Setting up transdisciplinary education requires teamwork

The major challenges in healthcare call not only for transdisciplinary research, but also for transdisciplinary education. Vice-dean at Erasmus MC and member of the Management Team at Health & Technology, Maarten Frens, will be shaping the educational programme for Convergence in collaboration with others. What have they already achieved, what are they planning and what challenges does the future hold?

Within Health & Technology, the past year saw tremendous efforts made in terms of setting up transdisciplinary research, says Frens. “That is the easiest way of working in institute-transcending fashion. If funds are made available, researchers will track one another down soon enough. And our teaching will take place within these collaborative relationships now as well.”

New Master’s programme

For two years now, Erasmus MC and TU Delft have been collaborating in two transdisciplinary degree programmes: Clinical Technology and Nanobiology. Frens: “The principles of these programmes are a perfect fit for Convergence. We will be involving them closely in the Schools of Convergence and we also want to develop a new Master’s programme.”

The future of healthcare

The focus of this new Master’s degree programme, which has the working title ‘Sustainable Health’, is the future of healthcare, and there will be three tracks within the programme, explains Frens. “What we will be considering is what it will take to tackle the crisis in healthcare, which is a multi-faceted one. The first track concerns questions such as: … How do we get staff to stay in healthcare? How do we deal with increasing longevity and an increasingly diverse patient population? And how do you approach those members of society who have lost their trust in healthcare, such as anti-vaxxers.

Climate impact of the care sector

“In the second track we will consider the climate impact that the care sector has. How, for example, will we achieve CO2 reductions? The care sector consumes a lot of energy, and there is a lot of material wastage. And then there are medicines, and patients travelling to hospital by car: these things too represent an enormous ecological burden. In the third track, Planetary Health, we will anticipate the consequences climate change will have on healthcare. We already know that malaria will be endemic to the Netherlands in ten years’ time.”

Erasmus MC is also working on changes to the curriculum for Medicine. “We are going to be paying more attention to the possibilities that technology offers and to social issues. We hope to present the new Erasmusarts [Erasmus doctor] programme in 2024.”

Competences in Convergence education

What kind of education will Convergence offer students? “We want to qualify students as doctors and scientists who are not cowed by large, complex problems and who have the expertise to tackle these problems. We will train them to be doctors who are not only able to cure patients’ symptoms but who also understand the social problems that affect them, and what technological options there are – and who also know what the economic and ecological consequences of their approach are. A doctor does not need to be able to write an environmental impact report for every tablet. But we do want doctors to be aware of the problems in this regard and to be able to communicate with professionals in other disciplines about this.”

“The lecturers who will be teaching within Convergence must also possess these skills. Today’s lecturers have often had monodisciplinary training. The researchers currently conducting transdisciplinary research within Convergence, and therefore learning ‘on the job’ what transdisciplinary research means, will be teaching in the Convergence Schools soon.”

Convergence students must feel comfortable dealing with large, complex problems

Prof.dr. M.A. (Maarten) Frens

Erasmus MC

Vice-dean of Education Erasmus MC

Real problems

Convergence education will involve students working on issues in living labs for social organisations as well. Is this happening yet? “I consider it very important to consider real problems in education. In order to do this well, we must build long-lasting, structural relations with social partners and really do something with the things that emerge from them. This requires time and money.”

Setting up education requires teamwork

Frens does research within Health & Technology himself as well, and he established the Erasmus University College a few years ago. “I stand behind Convergence’s mission and I am good at bringing people from different disciplines together. What is great is that education is the driver behind a great deal of research. While research is something you do alone, setting up education really takes a team. The process yields many new connections between lecturers and coordinators. The setting up of Convergence education is already releasing tremendous energy, so I am sure that the future will hold exceptionally exciting things.

Practical organisation is the greatest challenge

According to Frens, the greatest challenge in terms of Convergence education is organising its practical aspects. “Organising institute-transcending education is hard work. You keep running into practical problems. Education involving three universities now means three university passes and three digital learning environments. And if a student wants to do an internship at another institution, a hosting agreement is required. We want to simplify all of these things by establishing the Convergence Schools as autonomous organisations.”