Posted on May 01, 2016

What does it mean to have a health cluster and why does QU need it?

Following years of strong growth in all areas, Qatar University has shifted its focus to drivers of excellence and best models for integration and cost effectiveness. With the recent approval of the colleges of Health Sciences (CHS) and Medicine (CMED) and the presence of several successful health-related programs in pharmacy and health sciences, QU saw an opportunity to consolidate its efforts in these areas through the creation of a health education cluster to serve as a pillar of excellence in health education and research and stakeholder engagement.

The cluster comprises the colleges of Pharmacy (CPH), CMED, and CHS. The decision was also encouraged by the findings of an extensive benchmarking exercise that included 40 universities with medical colleges/schools from around the world. The exercise showed that an integrated health cluster was the best option to enable strong integration and cost effectiveness while preserving the integrity of member colleges.

The Board of Regents approved the formation of the health cluster in its January meeting and several teams are now working on a proposed framework to begin a gradual implementation of the cluster allowing for necessary transition to take place before it becomes fully functional by June 2016. The cluster is led by the VP Health and Medical Education reporting to the President. A strong team of administrators at the cluster level will support all cluster colleges for most functions to ensure integration, leveraging resources, and maximum synergy and collaboration.

Among other benefits, the cluster is expected to enhance inter professional learning opportunities for students, boost interdisciplinary research, and achieve cost efficiency through sharing courses, facilities and resources by members of the various related academic programs of member colleges. For instance, the syllabi of some first-year courses such as Statistics, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Anatomy/Physiology may be redesigned to fit the needs of all health-related programs. In addition, colleges will leverage faculty expertise, share common resources including classrooms, laboratories, meeting rooms, lounges, equipment, and have shared strategic planning, joint outreach and engagement, and potentially, interdisciplinary graduate programs.

Is this a unique position for Qatar University or is it an established model?

As I mentioned, an extensive benchmarking exercise was conducted that included 40 universities with medical colleges/schools-- 12 from the US, 6 from Canada and Australia, 8 u from Europe, and 14 from the MENA Region. Their respective governance structures vary depending on the size of the grouping and educational system. While in North America, it is common for health science centers to have full joint administration and strong college administration, other regions adopt a variety of governance models ranging from independent colleges to one college for all health-related programs. After long deliberations, QU is working towards a model with strong joint administration at the cluster level and lean administration at the college level as the most suitable for the organization’s specific context.

What benefits will the cluster model offer to the university?

There are many but I would say that productive synergy, improved efficiency, enhanced inter-professional education and interdisciplinary research are at the top of the list. Interprofessional education is an important factor in health education and a priority for QU based on evidence that when health care professionals work together in a collaborative manner, patient care improves.

Another benefit of the cluster is that it creates an enabling environment for interdisciplinary research which integrates information, data, techniques, tools, concepts and perspectives from several disciplines to solve problems that extend beyond the scope of a single discipline. Most health problems can be best addressed through such overarching perspectives and researchers from diverse disciplines benefit considerably from this approach.

In addition to interdisciplinary research, strong coordination through joint administration, improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness will be enabled by this operating model through sharing of resources (infrastructure, personnel, operations). The cluster also facilitates the integration of continuing professional development (CPD) for all health professionals in Qatar and provides better opportunities for expanding academic offerings in the health and medical fields.

What are the benefits to students, faculty, researchers and the health care sector?

The cluster aims to serve as a pillar of excellence first and foremost in educating students, but also in research and community outreach. Relatively small student populations across health and medicine disciplines, low number of Qatari nationals in some of them and high administration/student ratio in individual health colleges or departments could drain resources and negatively impact the student experience. The cluster model by comparison aims to enable an enhanced learning environment and student experience through the pooling of talents, the optimal use of physical resources and through a holistic approach to medicine and to patient care.

So as you can see, clustering the growing number of health related colleges can provide the critical mass required for excellence in health and medical sciences. What makes this collaboration a good fit for QU are the number of success factors, including the presence of a new nationally supported College of Medicine with international standards and local focus, the recent transition of the department of health sciences with its long history of training health professionals through internationally accredited high quality programs into a College of Health Sciences, and the presence of an award-winning accredited College of Pharmacy.

For faculty and researchers, close alignment across the cluster can help address academic requirements in a complementary manner, streamline faculty collaborations in research and teaching, and ensure coordinated and effective interactions with external stakeholders. Further, the focus on health and close alignment with the sector create tremendous potential to develop future health-related colleges and programs to serve the emerging needs of Qatari health care sector. All of this will provide new opportunities for students, faculty and health care practitioners, and enable the cluster to serve as the principal supplier of highly-qualified health care professionals to the health labor market.

What is the vision of the QU health cluster and what do you believe it will achieve for QU and for Qatar?

The aim is to be recognized regionally for excellence in inter-professional health education and inter-disciplinary health research. We want to be the first choice for students and scholars interested in these fields and most importantly to become a catalyst for innovation at the national level.

QU Health Education Cluster is the national provider of higher education in health and medicine. Through high-quality inter-disciplinary programs, the 3 member colleges prepare competent graduates capable of shaping the future of health care in Qatar. The synergistic efforts of its members in teaching, research, and community outreach will serve to advance knowledge in the health and medical field, address local and regional challenges, and contribute to population health and research in Qatar.