Training Canada’s future health data workforce
June 10, 2021
Queen’s researcher Parvin Mousavi (Computing) and her co-investigators have been awarded $1.6 million in funding over six years as part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program. The fund supports the training and mentoring of students and post-doctoral fellows in developing academic and industry skills in areas such as research, communications, and collaboration. The objective is to encourage collaborative and integrative approaches to addressing Canada’s research priorities while also fostering job readiness skills for trainees across sectors.
This unique CREATE program is led by 11 leading research experts in computing, machine learning, medical and imaging informatics, data analytics, software systems, and surgery. In addition to Dr. Mousavi, they include Drs. Randy Ellis, Gabor Fichtinger, Ting Hu, John Rudan, Amber Simpson, David Pichora, Yuan Tian, Boris Zevin, and investigators at Western University, Drs. Aaron Fenster and Sarah Mattonen.
Dr. Mousavi’s CREATE grant will support a training program in medical informatics, preparing Canada’s workforce to handle the health data of tomorrow. Since 2017 at least 86 per cent of family physicians in Canada use Electronic Medical Records, generating vast digital health data at an exponential rate. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated on a global scale the significance of digital health data and its interpretation to decision-making at all levels of healthcare. In fact, the pandemic has led to an acceleration on the part of the federal and provincial governments in Canada to invest in digital-first health strategies and high-performance computing platforms. The CREATE program will aim to further leverage data-driven decision-making in current and future public health responses.
Canada is not alone in the rapid accumulation of digital health data. By 2050, the global markets for artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and medical informatics are forecasted to grow to a combined $134 billion. Just to meet Canada’s immediate needs, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) predicts at least 120,000 skilled workers in computational sciences will be required by 2023 to support the health and biotechnology sector alone. Currently, most graduate computer science programs in Canada follow a course+thesis model where there is limited access to training and field experience in machine learning for healthcare informatics. With Dr. Mousavi’s leadership, Queen’s will be home to a unique CREATE program providing comprehensive training in medical informatics, experiential learning, and skills development to prepare students for careers in this rapidly developing sector.
"We aim to solidify Canada’s competitive advantage in the global space through concerted efforts to train computer scientists with specialized multi-disciplinary experience in medical informatics and digital health, and engage diverse groups and experiences in our training," says Dr. Mousavi. "Our aim is to not just train students for jobs immediately after graduation but prepare them for success throughout their careers."
Dr. Mousavi and her co-investigators have collaboratively developed the NSERC CREATE training program in consultation with key industry and government stakeholders to augment the course+thesis model with opportunities for experiential learning, practicums, mentorship, and competency-based training to help students gain these critically needed skillsets. During the program, students will have training opportunities with extensive real-world clinical data through partnerships with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Ontario Health Data Platform, and the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s. The program also leverages partnerships with Western University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre, and collaborations with industry and academia including the Vector Institute alongside Queen’s-based research infrastructure and expertise at the Centre for Advanced Computing, the Human Mobility Research Centre, and KGH Research Institute.
The NSERC CREATE grant is just the beginning, with Dr. Mousavi and her co-investigators already planning for long-term sustainability of the program. Through the advancement of partnerships, establishment of courses and micro-credentials, and development of research projects and funding, they aim to continue the comprehensive training program following the grant and help build a hub of excellence in healthcare informatics and data analysis at Queen’s.
"Congratulations to Dr. Mousavi and her co-investigators on securing this competitive funding that advances connections between research and training opportunities," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). "The program builds on an area of institutional interdisciplinary strength and will help position Canada to leverage heath data in decision- and policy-making."
For more information on the CREATE program and training opportunities, visit the NSERC website.