A Year in Review: Academics

By Jordan Benadiba

“We wish to develop an environment where everyone at Women’s College Hospital takes part in research, scholarly quality improvement and educational scholarship. An environment where Academics is embedded into all areas of the hospital, to produce real-time improvements to patient care, to advance health equity and to drive new health system solutions. However, to do that, we need to make the process straight forward, equitable and accessible,” said Dr. Rulan Parekh, VP of Academics, Women’s College Hospital (WCH).

Since joining WCH to lead the newly integrated Academics portfolio, comprised of research, innovation and education, Dr. Parekh and the Academics team have been hard at work to deliver on this vision and have made important strides forward. Let’s look at Academics’ 2021-2022 accomplishments.  

Streamlining Processes and Removing Silos

To transition towards a Learning Health System model, Dr. Parekh and the team have focused on addressing important foundational processes – streamlining existing processes, addressing duplication or redundancy, and removing silos.

One key initiative is Project Launch, a multi-phased operations program. “Project Launch aims to set quality improvement, education and research up for the greatest possible success through the creation of a seamless pathway for the initiation, execution and knowledge translation of all projects and studies at WCH,” Parekh explained.

The Initiation Form, the first step in the Project Launch process, was released in May 2022 and has since been used hundreds of times. Step 2: Reviews and Approvals begun its soft launch this fall. And Step 3: Ethics and Contracts and Step 4: Institutional Approval will be released in the winter/spring of 2023. As a part of Project Launch, Academics has engaged with WCH service providers, including Medical Imaging, Laboratory Services, Pharmacy and Clinical Departments – to further breakdown the division between Academics and the broader hospital. 

Similarly, the Research Ethics Office (REO) has streamlined process and developed templates and guidance documents to improve the review process. This has resulted in an almost 15 per cent increase in active studies at WCH and an almost five per cent increase in REO submissions. 

In addition to re-organizing the Department of Academics, new committees and working groups have been developed to better address common operational functions within both research and education. Providing teams with the right resources and information is critical. As a result, new online operational resources, along with REDCap training and weekly drop-in sessions are now available to everyone.

Building Teams and Expanding Equity

Throughout the year new team members were brought onboard to advance the new and re-aligned priorities within Academics. This includes the implementation of a Learning Health System, community, and patient engagement, as well as enhancing research operations and scholarly quality improvement supports. New scholars were also onboarded expanding the depth and breadth of Academics at WCH.

“Advancing equity and representation continues to remain a focus within Academics. This year WCH welcomed the inaugural Emily Stowe Scholars Program (ESSP) summer students”, Parekh said. In total, 21 students participated in the program. Students supported scientists in their work, engaged in panel and workshop events and presented their work at the end of the program. Through the ESSP WCH is establishing relationships that support, mentor and advance diverse people in science and healthcare throughout their educational and career trajectories.

Research Excellence and Engagement

WCH consistently demonstrates research and academic excellence, this past year was no exception with many standout publications and innovative initiatives underway. For example, the Women’s Virtual Research Lab, funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), has begun to take shape with the acquisition of tech infrastructure, equipment, and other essential tools. The Women’s Virtual Research Lab will serve as a living laboratory to test digital health tools and models of care in a real-world environment to maximize their potential benefit to patients.

“We are also working to enhance the way we do research at WCH. Specifically enabling teams to conduct more research and clinical trials onsite with our patients and community members”, added Parekh. “To do that, we launched the EPIC Research module on December 12th and are currently collaborating across the hospital on how to best build a framework for patient engagement in research, with a focus on creating a process that is equitable and inclusive for patients from Black and Indigenous communities.”

Science and innovation are critical to healthcare advancement. We have developed several scientific sessions to focus on excellence at WCH, and women in science. In April, the first Day of Excellence in Academics was held – a day celebrating and sharing WCH accomplishments in quality improvement, research, and education. We integrated the Jim Ruderman Lecture on Leadership & Innovation, the interprofessional poster presentations and awards ceremony on the same day to celebrate all the education, quality improvement and research conducted at WCH. In total, over 200 people attended, 27 posters were submitted, and 20 awards were provided.

Academics also focused on engaging with our community highlighting the importance of diversity in health science research. On February 11th, Academics in collaboration with the Baycrest Health Sciences hosted a series of events to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The virtual panel event, A Foundation of Equity, featuring remarks by Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, had over 250 attendees.

This past October, WCH partnered with the Gairdner Foundation to host Women of Gairdner a panel event featuring Gairdner laureates Dr. Katalin Karikó and Dr. Deborah J. Cook. These renowned scientists shared insights into their unique career paths, their work and the challenges they have faced, as well as the need for greater equity within the health sciences. The event specifically aimed to inspire high school students from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities. To this end, 10 Toronto-based high schools selected intrepid STEM-focused students to attend Women of Gairdner. They were joined by youth from community organizations and mentorship programs, as well as undergraduate students.

Looking ahead to 2023 Dr. Parekh and the team will be building on this success – creating further opportunities for engagement, continuing to enhance Academic operations, and advancing equity within health research. There will also be a renewed focus on strategic planning for the department as the organization continues its transition towards the Learning Health System.

“So much progress and hard work has taken place this past year”, Parekh shared. “I know that our team will continue this momentum throughout 2023.”