Canadian Health Services and Policy Research Alliance – Modernizing Training in Health Services and Policy Research

Key results to date


The Canadian Health Services and Policy Research Alliance (CHSPRA) identified modernizing the health services and policy research (HSPR) training enterprise as a top priority for pan-Canadian collaborative action.  CHSPRA recognized the disconnect between the prospective career trajectories of today’s PhD graduates - which are diverse and which often involve multiple sectors other than the university- and existing PhD training programs that remain predominantly geared towards academic careers. Within health services and policy, the potential contribution of well-prepared PhD graduates to inform health policy and system transformation is considerable. The complexity and multitude of challenges facing governments and health system organizations require sophisticated research and analytic expertise, leadership skills, and change management experience to help design, implement, and evaluate evidence-informed solutions. PhD-trained individuals can play an essential role. CHSPRA’s vision for successful training modernization is a learning health system that harnesses the full talents of PhD-trained individuals for continuous health system improvement.

A pan-Canadian Training Modernization Strategy

To achieve CHSPRA’s vision and to prepare HSPR trainees for stronger career readiness and greater impact, CHSPRA established a Training Modernization Working Group – co-chaired by Dr. Stephen Bornstein (Memorial University of Newfoundland) and Dr. Adalsteinn Brown (University of Toronto) - to develop a pan-Canadian strategy for HSPR training modernization. The working group engaged in extensive environmental scanning and community consultation, and in December 2015 released its Training Modernization Strategy. This bold and exciting strategy identifies seven key strategic directions to modernize university-based HSPR doctoral and post-doctoral training programs for optimized career readiness and greater impact. The full report is available online: Canadian Health Services and Policy Research Alliance: Report from the Working Group on Training [ PDF (323 KB) - external link ].

To prioritize the strategic directions for initial implementation and to engage the HSPR community, CIHR-Institute of Health Services and Policy Research (IHSPR) hosted a Training Modernization Workshop in March 2016 that brought together close to 100 leaders from university training programs, public and private sector employer organizations, and federal and provincial health research funding agencies, as well as trainees. The first priority that workshop participants recommended for action was the development of experiential learning opportunities for post-doctoral fellows. The benefits of supporting experiential learning have been recognized by others within Canada and internationally, and organizations such as Mitacs, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Alberta Innovates, the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, AcademyHealth, and the European Union are among the early innovators that have developed competitive funding opportunities for experiential learning. Workshop participants recommended that CIHR-IHSPR and CHSPRA spearhead efforts to align Canada’s HSPR post-doctoral training enterprise with emerging global trends in experiential learning.

The Training Modernization Funding Initiative

To encourage experiential learning as a core element of HSPR training, CIHR-IHSPR and CHSPRA have launched a three-pronged funding initiative:

  1. Start-Up Grants to foster the conditions and partnerships necessary for successful pan-Canadian training modernization while also building recognition and demand among health system and related organizations for the value that PhD-trained individuals bring to these organizations (launched August 2016).
  2. Health System Impact Fellowship awards to support multi-year experiential learning opportunities, professional development training, and national cohort participation for highly qualified individuals with a doctorate degree in HSPR (launched January 2017).
  3. Health System Impact Fellowships for doctoral trainees and post-doctoral fellows: This is the second launch of the HSI Fellowship program and it now contains a stream for doctoral trainees and a stream for post-doctoral fellows.

A new $5.8 million investment embeds PhD graduates within healthcare organizations for greater impact

Partners Involved in the Health System Impact Fellowship Program

Start-up grant partners

HSI Fellowship partners

The Benefits of Getting Involved

For trainees:

  • Contribute your research and analytic talents to critical challenges in health system and related organizations outside of the traditional scholarly setting (e.g., public, private for-profit, and not-for-profit organizations that are not universities or research-focused institutes), and develop professional experience, new skills, and networks;
  • Learn first-hand how health system and related organizations work, how decisions are made, and how research and analytic skills can contribute to an organization’s performance;
  • Receive unique professional development training in an expanded set of competencies (e.g., leadership, negotiation, project management, change management) designed to accelerate your professional growth and better prepare you to embark on a wider range of career paths with greater impact;
  • Participate in a national cohort of fellows and leaders from academic and health system and related organizations and benefit from unparalleled mentorship and networking opportunities

For health system organizations:

  • Benefit from direct access to the country’s rising stars in HSPR;
  • Harness trainees’ and fellows’ expertise in cutting edge methods and analytics to advance organizational goals and priorities, generate innovative solutions that are grounded in the best available evidence, and build in-house capacity for research;
  • Contribute to training, mentoring, and preparing a cadre of the country’s up-and-coming brightest minds for successful careers as leaders of evidence-informed health and health system improvement.

For university training programs:

  • Align scholarship with health system improvement and demonstrate the versatility of PhD graduates and their value for informing health policy and system transformation;
  • Foster meaningful and impactful career paths outside of the academy, accelerate career growth and impact, and encourage the skills and expertise of PhD trained individuals for broader societal contribution;
  • Expand and enrich the traditional training environment by engaging health system and related organizations in preparing a cadre of promising PhD graduates for successful careers.


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