Brought together by the newly formed Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS), recognized national leaders in the 6 health sciences disciplines consider the environment for conducting interdisciplinary health research (IDHR) in Canada. Based on first-hand knowledge and thoughtful reflection, the authors argue that although much progress has been made in support of IDHR in Canada, the practical experience of researchers does not always bear this out. This article examines government, industry and academia to identify the cultural and structural characteristics that demand, promote or prevent IDHR in each sector. At its heart is the question, How can universities best support and enhance IDHR, not only for the benefit of science, but also to meet the growing needs of industry and government for intellectual capital?
Focusing on the predominant health sciences disciplines, the authors define IDHR as a team of researchers, solidly grounded in their respective disciplines, who come together around an important and challenging health issue, the research question for which is determined by a shared understanding in an interactive and iterative process. In addition, they suggest that IDHR is directly linked to translational research, which is the application of basic science to clinical practice and the generation of scientific questions through clinical observation.
This analysis of academic, industry and government sectors is not intended to offer rigorous data on the current state of IDHR in Canada. Rather, the goal is to stimulate research-policy dialogue by suggesting a number of immediate measures that can help promote IDHR in Canada.
Recommended measures to support IDHR are aimed at better resourcing and recognition (by universities and granting agencies), along with novel approaches to training, such as government- and industry-based studentships. In addition, we recommend that professional organizations reconsider their policies on publication and governance. Although intended to maintain professional scopes of practice, these policies also serve to entrench disciplinary boundaries in research.
We conclude by suggesting a number of research questions for a more rigorous assessment of the climate for IDHR in Canada. We call for an inventory and comparative analysis of academic centres, institutes and consortiums in Canada that strive to facilitate IDHR; an examination of the impact of professional organizations on health research, and on IDHR in particular; and a systematic review of research training opportunities that promote IDHR, with a view to identifying and replicating proven models.