Foundations of a translational health sciences doctoral program

Community member post by Gaetano R. Lotrecchiano and Paige L. McDonald

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Gaetano R. Lotrecchiano (biography)

How can doctoral studies be developed to include innovation in practice and research, as well as systems and complexity thinking, along with transdisciplinarity? This blog post is based on our work introducing a PhD in Translational Health Sciences at George Washington University in the USA.

Innovation in Practice and Research

We suggest that innovation in practice and research is achieved by the integration of knowledge in three key foundational disciplines:

  • translational research
  • collaboration sciences
  • implementation science (Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

We define these as follows:

Translational research is a crosscutting approach that informs associations across a continuum of knowledge generation from basic biomedical discovery to rehabilitation interventions to global population health impact.

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Paige L. McDonald (biography)

Collaboration sciences form the foundation by which translational research is conducted and when implemented along with practice and policy efforts ensure that translational science can occur with strong representation of multi-stakeholders invested in health outcomes.

Implementation science is the investigation of processes and strategies influencing the movement of evidence-based healthcare and prevention strategies or programs from the clinical or public health knowledge base into routine use.

When considered together, these provide a recipe for high impact in innovations research and practice (see figure below from Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

These three disciplines support innovations in health practices and research necessary to promote changes at the organizational, team and individual levels. All three are reflected in the overall program goals and were used to inform curriculum competencies. The aim is to prepare students to move from more basic approaches to research to those that are more systems based, as shown in the following figure (from Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

 

 

Pairing complexity principles with transdisciplinary characteristics

Moving to a more systems-based approach requires the pairing of complexity principles with transdisciplinary characteristics to develop scientists equipped to operate beyond the confines of traditional or unidisciplinary training. These are illustrated in the table below, with complexity principles in the left hand column and transdisciplinary characteristics in the right hand column. We feel that introducing doctoral students to these principles allows them to participate in translational trandisciplinary research activities.

Complexity principles (left hand column) and transdisciplinary characteristics (right hand column) –  full references are available in Lotrecchiano (2012)

Conclusion

Readers may be interested in our doctoral student handbook (PDF 1.1MB). Our work to establish and maintain our approach to doctoral studies in this vein continues and we have enjoyed both successes and setbacks, but mostly successes, as we transform the way we approach this particular type of doctoral training amidst the healthcare and research climate in the United States.

We invite your comments and questions and hope to hear from you about your experiences.

To find out more:
Lotrecchiano, G. R., McDonald, P. L., Corcoran, H. K. and Ekmekci, O. (2016). Learning Theory, Operative Model, and Challenges in Developing a Framework for Collaborative Translational and Implementable Doctoral Research. Conference proceedings, 9th Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation, 14-16 November, 2016, Seville: Spain. Online via Researchgate – 311363970

Reference:
Lotrecchiano, G. R . (2012). Social Mechanisms of Team Science: A Descriptive Case Study Using a Multilevel Systems Perspective Employing Reciprocating Structuration Theory. Doctoral dissertation, George Washington University: Washington DC United States of America. Online: https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/pqdtopen/doc/992950947.html?FMT=ABS

Biography: Gaetano R. Lotrecchiano, EdD PhD is an Associate Professor at the George Washington University (GWU) School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington DC USA, where he is the Director of Doctoral Candidacy in the PhD in Translational Health Sciences Program. He is the vice-president of the International Society for Systems and Complexity Sciences for Health and of the International Society of the Science of Team Science. He is the convener of the GWU program entitled Creating a Culture of Collaboration at GWU. He is also the Team Science Lead of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI-CN), a partnership between Children’s National Health System and George Washington University.

Biography: Paige L. McDonald, EdD is an Assistant Professor at the George Washington (GW) University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington DC USA, where she is the Director of Curriculum in the PhD in Translational Health Sciences Program. She is the Managing Director for the GW IMPACT Initiative and GW Collaboratory for Health Research and Education. She is also the Secretary of the International Society for Systems and Complexity Sciences for Health.

Toolkits for transdisciplinary research

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

If you want to undertake transdisciplinary research, where can you find relevant concepts and methods? Are there compilations or toolkits that are helpful?

I’ve identified eight relevant toolkits, which are described briefly below and in more detail in the journal GAIA’s Toolkits for Transdisciplinarity series.

One toolkit provides concepts and methods relevant to the full range of transdisciplinary research, while the others cover four key aspects: (i) collaboration, (ii) synthesis of knowledge from relevant disciplines and stakeholders, (iii) thinking systemically, and (iv) making change happen. Continue reading

Scaling up amidst complexity

Community member post by Ann Larson

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Ann Larson (biography)

How can new or under-utilized healthcare practices be expanded and institutionalized to achieve audacious and diverse global health outcomes, ranging from eliminating polio to reversing the rise in non-communicable diseases? How can complex adaptive systems with diverse components and actors interacting in multiple ways with each other and the external environment best be dealt with? What makes for an effective scale-up effort?

Four in-depth case studies of scale-up efforts were used to explore if there were different pathways to positively change a complex adaptive system. Continue reading

Dealing with deep uncertainty: Scenarios

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Laura Schmitt Olabisi (biography)

Community member post by Laura Schmitt Olabisi

What is deep uncertainty? And how can scenarios help deal with it?

Deep uncertainty refers to ‘unknown unknowns’, which simulation models are fundamentally unsuited to address. Any model is a representation of a system, based on what we know about that system. We can’t model something that nobody knows about—so the capabilities of any model (even a participatory model) are bounded by our collective knowledge.

One of the ways we handle unknown unknowns is by using scenarios. Scenarios are stories about the future, meant to guide our decision-making in the present. Continue reading

The integrative role of landscape

Community member post by David Brunckhorst, Jamie Trammell and Ian Reeve

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David Brunckhorst (biography)

Landscapes are the stage for the theatre of human-nature interactions. What does ‘landscape’ mean and what integrative function does it perform?

What is landscape?

Consider a painting of a landscape or look out a window. We imagine, interpret and construct an image of the ‘landscape’ that we see. It’s not surprising that landscapes (like the paintings of them) are valued through human perceptions, and evolve through closely interdependent human-nature relationships. Landscapes are co-constructed by society and the biophysical environment. Landscape change is, therefore, a continuous reflection of the evolving coupled responses of environment and institutions. Landscapes are especially meaningful to those who live in them. Continue reading

What makes a translational ecologist? Part 1: Knowledge

Community member post by the Translational Ecology Group 

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Translational Ecology Group (participants)

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Four related blog posts on translational ecology:

Introduction to translational ecology

What makes a translational ecologist – Part 1: Knowledge (this post) / Part 2: Skills / Part 3: Dispositional attributes

What does it take for ecologists to become more effective in informing and supporting policy and practice change? What are the competencies underpinning the new discipline of translational ecology? What needs to be covered in graduate courses on translational ecology?

A group of us, supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), have been addressing these questions. As well as defining translational ecology, we have developed a matrix covering relevant knowledge, skills and, what we call, dispositional attributes or personal characteristics. We deal with each of these in four related blog posts, as described in the right sidebar.

We argue that knowledge is required in three major areas:

  1. Socio-ecological systems
  2. Communication across boundaries, with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists
  3. Engagement with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists.

Continue reading