Published by cahoadmin at March 15, 2016

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Hamilton Health Sciences

Discovering a Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Hamilton through health research

Written by Renato Discenza, Executive Vice President, Strategy & Innovation, Hamilton Health Sciences


Renato Discenza

When change is big and dramatic, it’s not hard to miss. But when it happens in quick little bursts, it’s harder to recognize. We may notice something out of our peripheral vision, but like a scurrying creature it freezes when we turn to look. When we turn away, something moves again. But what was it? These small, incremental changes leave us thinking, “Something is different here, but I’m not sure what.”

Initially that’s the feeling I had when I started working in Hamilton. After years of working around the globe seeing some pretty dramatic change, I thought Hamilton would be a more gradual, steady environment. But lately, I’ve certainly noticed there is a shift happening in Hamilton’s economic foundation that, after years of percolating below the surface, is finally starting to permeate our city’s identity on a provincial, national, and even global scale in a very big way.

Those who know Hamilton well might always know it as “Steel Town”, but it is a more modern moniker that might be required. Healthcare has risen to the forefront of our city’s landscape. This is happening at the same time as our arts and culture and business innovation scenes are developing a maturity and sophistication of their own. An increase in a knowledge industry like healthcare, coupled with these other two shifts, can only spell positive transformation for the “Hammer”.

In my interactions, I’ve found that others are often surprised to learn that the health service and research sector is Hamilton’s largest employer, with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) topping the list at more than 11,000 employees. This doesn’t include our more than 800 physicians and 1300 volunteers. When we include our colleagues at St. Josephs Healthcare and McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences, this just adds to the prominence of healthcare as a predominate engine of Hamilton’s economic growth.

For examples of this kind of impact, watch Building a WEALTHIER Ontario: Hamilton’s Story.

Clinical care aside, the magnitude of health science research being conducted right here in our own backyard has doubled in recent years, and is receiving global acknowledgement and awards. Most recently, HHS was ranked #2 among Canada’s top research hospitals by Research Infosource, second to Toronto’s University Health Network.

This isn’t a new position for HHS. In fact, it’s the third year in a row that we’ve earned this rank.  It is a testament to the incredible pace at which our research efforts continue to grow. In 2014, HHS attracted more than $212M in research funding – a $30M increase over 2013. These results are even more remarkable when we consider the increasingly challenging fiscal environment for health research in Canada.

Our success has hinged on the incredible health infrastructure we’ve built that’s attracting top-of-class researchers. Never before have we seen such a high calibre of research expertise in our city, forming a research hub that’s the envy of health centres around the world.

And while our research is reaching more corners of the globe than ever before, we’re also having a significant impact on our community here in Hamilton. We have more than 400 researchers and 500 research staff working to solve big problems, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Our research teams are more than white coats – they’re physicians, surgeons and health experts. Many of them are at our patients’ bedsides every day. It’s this “bench-to-beside” approach that has us moving at full speed toward some of our city’s and country’s biggest population health problems. We are applying evidence to initiate change that will affect our community today, as well as generations to come.

Medical research is more than an academic exercise: it is part of the therapeutic pathway for many patients. The ability of residents to participate in leading research and have access to the clinicians engaged in that research means our citizens are accessing top level care. While researchers think globally, they influence outcomes locally.

While basic science research will always be important to move us ahead in delivering healthcare, we are also focussing on knowledge translation and innovation.  The time is right.  This focus on helping the patients at the bedside comes at a perfect time.  There is a significant focus now at the provincial and federal level on innovation.  Ontario has appointed a Chief Health Innovation Officer following OHIC’s The Catalyst report.  The Federal government is taking a closer look at the report from the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation led by Dr. David Naylor.  At HHS we are focussing on the application of both these levers:  research and innovation.  We have the advantage of the skills and expertise in our community with a wide spectrum of partners in research excellence.  We also have the advantage of being learners and teachers.  Gaining knowledge and disseminating knowledge are cornerstones of applying innovation.

The momentum we’ve gained in the health research sector here in Hamilton is affording us opportunities like never before to create a healthier, wealthier, smarter and more sustainable community for all.  There is more coming… stay tuned.

Learn more about research at Hamilton Health Sciences.


Hamilton Health Sciences is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, download our Policy Platform.