Honouring a humble spirit

Dr. Mark Awuku

As Dr. Mark Awuku sat down beside the piano to unwind, the names and faces of the many people who have supported him throughout his career flashed through his mind. It was the end of what had been a long and gratifying day, which culminated in a special event held in his honour as he stepped down from his role as Assistant Dean, Faculty and Governmental Affairs.

During the past 22 years, Dr. Awuku has worn many hats in the Windsor community including: administrator, leader, mentor, teacher and paediatrician.

It all began in Akropong-Akwapim, the capital of the Akwapim region in southeastern Ghana. Dr. Awuku’s mother was determined that he and his eight siblings would complete their education. “My mother inspired and encouraged us to go to school. For her, there was no excuse good enough not to follow our studies,” he said with an affectionate laugh.

Only primary school was free in Ghana, and it wasn’t always easy for the Awuku family to pay the required fees for secondary education. Through a combination of family support, scholarships and hard-earned money through part-time jobs, Dr. Awuku and his siblings fulfilled their mother’s dream.

Academic success came early for the young student. And after completing his secondary education in one of the top schools in the country, Dr. Awuku prepared to go to university. Tempted by an opportunity to travel to Canada, he accepted a scholarship to study engineering at Guelph University. However, due to a delay in the administration of the award, and upon the encouragement of his uncle, he applied to and was accepted into medicine in Ghana.

Although initially interested in internal medicine, Dr. Awuku knew that paediatrics was for him after completing a six-month internship in the specialty. His love of paediatrics continues today. “Every day is different as a paediatrician,” he said. “Children do get ill, but so often you can watch them get better. They are lively, vivacious and it’s just fun to see them grow up.

Two years into his paediatric residency, and Dr. Awuku was on his way to Canada and a residency position at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. It’s where his passion for teaching soared. Once he graduated, he completed a short stint in Eastern Canada as a paediatric consultant, and came to Windsor in 1990. Two years later, he began taking students and once again embraced the role of mentor and teacher.

“I love teaching,” Dr. Awuku said.

Apart from the in-class interaction, for which he receives great satisfaction, the award-winning teacher enjoys watching his students achieve their true potential while surpassing his own accomplishments.

He doesn’t envy students today, however, as he believes it is much more challenging to be a student now then it was when he was going to school. This is due to a number of factors, including the rapid pace of change in information, and the massive amount of information available. It’s not easy to sort through reliable research from unreliable research, he says.

On the positive side he considers the training students are receiving, requires them to apply the knowledge they learn, to be a great step forward in medical education. “Things have changed from just attaining knowledge to applying the knowledge you have appropriately. It’s a good thing as it prepares you for practice,” he explained.

Although Dr. Awuku has stepped down from his decanal role he will continue to play a key role as an educator within the Windsor Program and continue as a practising paediatrician.

In doing so, he believes he will continue to grow and learn as a physician. “My patients have made me a better physician,” he said. “They have taught me that listening is about 80 per cent of the work. When my patients come in, they usually have the answer, and it’s up to me to listen and sift through everything that they are telling me. It’s then that I come up with the right key to open the door so I can help them.”

It’s a message he shares with his students regularly. “I tell my students to take everything the patient tells you seriously and to listen and address it appropriately,” he said.

As his fingers rested on the keys and he began to play one of his favorite pieces, Great is Thy Faithfulness, the ever-humble Dr. Awuku reflected proudly on his contributions to the Windsor Program, while remembering his roots. “I always remember where and how I started,” he said. “Sometimes my mind goes back to my childhood; we didn’t have beds, we had to do homework with lanterns, it keeps me humble.”