The Contribution of Political Science to the Study of Health Policies: State of Course Offerings and Research in Canadian Universities

This 2007 exploratory study was conducted to examine the contribution of political science departments to the study of health policy in Canada. The first phase of our project consisted of a systematic scan of political science departments at universities across Canada to identify currently offered courses that are principally or partially focused on health and identify the political science researchers who have studied health. By cross-referencing two lists accessed via the Canadian Political Science Association and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 56 political science departments were identified. Our repertoire was created by examining the official websites of all the political science departments.

The courses that addressed health policy fell into two categories. First, there are the specialized health courses, where health policy is the focus and where the word “health” is clearly stated in the title of the course. In total, 26 specialized health courses were identified. Second, there are those health-related courses that stated health as one of the subjects that would be covered during the semester. It was impossible to systematically identify all the courses in this second category because, in order to determine which issues were to be covered during the semester, we had to examine the course syllabuses, which were not always available online.

The examination of departmental websites also gave access to information on the research interests of faculty members. Our identification and selection of political scientists conducting health policy research was made on the basis of whether or not the word “health” appeared in the researcher’s research agenda, present or past research projects, or publications. The academics identified in the repertoire include full-time professors in political science departments. Associate professors, cross-appointed professors and adjunct professors were also included in order to have a more complete picture of who is conducting health policy research in Canada. This made it possible for us to identify 39 Canadian political scientists conducting health policy research.

The second phase of the project consisted in learning how political science departments integrate health policy issues into their research agendas. Phone interviews, lasting approximately 40 minutes, were conducted with 15 researchers conducting health policy research and 2 department chairs in 17 Canadian political science departments. The goal of these interviews was to learn more about the potential interests, opportunities and challenges involved in providing specialized courses in health and in pursuing health policy research in political science departments.

Considering the time allocated to this project, not all respondents identified in the initial repertoire were contacted. Three non-exhaustive criteria were used to select respondents. Initially, researchers stating health as their main research focus were selected by using the information available on departmental websites. Also, in order to obtain a complete picture of political science and health policy analysis in Canada, potential respondents in all provinces were contacted. We were able to speak to respondents in every province except Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. Finally, to draw a realistic portrait of the Canadian reality, academics were selected from departments offering specialized health courses as well as from departments that do not offer specialized courses.

It is important to keep in mind that the information that was gathered for this report reflects the opinions of the people interviewed, and thus is not an accurate measure of reality but rather a portrait based on the opinions of our respondents.

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