Concordia to launch a new school of health studies
June 23, 2021
MONTREAL – Concordia University has received the go-ahead to create an interdisciplinary School of Health that will start in the fall of 2022. The School of Health will bring together several of the university’s research centres and faculties already working on health-related themes, from cell and molecular biology departments to engineering, psychology, humanities and community health faculties.
It’s an idea that has been in the works since 2015, when the university examined its strategic directives with an eye to increasing its research capacities. The coronavirus pandemic, which brought to light the multiple elements of society impacted by a health crisis, served as a type of catalyst, said interim provost Anne Whitelaw (pictured), who is co-leading the initiative along with Paula Wood-Adams, interim vice-president of research and graduate studies.
“When the pandemic hit, it became clear that this is the kind of school that Montreal and the world needs right now,” Whitelaw told the Montreal Gazette.
“What’s pretty clear as we come to the end of the pandemic is that it’s not just about medical treatment or clinical work; we also need to be thinking about wellness writ large,” she said. “We need to create a context that prioritizes the intersections between psychology and health, or physiology and humanities, or engineering and fine arts. One that allows us to be able to think about all aspects of human health, whether it’s the impact of social isolation, whether it’s the mental health of children, or aging – a whole range of things an interdisciplinary school can do.
Rather than build new departments, the school will bring faculties together to collaborate and build interdisciplinary programs.
Students and researchers have shown interest in combining biomedical sciences and engineering programs, for example, as well as humanities programs with community health courses.
Concordia looked to York University in Ontario and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, which developed schools of health that brought together researchers from different fields to generate new kinds of knowledge. Simon Fraser’s school was recently approached by the B.C. government about the possibility of starting a school of medicine.
Concordia plans to structure its school around three hubs that are meant to promote collaborations across multiple fields: community health; clinical research and prevention; and biomedical science and engineering.
The university has invested heavily in biomedical studies, building a $52-million centre at its Loyola campus focused on scientific research and biomedical products in 2019. That centre was an addition to the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex built in 2003.
The first step in the process, starting this summer, is to hire interim scientific directors for the three hubs, and find a dean for the new school, a process that normally takes about 10 months.
Because the university is not creating new departments or doing extensive faculty hiring, the investments at this point will be modest, Whitelaw said. Later, the university expects to hire additional researchers and support staff and create graduate programs.
Ultimately, the school’s goal is to be a leader in community health, fundamental health sciences and medical technology development, she said. It will bring together researchers from multiple fields, including scientists, engineers, artists, designers and social scientists, as well as business and humanities researchers.
“I think now we’re really planting the flag for Concordia in the larger field of health,” Whitelaw said. “We’re looking at doing health differently.”