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Feature Story

UNB Saint John launches innovative program aimed at provincial health care reform

Alumni News Magazine | Fall/Winter 2020

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, UNB was developing an ambitious plan to help address the most challenging and important issue facing New Brunswick and Canada: the delivery of effective, efficient and sustainable health care. 

UNB’s Integrated Health Initiative (IHI) is a program focused on health education and research, coupled with social innovation and greater collaboration. Its aim is to achieve systemic health care reform in New Brunswick and Canada.

Unique interdisciplinary approach

This multi-faceted program was launched on the Saint John campus in September with the introduction of a new bachelor of health degree. With enrolment already exceeding targets, he bachelor of health is just the first successful stage in this unique initiative.

A complementary extracurricular certificate in health, as well as a master in business administration in health management and a master of health in public policy will follow. Increased enrolment when all the programs are established is expected to reach 500 over the next few years. 

Many partners involved

Each of these programs will have an interdisciplinary approach, organized and supported by UNB Saint John’s three faculties, bringing together biomedical sciences, social sciences and business education for undergraduate and graduate students; a focus on reforming health care for the people of New Brunswick and Canada; and meaningful collaboration with partners, including Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Horizon Health Network, the Saint John Regional Hospital and New Brunswick Community College.

Students and faculty will be encouraged to build close connections with the existing strengths of UNB Fredericton, such as the Institute for Research and Data Training; the Institute of Biomedical Engineering; the faculty of kinesiology; the Psychological Wellness Centre; and the Pond-Deshpande Centre.

“The IHI is a prime example of UNB’s mission in action," says UNB President Dr. Paul Mazerolle. "We aim to inspire and educate people to become problem solvers and leaders in the world, to undertake research that addresses societal and scientific challenges, and to engage with partners to build a more just, sustainable and inclusive world.” 

Collaborative research a key component

Five new research chairs will be created, with their teaching and research expected to focus on health policy, health management, digital health, aging in the community and child rights and health. Researchers will be clustered in teams to pursue cutting-edge discoveries in technology, systems and policies while addressing issues of public concern, and providing students with opportunities to spearhead new developments in  the health sector.

Other components of the IHI include technical and social innovation, building on UNB’s strength as Canada’s most entrepreneurial university and its proven track record with initiatives such as the Promise Partnership, the tutoring and mentoring program for economically disadvantaged children in Saint John’s priority neighbourhoods.

“Our long-term goal is to make Saint John an international centre of excellence with UNB at its heart, leading the way in health and social innovation, a powerful magnet for motivated students, highly qualified faculty and world-class researchers," says Dr. Petra Hauf, vice-president Saint John at UNB, who is leading the IHI.

Purpose-built facility will house all IHI activities

A cornerstone of the IHI is the construction of the Health and Social Innovation Centre, a 65,000-square-foot, three-and-a-half story building that will house the activities of the IHI. The facility will take the place of the former Ward Chipman Library which has not been in use since the Hans W. Klohn Commons was completed in 2011. Full realization of the IHI is dependent on having the state-of-the-art space needed for teaching, research and service to the community. Funding is currently being sought for the $38-million structure.

The IHI is designed to help build a health care system that is responsive to the needs of families and communities, adaptable to evolving health care practices, and affordable for governments and taxpayers. The current pandemic only serves to underline the importance of these outcomes to the province and the country. 

The student perspective

If first-year students Abbey Alexander, Casey Quigg and Connor Sullivan are any indication, the new bachelor of health degree is off to a flying start. Their initial course this term, Current Issues and Future Trends in Health, is a team-taught class which all three describe as “great” and “amazing.”

 Notes Alexander, “It is already opening my mind to how many issues there are in the health care system and what has already been done to create positive change, as well as how we as students can eventually contribute to improving the health care system. The fact it is a small, peer-based program permits this course to be held in person, which has allowed a more community-like feel within the bachelor of health program.” 

With a goal of becoming a paediatric dentist, Quigg says, “I couldn’t make all of this happen because I was going to do a science degree and I also needed a business degree, which would have taken me about 12 years. When this program opened up, I realized that this is a perfect opportunity for me as I am getting my science and my business knowledge in one degree. It is truly a perfect program to accomplish my dream.”

Both Alexander and Sullivan plan to become doctors. “The concept of a program similar to pre-med where I didn’t have to go far from home was a big draw for me. The program is designed to prepare students for their MCATs and medical school, so it seemed the best program to prepare me for that,” Sullivan says.

The cohort for the BH program has exceeded this year’s enrolment target and is expected to grow significantly in the years ahead.

Researcher brings child health expertise to UNB

Ziba Vaghri has journeyed the world researching and advocating for children’s health, development and rights. Now, Dr. Vaghri is bringing that passion and expertise to UNB. She was recently appointed senior research associate in the department of psychology on UNB’s Saint John campus as  part of the Integrated Health Initiative.

Dr. Vaghri has more than 20 years of extensive research and international experience in the areas of child health, child development and child rights, with a strong emphasis on the social determinants of health. The long-term goal for the IHI is to establish a chair in health and child rights. 

Dr. Vaghri’s appointment will bolster an established and growing emphasis on health research at UNB, particularly for the society and health major that is part of the new, interdisciplinary bachelor of health degree. Her research will also contribute to future graduate education opportunities. 

Dr. Vaghri’s arrival makes  UNB the new home of the GlobalChild research program, which has developed a comprehensive child rights monitoring platform. This platform, focused on the principles of human rights and child development, has been developed under the auspices of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in collaboration with nine Canadian and 19 international universities and agencies.

As the signatory states submit data to the platform, GlobalChild will also provide opportunities to leverage and enhance UNB’s leadership role in data research. 

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