Mosaic

Discuss: Health Education for Tomorrow

Professor Franco Vaccarino and Joseph Mapa outline the new health studies initiative at UTSC.

Joseph Mappa (left) and Professor Franco Vaccarino.

In Canada and around the world, issues involving human health and the delivery of healthcare cut across a wide range of social, political and scientific perspectives. This is why UTSC has made a concerted effort to develop an integrative model of undergraduate health education, one that combines traditionally divergent fields into a holistic suite of academic programming, so that our graduates will be well prepared to contribute in a positive way, no matter what field of health they pursue.

To this end, Professor Franco Vaccarino, Principal of UTSC, asked one of Canada’s most respected healthcare leaders—Joseph Mapa, president and CEO of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital—to lend his wisdom and expertise to the project. In January 2013, Mapa will become UTSC’s first Executive-in-Residence for Health. UTSC Commons brought the two leaders together to discuss the new health initiative at UTSC, and what it will mean to be a health professional in tomorrow’s world.

Franco Vaccarino
Among the things that make UTSC unique are the pedagogical platforms at the heart of what we do. Health studies is one of these platforms, and so it makes sense that we would launch an integrative undergraduate health studies initiative. But I’m curious: What made you want to participate?

Joseph Mapa
The idea of a transformational initiative in health is so exciting. Undergraduate health education is not a mature field, [and] yet the need is very acute. The idea of introducing this discipline—particularly critical thinking around health studies—to undergraduates and evolving that into professional schools or job training is a very attractive concept to me.

FV
Students today seem to have a natural tendency to connect the dots. They seem to think about the environment, the business world, health and medicine in a much more integrative way.

JM
It’s true. Our generation did not think in holistic, integrative terms. I studied British history, but when we talked about British history we didn’t talk about the culture or the context of the world. It was jingoism, imperialism. The educational strategy wasn’t holistic. It wasn’t about critical thinking from different perspectives or about the value of opposing views. But this way of thinking ultimately makes a better historian, a better doctor, a better researcher and a better healthcare executive.

FV
You are running a leading research-intensive, university-affiliated hospital and you are not a physician. It seems to me that today a leader’s ability is defined less by their specific area of expertise or depth of knowledge and more by the breadth of their knowledge, their ability to integrate and understand different perspectives.

JM
The concept of thinking of healthcare in one dimension is simply self-defeating. The way we define health now is with more holistic terms. Health is about determinants of health; it is about sociology and culture, the aspects of a person’s life that affect their health. I think it’s an advantage for me, as a CEO of a major hospital, to have a background in history and anthropology. I think more broadly; I think in terms of the overall picture. And this is one of the philosophies that inspire our thinking about the new health initiative at UTSC. I think the word is interdependence.

FV
This is absolutely key. Because interdisciplinarity reflects the emergence of new areas of scholarship.

JM
At UTSC you already have signature programs in health studies, human biology, mental health and paramedicine. The idea behind the health initiative is for us to create integrative curricula that include other disciplines, like health management, health informatics and global health.

FV
And by doing that, we address some of the toughest questions facing healthcare today. Because in the end, while technological advances driving new treatments and diagnostics will continue at a pace set by scientific research and discovery, some of the most difficult questions we will face deal more with issues pertaining to the social sciences and the humanities rather than the biomedical sciences, [as well as] questions around how we balance the enormous opportunities afforded by new and emerging technological advances in treatment against the limited resources available to access them. With technology advancing so quickly, we seem to have boundless healthcare opportunities. But from an economic standpoint, those opportunities can’t be offered to everyone at once. So, how do you make those decisions?

JM
What are the ethics involved?

FV
Those are the kinds of questions the healthcare professional of the future will need to help answer.

JM
And those are the sorts of undergraduate students we want to graduate from UTSC—holistic thinkers, whether it’s in e-health, paramedicine, mental health or management. They will graduate knowing their domain but also asking questions: How do I fit in? How do I work with others? How do I change the system, make it better, be innovative, be more efficient, allocate resources smartly? That’s why this program is so unique.

FV
What we are really talking about is graduating students who recognize the broadening sphere of health and are able to put together traditionally disparate parts to address complexity. That’s what leadership is all about, creating new ways of thinking. So, there’s a strong leadership element to this new program, too.

JM
Whether you’re a paramedic, a mental health specialist, [or] in management, even in the social sciences, like psychology—whatever it is, if you can actually think holistically, then that’s a great thing. Cultures change, and the gradual breaking down of superiorities and caste systems in society has been very, very healthy in my view. Our kids have grown up in that environment. So, as leaders we have to be integrative, because anyone who is not integrative in the future, even physicians, will simply not be able to work in organizations. They just won’t be able to handle it.

FV
So, what kind of competencies will be selected for the leaders of tomorrow?

JM
Main expertise, like practical skills and IQ, [is] a given. But what we’ll really be looking for is the EQ—emotional intelligence, the ability to relate—and also SQ, or strategic intelligence, which is the vision, the holistic thinking.

FV
Can you learn these things?

JM
Great question. I think people can learn a lot of this stuff. As with everything, there are some things that are teachable and others that are innate. But generally speaking I think we as educators have a responsibility to introduce what we’re talking about here into the mindset of undergraduates, graduates and ultimately the professionals, the people in the workforce.

FV
Because that’s the type of world we are going to be living in.

JM
Exactly. UTSC offers an integrative experience that really differentiates your campus. You have a community that is very unique, one that appreciates tolerance, the team experience and collaboration. You have an inherent advantage in these areas. Psychologists will tell you that these things we’re talking about—the attributes, the skills, the holistic understanding—not only help people become better healthcare professionals, but they [also] enable people to lead more fulfilling lives, no matter what they are doing. Our responsibility is to share that message. That’s why the core of the health initiative at UTSC is to teach young people to think this way.

FV
Because ultimately it’s about the human spirit, about being a better person.

JM
I agree with you one hundred percent.