New: MSc in Translational Health Sciences

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We’re often told that we live in an age of evidence-based medicine, where a wealth of research is helping to provide better health care for everyone.

In practice, however, it doesn’t always work that way. NHS trusts may choose not to adopt a drug because it’s too expensive, or an individual GP may decide that a new diagnostic test is too time-consuming to implement. So how can we make sure that patients receive treatment that is line with the most up-to-date research findings?

This is the question addressed by a new programme from the Department, in partnership with the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, which will help health professionals and policy makers to think about the practicalities of turning published research into benefits for patients.

Applications to the MSc in Translational Health Sciences for 2020 entry will open soon and it will have an intake of around 15 students on a part-time basis. Following this, the programme aims to be open to full-time study from 2021. It will take students through the process of what course director Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences, describes as translating ‘airy fairy, arty farty research findings into practical application in the real world.’ 

The ‘highly applied’ course will be aimed at ‘post-experience learners’: people who have worked in industry, policymaking, industry or frontline service delivery. By recruiting people from a broad mix of backgrounds, the course will be able to provide a rich learning environment from which everyone can benefit  - especially as the majority of tutors are research active within the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

Professor Greenhalgh believes the course will have international appeal too – the need to harness innovations to improve health care applies universally, so she expects about 40% of students to come from overseas.

The MSc will, she hopes, produce some graduates who continue with translational health research at Oxford, but the majority ‘are going to go back into the real world and make a difference’. 

A cross-disciplinary approach

Translational science is, by its nature, cross-disciplinary and applied, so students will be expected to think critically, from a range of different disciplinary perspectives, about how to approach problems.

There are questions relating to economics – how do you persuade a doctor to implement an expensive new finger-prick diagnostic test, for example, rather than refer patients to hospital? Then there are technological and cultural issues – how can policy makers introduce a new vaccine to a country that lacks the refrigeration capacity to keep it at the appropriate temperature?

Students will also familiarise themselves with the global legal and regulatory landscape. What happens, for example, if a brilliant new health app fails to meet the regulatory requirements of the Food and Drug Administration?

These are not theoretical questions. ‘Learning is going to be based on case studies of people who have tried and sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed to improve health outcomes by making a change,’ says Professor Greenhalgh. Problems will be addressed from multiple angles: ‘When they look at case studies, they’ll look at the different material websites, advertising materials, policy documents, not just academic papers. And they'll learn to question those.’

Students will work together to understand problems and develop solutions, says Professor Greenhalgh: ‘What you get is a set of structured exercises, some of which you do on your own, some of which you do with your other students, and then, for example, different groups of students would present different aspects of the case.’

Regaining a zeal for learning

A longstanding supporter of lifelong learning, Professor Greenhalgh wants the course to be ‘transformative’.

Her own life, and that of her siblings, changed when her working-class father took a course at the newly-formed Open University, and the family home turned into a place where books were read, topics of the day were discussed and the children expected to attend university. She wants something of the same spirit to imbue the MSc: ‘It's going to be a fun course. It’s not just five-year olds who need to have fun. Adults even more need to have fun when they’re learning.’  

With the first cohort, the spirit will be one of co-creation – tutors and students working together to design an excellent course.

In previous courses, Professor Greenhalgh has motivated students by telling them that if they write an excellent essay or dissertation, it will be used as course material the following year. It’s an idea she intends to use again on the new MSc as part of her mission to help adult learners regain their ‘zeal for learning’. Her golden rules? ‘Don’t overload them, don’t bore the pants off them.’

Find out more information about the MSc in Translational Health Sciences

Sign up to the MSc in Translational Health Sciences mailing list to receive more information about the programme and find out when applications for 2020 entry open.

Published 11 September 2019