Using geographic data to improve health care
For Brent Harris, the fact that Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts offers Ontario’s only Master of Spatial Analysis graduate program was a major selling point. Once he enrolled, the Geography BA holder discovered an academically rigorous yet professionally oriented program that exceeded his expectations. Over an intense 12 months, Harris learned how to conduct geographic information systems-based analysis, mapping and reporting.
“Gaining all those technical skills and then learning how to apply them in different scenarios was a huge benefit. The emphasis on problem-solving really enhanced the learning,” Harris says.
A major highlight for Harris was learning how to apply GIS expertise to support operational and strategic decision-making in different sectors. One group project he particularly enjoyed involved helping a St. Michael’s Hospital researcher answer an important question: when patients don’t speak the same language as their doctors, how does this affect health care usage rates? Harris and his classmates conducted a thorough literature review and used GIS techniques to assess the situation in urban and rural settings across Canada.
That assignment, combined with his field placement at the Centre for Global Health Research, got Harris excited about the potential for GIS to improve health system processes and outcomes. Since graduating, he has put his spatial analysis expertise to use at various health-care organizations, including Cancer Care Ontario, the Interior Health Authority in Kelowna, B.C. and, most recently, the BC Centre for Disease Control, where he worked as a regional epidemiologist.
Recently, Harris shifted gears from technical to management work by becoming Manager of Planning and Institutional Research for the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus. However, since his office provides data collection, analysis and presentation support to faculty and staff, he expects to still draw heavily on the GIS skills he learned at Ryerson.