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Preparing the Health Policy Leaders of Tomorrow


Each day when we pick up our newspapers or sign in to read them online, one of the headlines will invariably address a cutting-edge health law issue: cloning, HIV/AIDS, privacy, mental illness, access to the health care system, allocation of health resources, or end-of-life practice and policy. And every day we witness spectacular developments in health research--advances that offer tremendous hope to patients. But the degree of hope is matched by the tremendous policy challenges posed by these advances.

Our health, safety, and security depend on interconnecting law, policy, and health research. Three examples illustrate this clearly: the Romanow report on the future of the Canadian health system, the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the patenting of higher life forms, and the Throne Speech commitment to a new governance regime for research involving humans.

In Canada today, and indeed around the world, we need health law and policy researchers who are trained to embrace a variety of disciplines and ensure that our regulatory and governance capacity matches our scientific capacity. To help prepare this next generation of policy researchers, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ( CIHR, a sponsor of Next Wave Canada), in conjunction with the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, have sponsored the CIHR Training Program in Health Law and Policy for graduate students at the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, and the University of Toronto.

In 2002, the program accepted 12 students from a wide variety of backgrounds including law, journalism, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, history, ethics, community studies, political science, and nuclear medicine. These graduate students are studying health ethics and legislation issues, including community treatment orders and their impact on women; medical error; mental health policy development; the use of physical restraints on the elderly in long-term care facilities; administrative and constitutional challenges by patients and their advocates with respect to the quality of and access to health care services provided by provincial health insurance plans; biotechnology; patents on life forms and traditional knowledge; the use of constitutional claims under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to challenge government resource allocation decisions in health care; the ethics of paying research subjects for participating in medical research; and labour law.

Lori Sheremeta is pursuing her LLM in the Health Law and Policy program at the University of Alberta. She had previously earned her LLB at the University of Alberta and a Diploma of Nuclear Medicine Technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Her thesis is focused on the legal, ethical, and policy considerations of large-scale population genetics studies and associated data banks. Following graduation, she plans to continue research in the area of biotechnology and intellectual property.

Although the training program seeks to encourage increasing numbers of excellent students in undergraduate law programs to pursue graduate studies, practicing lawyers are also applying. Lisa Forman is a CIHR health law and policy doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto. Her graduate research addresses access to essential AIDS medicine. Forman qualified as a lawyer in South Africa with a BA and LLB from the University of Witwatersrand. She practiced HIV/AIDS law, advocacy, and research in South Africa for several years before pursuing graduate studies in human rights at Columbia University. Forman is "extremely excited at the opportunity that the program offers in bringing together graduate students from diverse disciplines and the experience and benefit which I am sure this will provide." She plans to continue working in the area of HIV/AIDS and human rights, with a view to returning to South Africa.

Students present their work at an annual national colloquium and also participate in innovative interdisciplinary seminar series and work on research projects with a variety of transdisciplinary mentors. Albert Wallrap, BEng, LLB, LLM, reported that "as a graduate student, I have benefited from the opportunity to complete and present a paper on health law and genetics and to receive critical feedback from conference participants." Some students study at leading health law and policy centres such as the University of Houston and Loyola University in Chicago and have the chance to gain practical experience through placements or internships within Health Canada, provincial ministries of health, or health care organizations.

Although the Training Program in Health Law and Policy focuses on providing scholarships to graduate students, it will also strengthen the development of health law and policy curricula across the country by providing a forum for health law teachers and interdisciplinary mentors to meet and share best practices and curriculum materials. Moreover, a variety of innovative programs including interdisciplinary mentorships and placements at policy sites will further enrich the training of graduate students in health law and policy.

The challenges of contemporary health law and policy are before us. The leaders of tomorrow are on their way.

For additional information on the CIHR Training Program in Health Law and Policy, please contact Linda Moxsom, Project Coordinator, CIHR Training Program in Health Law and Policy, c/o Dalhousie University Faculty of Law, 6061 University Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4H9.

CIHR is a sponsor of Next Wave Canada.