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Faculty of Medical Sciences

Faculty of Medical Sciences

Roland Laan and Guillén Fernández

“Our impact is focused on the real world, public health and health care”

“As strange as it may sound, on the one hand, COVID-19 was a feast for medical science”, says Guillén Fernández of the Faculty of Medical Sciences. “We were able to do a lot of research with real purpose: how to deal with this pandemic and with COVID-19 patients. On the other hand, we are seeing a decline in the number of people enrolling in the PhD programme, and COVID-19 has had direct and indirect negative effects on our work.” Roland Laan agrees: “It was a year in which staff perceived a high workload.”


With regard to education, Laan mainly identifies the after-effects of the more intensive pandemic period: “Since the internship periods for students were suspended for six months, there are now backlogs. There are still long waiting times for students who want to start their medical internships. Thanks to the National Education Programme, we received additional funds to help us reduce the backlogs, and the spending period has been extended by one year. Earlier, we had already introduced a ‘deferred’ medical internship in Prevention; since then, we have also increased the intake capacity per month and introduced a new form of internships: part-time in the hospital and part-time in another health care institution.” In September, the faculty launched the revamped Bachelor’s programme in dentistry: “The former programme has been thoroughly revised, and it now has a stronger emphasis on students’ professional personal development and self-direction in learning processes. This fits nicely with Radboud University’s educational vision of development.”

“The interest in university Health Care study programmes still far exceeds capacity”

Prevention is a hot topic in education, Laan explains: “For example, in 2022, we took the step to introduce a new component in the Medicine study programme. All students will spend some time giving lifestyle advice, focusing on primary, secondary and tertiary prevention for people who end up in hospital for any reason. The first students will start doing so in 2023. We also aspire to establish a Master’s programme in Medical Science. We made too little progress on that in 2022; we want to do better in 2023. We are also working on educational innovation via new technologies. Pilot projects are running with extended reality, allowing students to practise difficult skills without burdening patients. For instance, they can practise their motivational interviewing with an avatar, so to speak.”

“In 2022, we introduced a new component in the study programme: all students will spend some time giving lifestyle advice focused on prevention”


Prevention is also one of the more important topics in terms of scientific research at the Faculty of Medical Sciences. Fernández explains: “Researchers at Radboud university medical center are using AI to do things like discovering patterns in the data recorded by wearables. That data can be used to develop personalised prevention. That’s the first big topic: data and data analytics. The second is molecular life science. In recent years, we have accumulated a lot of knowledge about biological processes, immune systems and so forth. We’re now able to start influencing those mechanisms. That is not only important for prevention, by the way. For example, we are also looking at rare diseases that are often caused by a genetic defect. Such diseases are not particularly interesting for the medical industry to develop treatments for. But here we can look at specific individualised treatments. The third important topic is the shift to prevention in all research programmes. Parkinson’s is a chronic disease, one that can’t be cured once you have it. But you can improve care by reducing complications without affecting the direct course of the disease. That too is prevention.”

“Our research on AI for Health yields new insights that help to improve health care and make it more sustainable”

The Faculty of Medical Sciences is collaborating with various other faculties and partners in all these areas: “In the field of AI, we have an extensive interdisciplinary network of researchers”, Fernández says. “We collaborate frequently with the Faculty of Science, Social Sciences and the Humanities. For example, together with the Language Centre, we are looking at how best to communicate with the people in society who have the greatest interest in prevention.” Laan adds: “There are also interdisciplinary minors. For instance, communication in the medical world with the Faculty of Arts. And the Faculty of Medical Sciences has so many varied research programmes and staff – from philosophers to behaviourists to doctors and psychologists – that it is already an interdisciplinary faculty in itself.”


These collaborations are also bearing fruit in other areas, Fernández says. “Radboud University is particularly good at obtaining EU grants for collaborative projects. So too last year. That largely determines why we stand out from other medical faculties. We also have secured various grants related to the Innovative Medicines Initiative. We also generally do well in terms of individual grants. Last year, for the first time, we had more external funding than direct government funding.”

Last year, the faculty took stock of what teachers need to integrate sustainability topics, where appropriate, into regular education. There are also quite a few sustainability initiatives when it comes to research, such as reducing the carbon footprint in laboratories, disposables, travel arrangements and energy consumption. Fernández: “On a larger scale, climate change is causing diseases to come this way that don’t normally occur in this part of the world. We’re conducting research on that: infectious diseases and global health. That research looks at the direct consequences of mitigating climate change. Beyond that, the entire health care system needs to become more sustainable to keep an ageing population healthy, without spending even more money and employing even more people in the sector.”


We are experiencing a shortage of health care personnel, in some sectors more than others. This is clear when it comes to OR assistants and anaesthesia staff, the two professors observe. “We’re trying to attract and retain staff by making sure the people we have enjoy continuing to work with us, by making it more attractive to return to work, and by focusing on flexible training. The interest in university Health Care study programmes still far exceeds capacity. A Medicine study programme trains people to become junior doctors, followed by specialisations. However, students’ preferences for specialisations do not match the needs of society. Those needs are greatest in geriatric care, the socio-medical field and Occupational Health Officers. There is a surplus of paediatricians and surgeons. During their study programme, we try as much as possible to introduce students to areas of health care where society has a need. Our impact is focused on the real world, public health and health care. And on prevention: on reaching people who are hard to reach. Literally seeking them out, raising the life expectancy of the different social classes in our country to an equal level: that’s the biggest gain you can achieve.”

“Our social impact is focused on the ‘real world’, on public health, on reaching people who are hard to reach”


A large-scale operational change is underway at Radboud university medical center: Fit for the Future. This also affects research and education. In 2022, it was decided to dissolve the three existing research institutes and replace them with a single institute that encompasses all Radboud’s research. Fernández: “We want to become more demand-oriented: what are the questions from society? We want to provide excellent scientific insights. We want to be an organisation that is sustainable. And we want to be an organisation where employee wellbeing is central. Like the concept common in health care, we call that the Quadruple Aim.” The research institutes will be merged from 1 January 2023.