Durham College: A Pioneer and Leader in Health Care Technology Management (HCTM)

HCTM StudentsIn a world of constant change, the need to foster adaptable students that can tackle cross-disciplinary challenges is greater than ever. Durham College is on the leading-edge of a field which does just that. The honours bachelor degree in Health Care Technology Management is a unique program in Canada and globally. This program requires students to gain knowledge, skills, and experience in a variety of different disciplines such as science, engineering, health care, business, management, and organizational change leadership. Program coordinator Richard Tidman and faculty members, Marko Kostic and Abdelbaset Khalaf, sat down with the CTL to discuss their program.

Beyond being the first degree of its kind at the honours level in Canada and anywhere else in the world, it addresses a gap in the healthcare industry which has existed for some time.

Abdelbaset Khalaf comes to DC from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa. He has over 35 years' experience both in industry and academia with regards to healthcare technology management. He attained a BSc in biomedical engineering, a doctorate in clinical engineering, and engineer in hospital settings, as a department head, and as a technical manager within various medical device manufacturing companies. Marko Kostic comes to Durham College also from abroad, but a little closer to home. This is his first year with Durham College; before joining Durham College he taught at East Tennessee State University, having received his PhD from UCLA. In addition to his time spent in academia, he has over 15 years of industry experience; he worked with Stryker Corporation, a fortune 500 Medical Device Company, as a principal R & D Electrical Engineer. According to Richard Tidman, it was with great difficulty finding people with both experiential and academic qualifications for this program. Durham College is extremely fortunate to have both Marko and Baset designing and delivering the program.

But what makes this program so special? Beyond being the first degree of its kind at the Honours level in Canada and anywhere else in the world, it addresses a gap in the healthcare industry which has existed for some time. With the emergence of increasingly sophisticated medical technologies within the healthcare field, there is no individual with the requisite skills and knowledge to optimize these technologies. There are technicians to maintain the technologies, clinicians to use the technologies, manufacturers to build the technologies, but, currently, there aren't individuals who can manage these technologies from a holistic perspective. This person would need to optimize these technologies across their lifecycles which could span from 10 to 15 years. Traditionally, those engaged in this work had to attain a biomedical engineering degree, which can take from 3 to 5 years; this would then need to be complemented by additional diplomas and possible postgraduate studies in various domains. The Health Care Technology Program at Durham College will qualify students for these roles because it is uniquely tailored to this specific and niche field. The graduating students from this program will be able to manage health technologies from innovation (manufacturing) to acquisition (procurement and planning), through the utilization for the duration of the technology’s life cycle. This optimization requires understanding and experience with clinical practices, cost of ownership, cost of financing, how technologies integrate and are interoperable, and how they can support large datasets or electronic medical records. This requires a specific professional who can acquire knowledge from not just one category of education but multiple categories—engineering, medicine, business, management, and more. The aim of this Durham College degree program is to create a well-rounded individual who can support the healthcare delivery system. With the multidisciplinary knowledge, skills, and experience DC’s graduates will acquire through this program, they will act as liaisons with various stakeholders in the healthcare industry—manufacturers, clinicians, hospital administration, and so forth.

Prof. Khalaf TeachingWhile this program is in its infancy, with the first cohort finishing their third year and embarking on their first field placement, it has already gained recognition amongst the healthcare technology field. Of the 19 students who will be taking part in field placement this year, 12 have been chosen to work with General Electric, a medical device manufacturer. GE has already earmarked projects for these students and as Baset mentions, this field placement will be an effective test of the students’ knowledge and skills within this unique field. Baset, Marko, and Rick are all confident in the capabilities of these students. These students come from various backgrounds, such as nursing, biomedical engineering, and business; these backgrounds, according to Marko, have enriched the program through their distinctive perspectives.

The pandemic has been challenging, and that is no less true for Marko, Baset and Rick. But in discussing the impact of the pandemic with regards to the Health Care Technology Management Program, what has come to light is that the pandemic has accomplished two things. First it has helped to shine a light on the gap which exists in healthcare. When the pandemic began, what became evident was that technology is essential as seen in the immediate need for ventilators and the need for the rapid development of a vaccine which required medical technologies running 24/7. As Rick mentions, “medical electronics are taking on a dominant position within health care and that dominant role needs professionals to transition healthcare into adopting these new and innovative technologies that ultimately lead to vaccines in 9 months rather than 5 years.” In fact, the future of healthcare is tied intrinsically to medical electronics and those who can manage them—this group of health care technology managers will emerge in their careers to be some of the dominant players within healthcare.” Second, the pandemic has opened the door for the possibility of the internationalization of this program. The program has managed well online, with students coming to campus to complete hands-on skill development through laboratories. But, as both Marko and Baset suggest, the pandemic has pushed Durham College to consider the possibility of the “internationalization of the program.” Considerations to leverage online learning will be explored as part of the long-term vision of the program. And this decision, as Baset states, will contribute to the leading role this program and Durham College, specifically, can have in Canada and globally. Baset, Marko, and Rick are ready and open to exploring these opportunities, and they feel positive and confident in the leadership at Durham College with regards to the future of this program.

The opportunities for growth in this field are immense but changes in health care are not quick, so the professionals that Durham College produces in this program need to be proficient in organizational change management. These professionals will need to work their way into health care—it will not be an easy road. But considering the interest of General Electric in the students from this program, the future is promising. This collaboration between Durham College and General Electric speaks volumes about the fact that industry can push the boundaries of healthcare and support our graduates in developing a large voice for healthcare change. Baset, put it best when he said there are no limits, no ceiling for growth in this field and with this opportunity. With the introduction of more sophisticated more accurate technologies like wearable devices, artificial intelligence protocols, robotic surgeries, and robotic diagnoses, healthcare will need a different caliber of individuals. We have just started down this road, it is just the beginning. And with the tenacity and commitment of professors such as Marko and Baset, Durham College will continue to be a pioneer in this field.