The Faculty of Biomedical Sciences Goals, Challenges, and Prospects

Since September 2020, the USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences has become a reality in the Ticino university landscape. To get a "taste" of the rich new academic offer in the region, the Dean’s Office of the Faculty members offer an overview of the programmes, research, objectives, and challenges of the new Master in Biomedicine at USI.

A look at the many opportunities at the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences.

"It seems incredible that so much ground has been covered in such a few years. Born from an innovative and courageous vision in 2011, the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences has become a disruptive reality after a long political-institutional gestation. And what a reality!" explains Giovanni Pedrazzini , Dean of the Faculty, "in just four years we have grown from a small group of pioneers to a community of more than 100 academics (16 full professors, 5 associate professors, 1 assistant professor, 35 PDs, 3 adjuncts, 33 lecturers and 9 clinical professors). In September, the first 48 Master’s students arrived on campus, passed their first semester exams, and are currently attending their second semester. All of this is without taking into account the PhD programme with almost forty PhD students, the CAS (one already operational and two in the pipeline) and the Center of Advanced Studies on Entrepreneurship in Biomedicine (CASE Biomed)".
As for the challenges that will mark these initial years, and that will serve to transition the Faculty to its adult and mature status, Professor Pedrazzini mentions the gradual adjustment of the number of students, the expected doubling of the chairs, the finalisation of the various collaboration agreements with the EOC, the progressive involvement of private clinics, the detailed planning of all six semesters of the Master’s programme and the creation (in progress) of the Institute of Family Medicine. Without forgetting the inevitable question of finances, ranging from the consolidation of financing for training to strengthening the funding for research.

There a lot of work to be done, "but - continues Pedrazzini - there is also plenty of satisfaction from our students (you can find their testimonials here) and the academic body (and teachers) who have embraced this great challenge. The University called, and the biomedical world answered. Now it is important to spread the word in the community and people’s homes outside of the University and the hospital wards. If we aim at a University Hospital and believe that the Canton can become the "Silicon Valley" of biomedical research, we need the support, including financial, of all of Ticino.

Custom-made training for future doctors

Luca Gabutti , Vice Dean of Education, explains that "the curriculum of the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences has been entirely designed to meet the PROFILES (Principal Relevant Objectives and Framework for Integrated Learning and Education in Switzerland) which, based on concrete clinical situations, summarises the new teaching objectives".

However, teaching students everything they need to know and know how to do is not enough for the Faculty. As Gabutti points out, "we wanted to do this in small groups and taking advantage of the clinical context (with two students per teacher) for at least half the time available. Therefore, we not only equipped the teachers with the required technological and teaching tools to encourage interactivity, but we organised the courses so that effective discussion and teamwork are the main ingredients of the shared sessions".

The format proposed for the clinical days, "in addition to being a crucially formative moment, it allows both student and Faculty to live and relive the extraordinary experience and intensity that characterises each encounter with the patient. The evaluation and commentary sessions, organised at regular intervals during the modules, have, among other things, the purpose of promoting learning and preparing students for the end-of-semester exams and the Federal medical exams; a summative but also benchmarking event on the quality of the teaching, in which the same exam is offered in all Swiss faculties qualifying students for professional practice".

Aiming for a career in research

After plunging into the dynamics of training, Greta Guarda , Vice Dean of Research, guides us through the world of research, specifically biomedical research, which "in Southern Switzerland is very diverse and undergoing a moment of incredible dynamism. It is enough to review the various areas of research, starting from the biomedical research carried out at USI, in particular in the areas of computational science (Istituto Eulero) and public health (Institute of Public Health, IPH), passing through the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and the Oncological Research Institute (IOR), both affiliated with USI and based in Bellinzona, up to the clinical and translational research carried out by the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (EOC).

Precisely for this reason, the Dean of Biomedical Sciences actively participates in the various discussion groups on the future of biomedical research in Ticino. "COVID permitting," continues Professor Guarda, "we are also committed to promoting communication and integration among the different actors mentioned above. The aim is to coordinate projects of common interest, increase the network of collaborations, and share competencies and tools. To achieve these goals, we intend to actively promote information about the initiatives not only through meetings at Faculty level but also through further development of the homepage of the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, accessible to all".

In conclusion, Guarda comments on the need to promote academic career paths for researchers who aspire to become independent in clinical and non-clinical settings. "While the number of Master’s, Dr. med and PhD theses is snowballing, we have come to realise how valuable it is to promote academic career paths in research. For example, we are working to increase information about the possible opportunities (within USI, but also through applications such as the Swiss National Science Foundation’s Excellence), and we are beginning to consider how to increase equal opportunities within the Faculty. These are the foundations on which we plan to develop and shape the Faculty’s biomedical research".