One year after it gained degree-granting status, the IHSE is ready to launch its first graduate program

The Institute of Health Sciences Education (IHSE)’s inaugural graduate degree, a PhD in health sciences education, has been approved by the McGill Senate. The announcement this past spring marks the fulfilment of a long-held ambition of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences as part of its education strategic plan.

The IHSE celebrated its first anniversary as an Institute in June, having evolved out of McGill’s famed Centre for Medical Education, founded in 1975. “One of the reasons we chose to become an Institute when we transformed a year ago was so that we would be able to provide graduate programs in health sciences education,” explains Dr. Yvonne Steinert, IHSE Director and Professor of Family Medicine and Health Sciences Education. “It will be the first PhD in health sciences education that is housed in a unit devoted to health sciences education in Canada and in Quebec, and we’re very excited about its potential.” The next step is government approval.

Dr. Peter Nugus, Associate Director (Graduate Programs) and Associate Professor in the IHSE and Dr. Leah Moss, Senior Advisor to the Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) & Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, co-chaired the PhD Design Committee that developed the program and saw it through the approval process. “I would also like to thank Dr. Josephine Nalbantoglu, the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and Dr. Chloe Garcia, Academic Affairs Officer in Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, without whom we would not have been able to achieve this timeline,” says Dr. Steinert.

Leading the way

“Health sciences education is an area that’s really exploded in recent years and we’re very proud to take the lead,” says Dr. Nugus. “People are now realizing that the idea of education within healthcare is very, very important. It’s come at a perfect time for McGill, with its outstanding international reputation, to be able to capitalize on this.”

Drs. Nugus and Moss examined offerings at other institutions around the world and found that there are approximately 147 master’s programs but only about 24 PhD programs in health sciences education. This led to the IHSE’s decision to opt for a PhD program as its first degree. Dr. Nugus says the program will fill an important gap in health sciences education, as well as the approach to research in the health sciences. “One of our roles in the Institute is to turbocharge the intellectual maturation of the health sciences and health professions education fields,” he says. “In the literature there have been explicit calls for more structured training in the research programs for these fields.” He explains that because many of the associated health care professions – nursing, medicine, etc – were not originally academic disciplines but rather occupations, the approach to research has sometimes been less structured. This new program will tackle this head on.

“One of the innovations that we’re bringing in is that we’re insisting that students have a degree of theoretical sophistication in how they can put a thesis and an argument together, taking various points of view into account,” explains Dr. Nugus. “Interdisciplinarity, as well as theoretical sophistication, are the hallmarks of the new PhD.”

Dr. Nugus explains that students from any discipline – arts, social sciences, engineering, health sciences, etc – are invited to apply. “We expect they’ll have a Master’s degree, but they’ll be welcome from a variety of perspectives so long as they have a clear interest in engaging in a health sciences educational topic,” says Dr. Nugus, who adds that, given the uniqueness of the program and the Institute’s reputation, they expect to attract a healthy number of applicants from abroad as well as from Quebec and Canada. The program will include comprehensive exams, as well as some mandatory courses in research methodologies. “There will also be two set courses, one called research design which will cover how to put a coherent thesis, arguments, and paper together,” explains Dr. Nugus. “The other is advanced topics, where we’re going to cover a whole range of topics, including assessment and evaluation, educational governance, and work-based learning, all of which have received less programmatic attention as well as learning from role modelling.”

“A PhD program in Health Sciences Education is clearly important in the current context,” says Dr. Steinert. “The global coronavirus pandemic has compelled scholars to innovate in health sciences education delivery. We have also witnessed a renewed focus on equity and diversity in educational curricula and in the workplace. Academic rigour is necessary to understand some of the rapidly evolving circumstances that we are all experiencing and to help chart a course forward.  We are hopeful that this new graduate degree will help to meet these objectives.”

September 10 2020