Health Ventures is a suite of courses that teach entrepreneurs how to transform health innovation ideas into business ventures. Courses are offered at both the undergraduate level or through McMaster Continuing Education with the option of earning a Certificate of Professional Learning.
The Health Ventures program helps learners develop the essential entrepreneurial skills to identify opportunities, design innovative solutions, and bring health innovation to market.
Fourth-year life sciences student Ayesha Ahmad, fifth-year biology student Julian Dychiao, and master’s in computer science and public policy student Gabrielle Gonsalves began exploring innovation together in the Health Sciences undergraduate course Frameshift Innovations Lab (HTHSCI 41S3). Throughout the course, they explored several healthcare problems that could use innovative solutions and felt they could make a significant impact tackling challenges that transgender people face when accessing healthcare.
“We found that many transgender people don’t feel comfortable accessing healthcare services since they fear discrimination,” Ayesha said. “If they have that barrier to healthcare services then they can’t have basic health. If you can’t wake up and feel internally good, how are you supposed to feel happy?”
The team took their challenge to the Health Ventures level 2 course to build a solution. After speaking to several medical students about their medical school education, they noticed an opportunity to train learners about serving the transgender community.
"Despite a growing awareness in the medical community about the gender spectrum, some health care providers still say that they feel a sense of awkwardness when interacting with transgender patients," the team noted. In particular, they noticed that learners did not feel equipped with the right language or enough background knowledge on gender identity.
In response, the team began to develop Themis - a progressive educational curriculum that emphasizes community engagement, equity, and non-biased approaches to promote effective healthcare practices. Themis aims to increase the cultural competency of medical students towards transgender patients.
"We titled our program Themis after the Greek Goddess of divine order, fairness, and equality," the team said. "Creating a gender-inclusive environment in any healthcare setting can benefit all patients and lead to improved health outcomes and a better overall experience for everyone. Creating an affirming, gender expansive care environment often begins even before the patient encounters the healthcare provider."
All three students developed a love for innovation throughout their Health Ventures experience.
“It’s really interesting to see that anyone can contribute towards the health innovation space. You don’t have to become a physician or super well-versed in the scientific realm,” Julian said. “Every innovation is really interesting and I’ve learned that everyone is creative.”
For Gabrielle, the experience influenced her career path. “I was on a very linear path: do an undergrad in science, do a Master’s of Science, and become a scientist or researcher,” she said. “But it really pushed me to look at more interdisciplinary graduate programs and I found myself in the computer science and public policy field which looks at problems from both sides, which I really enjoyed doing in Health Ventures.”