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The Founding College of the University of Toronto
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Message From The Director

Message From The Director, Health Studies Program

It is my pleasure to be writing my first letter to the students of the Health Studies Program at University College. I am Professor Michael Widener, a health geographer who focuses on how urban mobility influence a range of health outcomes, and I have just begun my five-year term as Director of the Health Studies Program. I would like to sincerely thank Professors Paul Hamel and Sarah Wakefield for their leadership over the past years. Thanks to them, the Health Studies Program has become one of the most relevant and exciting options for student at the University of Toronto. I would especially like to thank Professor Hamel for guiding the program through the 2020-2021 academic year, which as we all know, was a year full of challenges.

Taking a multidisciplinary approach to health that incorporates biomedical approaches alongside methods from the social sciences and humanities has always been important. But the events of the past two years - related to COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and past and current wrongs committed against Indigenous people, to name only a few - have made a curriculum like that offered in Health Studies even more crucial. The current pandemic has made it obvious that it is no longer optional to think of health outcomes as being divorced from the broader social forces that shape our everyday lives. But where will the future health care leaders, researchers, and providers who understand the complex links between health and social dynamics come from?

If you ask me, they will come from our program right here at University College.

By design, the Health Studies Major and Specialist programs offer flexibility, so that young scholars can engage with a wide array of content in addition to the core Health Studies courses. If you have an idea on how you would like to focus your time in the Health Studies Program by taking courses that concentrate on a specific health-related topic, please reach out to me and we can discuss how to make it happen. I want to see our students thinking critically about the study of health and wellness, especially in these times of profound societal change, and it is my job to work with you all to achieve your educational goals.

In addition to the diverse and multidisciplinary coursework students undertake, most Majors and Specialists take part in an independent research project or practicum as a way to connect the topics learned in the classroom with real-world applications. This is a great opportunity to specialize even further, learning from world-leading experts at U of T and its affiliated hospitals.

As I write this note, we are making plans to return to in-person learning this fall term. While things may change (and 2020 taught many of us to be ready for the unexpected), I look forward to meeting you all over the next few months on U of T’s beautiful camps. But until then, please always feel free to reach out to me by email or, if safety rules allow, knock on my office door.

Michael Widener
Director of Health Studies, University College