TRANSMED graduates bridge science and medicine
Tiina Immonen, PhD, is a University lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine and the Coordinator of TRANSMED. Her background is in biochemistry. She teaches both medical students and students in the international Master’s Programme in Translational Medicine.
What is translational medicine about?
It is most of all a way of thinking and a way of doing research, specifically directing the research for the benefit of patients. In other words, we aim to do research which directly affects the lives of the patients – by improving diagnostics, treatments and medicines. What is different from so-called basic research is that the research is designed based on clinical questions, and we also utilize patient data and direct feedback from the clinics for the research.
The cornerstones of the TRANSMED programme
In the TRANSMED programme we aim to train the students both in science and to understand enough medicine to master the entirety from research to patients.
We teach students the language of medicine and how to talk to clinicians. During the second year of studies all our students are trained at the University Hospital. They visit the wards and clinics to learn with the clinicians about the patients, their different diseases and the treatments involved, so that they gain a full picture of the field they will aim at in their own research project. This is quite unique in global terms.
One of the major strengths of the programme is our corps of brilliant students who come from many different fields and have various kinds of educational backgrounds. This creates a multiprofessional TRANSMED community. The students bring to the table their different knowledge. The teaching is very much based on interaction, discussion, problem-based learning, team-based learning as well as pair and group work, meaning that the students also learn from each other. I see this as a close approximation of a successful research group where researchers with different background and knowledge work towards the same goal.
The programme is designed to give students excellent training for academic careers and pursuing a PhD. For this purpose our final examination includes writing a research plan, which will be defended in front of an expert. The students already become familiar with aspects that normally only emerge in doctoral training.
Meilahti campus is the place to study
The Faculty of Medicine is a special place to run this kind of programme because we are located at the Academic Medical Center Helsinki, where we have both the University of Helsinki and the University Hospital. The programme has been built in direct collaboration between the two institutions. This combination and the consequent study content are quite unique globally.
The atmosphere at the Meilahti Campus is very dynamic. You always find plenty of people around: medical and dental students, master’s programme students, researchers and clinicians.
The Meilahti campus hierarchy is more ’horizontal’, meaning that students are free to discuss things with professors, group leaders and top-level scientists. There is ample opportunity for fruitful interaction.
What’s more, this is also a conference centre where we host international science and medical conferences on a weekly basis. Students can attend and hear from leading international experts.
The University of Helsinki is one of the best research universities in the world, ranking among the top 100. In Finland we are very advanced in digital and information technology. We also have an extremely good library system – students have free access to online textbooks and to a huge amount of top international scientific journals, in our case through our campus library.
Communication is the key
Studies include a course where students analyse high-impact scientific articles; then they have a seminar where they can discuss the article with the author. The students are also requested to write a layman’s summary of the article in question. This way, they practise scientific writing for newspapers and wider audiences in a manner that anyone could understand and find interesting. This includes potential patients with regards to research results their benefits. Learning how to communicate orally and in writing with all types of audiences is an inherent part of the programme.
Possible career paths
What is our graduates’ impact on the world? They may aim for PhD studies to pursue research careers. If they really want to be researchers, they will be the ones who help scientific knowledge be utilized for the benefit of the patients. Currently a huge amount of information is emerging from basic research, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into clinical applications. We need experts who know both sides.
There are increasing opportunities in the private sector as well because health technology is a growing field of increasing importance everywhere. Finland is at the forefront of developing new health technology. TRANSMED graduates are able to enter and succeed in private sector companies, where we have many alumni already.
Our graduates are very well regarded in the job market both nationally and internationally, and are employed abroad in Europe and the US and elsewhere. A degree from the University of Helsinki is highly valued all over the world because it is known that the University’s teaching is very demanding and science based, in terms of both methods and content. Our graduates have good skills in scientific writing and are able to communicate well in English, and sometimes other languages also.
Finland has just recently enacted the most modern biobank laws in the world. Several biobanks already exist and new ones are being built, providing huge research potential. For example, in genetic research Finland has an excellent track record, based on our unique gene pool as well health care system storing copious data, both of which allow for research opportunities that may not be possible elsewhere in the world.