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Clinical Health Sciences: A New Chapter for DCHS

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, the Doisy College of Health Sciences made a change to the structure of its departments. In response to the ever-changing landscape of both healthcare and higher education, DCHS announced that the departments of Biomedical Laboratory Science (BLS), Health Sciences and Informatics (HSI) and Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapeutics (MIRT) merged to form the Department of Clinical Health Sciences (CHS), with Amy Harkins, MBA, Ph.D., as chairperson. This newly formed, dynamic and comprehensive department includes pre-professional programs offered in the college as well as the primary programs focused on diagnostics. In addition, opportunities for interprofessional collaboration between students and faculty will undoubtedly increase as communication among the previously separated departments will allow for an easier exchange of ideas.

Amy Harkins

Amy Harkins, MBA, PhD, Chairperson of the new Clinical Health Sciences Department

Now that the school year is well underway and CHS has taken its place in the DCHS community, we wanted to sit down with Department Chair Dr. Amy Harkins to discuss her experience so far in leading this new department and what this change means for the programs involved.

Q: What do you find most exciting about the new CHS Department and why?

A: For me, the opportunity to grow and continue to develop the individual undergraduate programs, and to provide the support for faculty for their professional development are the two most exciting aspects of this new department. It is rewarding to watch how the faculty are beginning to think about the whole of the CHS Department as a larger entity than only the sum of the individual programs and faculty. The faculty members are beginning to work together in their various roles, and are finding commonalities amongst one another that they might not have known prior to the merger of the Department. As the programs are looking at creative ways to attract new students, there are new opportunities to form elective courses that cross over between the disciplines. This alone is a hugely exciting opportunity, in terms of how broad each student’s Clinical Health studies could become in the near future.

Q: What are some of the advantages or benefits of combining what was previously three departments into one department?

A: From an administrative perspective, having all of the programs that fall into the Clinical Health Sciences under one Chair makes sense for financial reasons as well as for practical administrative reasons. Each of the seven undergraduate programs in the department has at least one Pre-Professional curriculum pattern for those students going to post-baccalaureate schools like medical school, physician assistant school, physical therapy, and occupational therapy schools amongst others. While the disciplines vary widely from Health Information Management and Health Sciences to the Imaging disciplines of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Radiation Therapy, and Nuclear Medicine, to the Medical Laboratory Sciences, they are all similar in that five of the seven programs are accredited and, until students reach their upper-level specialized courses, the curriculum is quite similar. There is a group of basic science researchers who are beginning to have a positive effect on other faculty who want to do, or currently do, clinical research, and this proximity of the physical space in our new office suite is permitting these research interactions to occur. Combining this particular group of faculty and their disciplines provides a theoretical structural support that elevates and integrates the individual programs in a way that no single program could have provided previously.

Q: Will the new department cause any changes to the individual programs?

A: While the merger of the three previous departments into one single department will not cause changes to the individual programs, there are aspects of all the programs that can be, and should be, changed. These changes, however, will be the result of pressure originating from the particular profession. For instance, each of the accredited programs has to respond to their own educational curricular competencies driven by their particular accrediting bodies, the educational oversight committees, and the clinical Advisory Boards. I am fully supportive of those changes for improvement of programs, and will always consider, first and foremost, the affect that any change has on the students and their educational experience at SLU. Furthermore, there are national concerns that all universities face to grow our student enrollment. There are also challenges driven by the Higher Learning Council, the University’s accrediting body, to comply and adhere to standards for all universities. From the perspective of an alumnus of any of these programs, the goal will be for each program to remain recognizable as the program from which an alumnus graduated.

Q: What are some of the priorities of the newly formed department moving forward?

A: For me, I see the priorities of the department to continue to form a cohesive team that is highly supportive of one another. I would like to be able to optimize each faculty member’s academic strengths. I would like to have each faculty doing what they really want to be doing in terms of their own professional development and in terms of the best educational opportunities for the students. When the faculty are happy and providing the best education to our students, the students will have the optimal experience at SLU in each of their Programs. With this comes the priorities of staying abreast of changes for the Programs in terms of their curricular competencies, regulatory elements from the accrediting agencies, and the way that the clinical markets are driving the educational needs of our graduates.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge for the new department so far?

A: I think that the largest challenge was not the physical space move but, rather, the emotional turbulence for the individual faculty in all of the changes occurring at the University in the last year. The three previous departments were each much smaller and highly cohesive units. Each department had interrelated and specific disciplines for an academic and research focus. That has been a change with challenges to revise our thinking from small units to a larger entity. We all had to learn how best to work with many new individuals, and very quickly. The faculty had to get to know how I work. They are having to share resources including my time that is being divided into many more and smaller pieces than existed in a smaller departmental unit. I am hopeful though that these challenges have been, and will continue to be, relatively minor and easily overcome, and to continue to strive for what is in the best interest for our students.

Q: What do you think some of the biggest opportunities for the future of the department are?

I believe the biggest opportunity in this new Clinical Health Sciences Department is to create a name brand recognition of our clinical Programs, elevating each of them in terms of their educational opportunities to the highest quality, where each program in the department of Clinical Health Sciences at SLU is the primary aspirant for each of the programs in Health Information Management, Health Sciences, Medical Laboratory Sciences, Investigative and Medical Sciences, Radiation Therapy, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Nuclear Medicine Technology.

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 13,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.