Nov 1, 2021

MHSc in Medical Physiology Off to a Remarkable Start

Congrats to the first cohort of the Department's MHSc in Medical Physiology program who graduate November 18th. Our students are now thriving in industry positions, professional, and PhD programs, and are publishing in major journals. Read on for more!

MHSc in Medical Physiology Class of 2021 photo
MHSc in Medical Physiology Class of 2021

What is the MHSc in Medical Physiology?

This program has been several years in development and seeks to meet the rapidly emerging need for professionals with a deep understanding of human physiology who are also equipped to interpret big data sets and collaborate effectively with teams in the healthcare space.

Over the course of two semesters, students immerse themselves in elective courses to deepen their physiology education, as well as four core courses specially designed for the MHSc program: Big Data and Healthcare, Collaboration and Commercialization, Professional Development, and Clinical Physiology. The students also prepare a publication-quality literature review with the help of a faculty mentor. In concert, this training prepares students for a work placement over the summer term, where they apply their new skills and become workplace ready in a total of just twelve months. 

Set Up For Success:

Program Director, Dr. Helen Miliotis spread the word throughout her professional networks about our uniquely skilled cohort and students reached out to organizations of interest as well. Students attained well-matched placements at a wide variety of organizations from Neurofit — a start-up developing virtual reality solutions to brain injury rehabilitation — to labs working on reproductive and mental health, to Future Fertility, a company using artificial intelligence to redefine the fertility space, to name but a few.

Elly Zhou, whose placement was at UHN’s Latner Thoracic Surgery Research Lab, immediately applied skills learned in her Collaboration and Commercialization course in support of her lab’s efforts to bring a new diagnostic test to market. “The class helped in terms of being familiar with all the concepts of the whole commercialization process. It was very easy to follow and help out during my placement. It's like a textbook-in-real-life sort of scenario.”

Skills attained in the Mentored Literature Review component proved readily transferable as well. Bastien Moineau, R&D Lead at the wearable device start-up Myant Inc. who hired two MHSc candidates for summer placements, spoke to the value of the students’ proficiency in this area. “Sara [Bennett] and Katrina [Innanen] could really go deep into the literature even in topics they were not familiar with,” he said. “The fact that they were fresh out of academia and used to reading a lot of papers and extracting information — that was really valuable. 

“The work they did helped us both internally and for consumer-facing messaging,” Moineau continued. “They provided advice on how to use data on heart rate and steps, why inactivity is dangerous...they also understood what data is, what an ECG is supposed to look like, so we didn’t have to explain health monitoring 101 to them.”

Photo of Katrina Innanen standing in front of the Myant office.
Katrina Innanen

Innanen agreed. “Being able to practice my presentation skills, such as the business pitch we had to do in the Commercialization course helped me convey information better,” she said.  “The Big Data course also definitely proved useful in that I was able to read the codes and understand how we would have to change them for horses,” she said of her work in Myant’s animal division. 

The company produces wearable garments for both humans and horses, designed to track key health indicators and report these on a smartphone app. A concerned child of an elderly parent, or a horse owner living far away from their animal, can keep an eye on various metrics and address potential issues in a timely manner. “It was really cool to take my human physiology background and see how that can be related to different areas,” Innanen said. “Sometimes I couldn't make the code changes on my own but I knew enough of what was going on that I could go to the engineers and be like, ‘Can you help me do this?’”

Zhou, too, was able to readily use what she learned in the Big Data course. “I loved it. Especially the machine learning aspect. I was able to apply a lot of those concepts in my current project, because we’re trying to improve AI-based diagnostics in lung transplants. It feels meaningful and we can hopefully help more patients as we develop the algorithm.”

Where Are They Now:

Dr. Miliotis explained that one of the core elements of the Professional Development course, which she also instructs, is competency development. “I have students really inventory things like oral and written communication, collaboration, leadership, critical thinking, strategic thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, inquiry, innovation. They note what they want to improve upon or further develop and we do targeted goal-setting to make sure that they're able to improve those competencies. When you have a bank of competencies like that, and stories and results to back them up...those are then transferable across different jobs in different areas and are really important for resume writing and interviews. 

Both Zhou and Innanen started the program convinced they would end up in medical school, but the program changed their minds. “The Professional Development class taught by Dr. Miliotis was very helpful because it helped me think through this whole career planning process,” Zhou said. 

The program’s combination of in-depth physiology study, carefully crafted core courses, career planning modules, and soft skill development — and of course the students’ hard work — clearly paid off. Approximately half of the students from the first MHSc cohort were offered a paid position following their placement, while others have gone on to further education including PhD, Medical, and Dental programs. 

In addition, three of the literature reviews produced in the students’ mentorships have been accepted for publication, with Emilia Mitova and Dr. Carin Wittnich’s “Cardiac Structures in Marine Animals Provide Insight on Potential Directions for Interventions for Pediatric Congenital Heart Defects” already out in the American Journal of Physiology. A pre-print by Rebecca Goldberg (mentored by Dr. Theodore Brown) on ovarian cancer treatment is ready to read in Gynecologic Oncology, and Natalie Mercuri and her mentor Dr. Brian Cox have submitted their paper for publication as well. 

Please join us in congratulating our first cohort of exceptional MHSc students. We thank them for blazing the trails of this exciting new program, persevering and excelling in spite of the challenges presented by Covid-19 and setting the bar high for cohorts to come.