Setting a Road Map for the Faculty’s Internationalization Efforts
The University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine has made great progress in growing its global presence. We are now present in dozens of countries and welcome students from around the world into our classrooms and labs. By expanding our vision beyond Canadian borders, the Faculty of Medicine isn’t just demonstrating global citizenship and social accountability; it is also creating greater opportunities for learning, teaching and scientific discovery. With this in mind, the Faculty has established a task force to assess its current international activities and to set its course for the future. The following is a conversation with Dr. Mark Walker, chair of the task force.
As Chief of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Newborn Care, you’ve already got a lot on your plate. What made you want to lead this task force?
For the stature of a university and a faculty, international representation is key for attracting the best students and improving its overall ranking. I am super proud of this Faculty and I believe this is a small way I can contribute to its growth and eminence. On a very personal level, internationalism is in my DNA; I grew up overseas in the Middle East and spent my formative years there. As a scientist, through clinical trials, I have travelled most of the globe and am acutely aware of the global footprint our Faculty has in both developing and developed countries. I have had the privilege of working with the Faculty of Medicine in building a clinical research centre in one of Shanghai’s largest hospitals with our partner, Jiao Tong University. Part of this journey has been becoming fluent in Mandarin. Lastly, as a clinician, I am extremely proud of the teaching, mentoring and care our department provides everywhere from East Africa to the Arctic Circle.
What exactly is meant by the term “internationalization”?
This is a great question because internationalization means a few different things here at the Faculty of Medicine. It refers to our projects and partnerships with foreign institutions like Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and Université Lyon, as well as humanitarian projects and global health outreach projects like our work in Bénin, Africa. It also includes the systems we have in place for welcoming international students into our classrooms and labs here in Ottawa.
Though it may seem unconventional, our work in remote Canadian communities also falls under the umbrella of internationalization. For example, every three months we send OBGYN learners to Nunavut as part of their residency training program.
If internationalization is already considered a strength of the Faculty of Medicine, why is this task force needed?
This is an chance to review our current activities while taking some time to proactively identify potential opportunities that align with the strategic direction of the Faculty. We are regularly presented with opportunities to expand our internationalization efforts, and we want to make sure our decisions are calculated and proactive rather than spontaneous and reactive. We need to ensure that everything we do is in line with our varied educational programs and research priorities as well as the overall internationalization efforts of the University.
Aside from being a University priority, what value does internationalization hold for the Faculty of Medicine?
International relationships provide different kinds of value. For starters, international students bring their diverse experiences to our classrooms and labs, which is of huge benefit to our learners here in Ottawa. Internationalization also provides added value to our social accountability mandate, allowing uOttawa to make a difference in all corners of the world. As well, these activities allow us to build on brand visibility and recognition beyond Canadian borders, while also helping us to boost scholarly productivity.
Can you provide an example of how this Faculty’s internationalization efforts have made a difference in the world?
A great example is Dr. Luming Sun, the first fetal medicine specialist in China. She was trained at the University of Ottawa in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine; she has gone back to open a unit at the Shanghai First Maternity and Infant Hospital and she is the top specialist and teacher for complex twin pregnancies in China. This example alone shows how we helped make a significant contribution to the health care of a country that is one quarter of the world’s population!
What untapped internationalization opportunities exist for the Faculty of Medicine?
There is a great deal of funding opportunity that we’re not currently dialed into. We’ve already received millions of dollars from different groups, including funds from the Gates Foundation for Kumanan Wilson’s research on gestational age in preterm newborns in the developing world; International Development Research Centre (IDRC) for a project in Benin; and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for projects in China. This just scratches the surface of potential funding available for international projects.
Who is joining you on the task force and what will you be working on over the next few months?
We’ve got a diverse group of people working on the project, including faculty members, vice-deans, staff and students who are meeting once a month. Together we’ll look at where we’ve come from and where we are currently, and then we’ll determine where exactly we want to go and how to get there. Along the way, we will consult broadly, and get feedback and comments from all stakeholders in the Faculty.
I’m really interested to learn more about how we can use internationalization opportunities to secure funding and produce more published research. As well, I think we’re all interested in exploring how we can build on our humanitarian efforts and expand our contribution to the global community. But the first step will be to look at our current international efforts and conduct a strategic assessment of these partnerships.