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In this blog, Course Director Anne Ferrey, reflects on the MSc in Translational Health Sciences as its third year begins and discusses the complex issues this interdisciplinary programme seeks to address in relation to research innovation and implementation in healthcare.

Man holding light bulbs, ideas of new ideas with innovative technology and creativity. concept creativity with bulbs that shine glitter. © Shutterstock

We are now onto the third year of the MSc in Translational Health Sciences, and what a roller-coaster it’s been. Reflecting on where we started, it’s hard to believe that we now have a thriving MSc, sought-after by students and already generating cohorts of smart, motivated graduates setting off to put their knowledge into action.  

Getting innovation into action – actual use in practice – is a major concern for researchers, policymakers and healthcare administrators the world over. Scientists are generating thousands of new ideas and innovations that could be useful clinically. In a perfect world, these new innovations would all immediately be added into clinical practice, saving and improving lives – happily ever after, the end.

This is not how it works.

In reality, what seems at first glance to be a simple, obvious process is anything but. The metaphor of a “pipeline” is sometimes used to describe this process. Were this the case, it would all be simple – money would be put into one end of the pipeline to generate research innovations, which would then be converted by the pipeline to benefits for patients via healthcare workers, who of course would immediately accept these new innovations with delight. Patients, in this model, would happily and unquestioningly accept the change in treatment, healthcare dollars would be saved, and all would be well.

Have you ever met a human? If so, you can probably guess that it’s a little more complicated than that.

This is where what is often termed “translational health science” comes in – the focus of our MSc. Knotty human, social and organisational issues are nearly inevitable when a new innovation is introduced to practice. Many stakeholders might have an idea or two about whether a new innovation is a good idea, will fit into their lives and/or practice, is possible to introduce in their particular context, and so on.

The reality is that research uptake and implementation is a complicated and non-linear process, and the best way to address this is via interdisciplinary teams that can approach the issue from multiple perspectives. For example, we might rely on psychology to address how we can influence clinicians or patients to follow guidelines; on organisational science to change the climate of organisations to favour innovation; and on policy studies to understand how the policy process might support or hinder innovations.

Our MSc relies on an interdisciplinary teaching team to help students explore many of these areas. We use case studies to address the complexities of particular issues in translational health science and bring in guest lecturers to give students access to examples from outside the University of Oxford. Our students are also an interdisciplinary bunch – we have clinicians, policymakers, lawyers, information specialists, company directors, administrators in the NHS, allied health professionals and so on, from a variety of backgrounds and contexts.

Our very first cohort of students have just submitted their dissertations, and the breadth of topics speaks to the wide variety of applications the material from the MSc can be used to address. For example, students have addressed the challenge of implementing digital health solutions for seafarers, self-management for COPD, Augmented Reality technology for low-resource clinical settings, the spread and scale-up of electronic healthcare records in Nigeria, and interventions for menstrual health and hygiene in India. Students have undertaken economic analyses, policy recommendations and qualitative studies.

Discussing these topics and many others with our students has been very rewarding. Together, we can bring an interdisciplinary lens to the complicated problem of knowledge translation in healthcare.

If you'd like to join us, see the course website for more information on applications for 2023/24.

Opinions expressed are those of the author/s and not of the University of Oxford. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.

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