been teaching?

SD: About six to seven years in this lecturing format. I’ve lectured mainly in physiology, but I have taught a lab course as well, in PSL372. I think my teaching goes back to coaching basketball. When I was in my undergraduate studies, I also taught organic chemistry and biology to younger students. I think these experiences helped refine my skills — just talking about concepts and ensuring that students understand.

TV: Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do besides teaching?

SD: So outside of teaching, which is actually the majority of my career as I only teach for a very short period of the year, I work at a hospital at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health as their hospitalist. There I provide medical care and a consulting service to psychiatrists. I also do emergency medicine at Lakeridge, as well as some clinics around the city. I’m hoping to also get involved with research now.

TV: Many life science students probably ask the same question, but how would you describe your time as an undergraduate student?

SD: I always say that your undergraduate portion of your career is probably one the more difficult times, in my opinion. It’s a time when you have immense amounts of pressure to get high grades, you’re trying to partake in extracurricular activities, you’re doing research and the standard stuff that can be associated with pre-med. I found it enjoyable, but there was a lot of studying. I think I was constantly trying to figure out how to balance my time and how to work on time management. That’s something I’m still working on, but it was definitely a challenging time.

TV: Did you always want to pursue medicine, or did you decide later on?

SD: I think I was one of those people who decided a little bit later on. Grade 11 biology was when I started to really enjoy physiology and biological sciences. That’s when I really decided to pursue that in my undergraduate studies. Medicine was on my mind, but I ended up pursuing research at first. I think it was nearing the end of my undergraduate studies and the beginning of my graduate studies that I really started to think about medicine. It was probably a culmination of volunteering in hospitals, partaking in research at SickKids, and getting all those different experiences and realizing that’s really where I want to be.

TV: What advice would you give to U of T students?

SD: I often think about how I wish I had done more in my undergraduate years. Maybe if I studied a little bit less for an exam I might have been able to pursue something else a little bit more. Maybe I would have been able to spend a little bit more time with my friends or I could have been more social. But then I think, would I have been able to get the grades I needed to get? So, it’s a fine balance.

I always tell Life Sci students, or students in general, that you really have to try and enjoy your time, but it’s hard because at the same time, you have to get high marks. If you can work on time management, that would give you the best opportunity of getting both. I also highly recommend that students get a mentor in their lives. I have had mentors throughout my entire life — learning from their mistakes will help you avoid making those same mistakes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.