Alumni of Distinction
The 2017 Alumni of Distinction recipients have each dedicated their lives to discovery, innovative care and community service – a commitment that continues to change the lives of people in Canada and around the world.
By Jesica Hurst, BA’14
Community Service Award
Dr. Robert Bourne, MD’71
Dr. Cecil Rorabeck, MD’68, DSc’09
Drs. Robert Bourne and Cecil Rorabeck have been described by many as visionaries.
Among the leading experts on hip and knee replacement around the world, their combined dedication to helping others has led them to organize and take part in numerous Operation Walk-Canada medical missions to Guatemala and Ecuador, where they provided hip and knee replacements to patients who otherwise could not afford such treatments.
“Like most people who get involved in community service activities, such work is done to make the world a better place,” Dr. Bourne said. “Almost always, the work is not of a single individual, but usually the result of a team effort, which is absolutely true in this case.”
Drs. Bourne and Rorabeck both arrived at Western University in the 1960s – a time when Medicare was first established, the Canadian flag was introduced, and the African-American Civil Rights Movement was at its peak. They received medical training from professors and role models they both deemed ‘the greats,’ and ultimately decided to work at the University after graduating because of the solid connections they established.
Members of the Order of Canada, Drs. Bourne and Rorabeck have advice for how to find success in medicine.
“Always follow your instincts in terms of what you want to do in your life, and identify good role models who can help guide your path in the right direction,” Dr. Rorabeck said. “It is also important to think about professionalism, communication and leadership. Leadership in medicine is going to be increasingly important, and we need strong leaders coming out of our medical schools.”
Dr. Bourne added that it is crucial to be curious, think big, and recognize that it is always much better to give than to receive.
Dean’s Distinguished Lecturer
Dr. Margaret Chan, BA’73, MD’77, DSc’99
Reflecting on her years in medical school while at Western, Dr. Chan says that her years at the University helped her to appreciate the values of diversity, inclusiveness and integrity. “These are the principles I have lived by ever since,” she said.
After completing her BA at Brescia University College, Dr. Chan went on to pursue her medical degree, graduating in the late 1970s. Following graduation she returned to Hong Kong to head the health department there – just in time to have to deal with an outbreak of the avian influenza. Her tenure in that role also found her managing the SARS crisis. In 2006, she became the chief of the United Nation’s World Health Organization, carrying the title of Director-General.
Dr. Chan served two terms in the role, championing improvements in maternal care, HIV and AIDS care, malaria, and managing many international viruses including H1N1, a worldwide pandemic.
As the Director-General, Dr. Chan was faced with making tough decisions and believes that being a successful medical leader is the result of valuing teamwork and partnership, being accountable to measureable results and accountable for your promises. Her advice to young medical graduates is to uphold the ethical standards of their profession and remember service to people.
Young Alumni Award
Dr. Zain Kassam, MD’08
When Dr. Zain Kassam was choosing which medical school to attend, he decided on Schulich Medicine & Dentistry because of the ‘Goldilocks phenomenon’ – it wasn’t too big, and it wasn’t too small. It was just right.
“Western University was the home of world-class thought leaders, but everyone is approachable,” Dr. Kassam said. “It appealed to me as it seemed to beautifully balance all of the things I envisioned were necessary to build a strong foundation in medicine.”
Dr. Kassam is a research affiliate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Chief Medical Officer at OpenBiome – the world’s first public international stool bank to provide safe access to fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). In his short career, the gastroenterologist and public health innovator has already treated more than 25,000 Clostridium difficile patients at 850 hospitals in the United States and around the world.
He also pioneered the innovative FMT safety protocols recognized by the American Gastroenterological Association.
Dr. Kassam credits his time at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry with giving him the knowledge and courage to follow the road less travelled.
“Medicine sometimes gets trapped in dogma and embraces the conventional escalator to clinical impact, but sometimes a new, bold path pops up serendipitously and a few brave optimists take the elevator and change the way we think about medicine,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to be a pioneer, don’t be afraid to follow your passion, don’t be afraid to take the elevator.”
Excellence in Basic Science Research Award
Dr. Peter Leung, PhD’79
Dr. Peter Leung first became interested in research when he was a fourth-year biology student at the University of British Columbia. Upon realizing how excited he was by the intriguing interaction of the endocrine control of the brain-pituitary-gonadal axis, he completed an MSc in thyroid endocrinology before coming to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry to complete a PhD.
To the soundtrack of The Beatles and Elton John, Dr. Leung truly embraced the hard work and learning that came with attending Western University in the 1970s.
“I definitely would not have been what I am today without spending the four years of my higher education at Western,” he said. “The scientific research and academic training there was, and still is, world-class. Without any doubt, the academic ambience truly helped to define my career goal as a reproductive scientist and launch my development as an independent researcher.”
Dr. Leung’s research program has focused on the hormonal determinants of women’s reproductive health and disease. He was the first to clone and characterize the gene encoding the human gonadotropin releasing hormone receptor, and was among the first to propose that two isoforms of the hormone in humans play an important role in pituitary gonadotropin secretion and other reproductive tissues including ovaries, ovarian cancer and placentae. He has written more than 350 papers, 340 abstracts, five books and 20 chapters.
“The occasion of this recognition reminds me of what great educational experience I received at Western, and the impact it has had on my career.”
Alumni of Distinction – Dentistry
Dr. Paul Romanson, DDS’72
“In order to become a leader in dentistry, I believe one must simply become involved,” Dr. Paul Romanson said. “This could be as simple as putting your name forward to fill a committee position, but one small decision will build upon another, and that is when you will have the opportunity to choose a direction to continue in as your passion dictates.”
Dr. Romanson has been considered a leader since he began teaching the art and science of dentistry in 1981. His commitment to education has been evident through his work as an adjunct clinical professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, and a leader in the London & District Dental Society, the Ontario Dental Society, and the Dental Outreach Community Service program.
The years Dr. Romanson spent in dental school were exciting and happy times. He enjoyed being on the science student council and the orientation committee, and spending time with so many like-minded individuals who became life-long friends. He can still recall them listening to bands like the Guess Who and The Beatles, and watching Star Trek and Hockey Night in Canada when they had downtime.
Dr. Romanson explained he views this distinction as one of the highest honours he could receive from his alma mater.
“I am totally humbled by this kind of recognition from my peers, particularly because I personally know many of the exceptional people who have been past recipients,” he said. “It is a privilege to join their ranks and share in this honour with them.”
Professional Achievement Award
David Spence, BA’65, MD’70
Dr. David Spence has been committed to learning, teaching and innovating at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry since the first day of his undergraduate degree in 1962.
“Having been at the School for more than 50 years, my blood runs purple and white,” he said. “It means a lot to me to be recognized by the University that has been my home for most of my life.”
Dr. Spence has dedicated his career to stroke prevention. His major research accomplishments include identifying high-risk asymptomatic carotid stenosis, vitamin therapy for stroke prevention, and the development of atherosclerosis imaging for risk stratification, genetic research and management of patients. He also influenced the Task Force for the Stroke Strategy for Ontario to include stroke prevention in the plan, which led to the development of 40 stroke prevention clinics in the province.
The clinician-researcher has also led and participated in more than 50 clinical trials, authored or co-authored more than 500 peer-reviewed publications, and given more than 600 lectures to thousands of physicians in 39 countries around the world.
On advice to give future physicians, Dr. Spence noted a quote of Canadian physician Sir William Osler. “It is the obligation and the joy of the physician to be a perpetual student.”
“Embrace this idea. Do not be overly concerned with money or political pressures on medicine,” he said. “Take the affirmation of your worth from the opportunity to put the gifts you received at birth to good purpose – help people who need help.”
Young Alumni of Distinction – Dentistry
Dr. Shawn Steele, BA’01, DDS’05, JD’13
After Dr. Shawn Steele graduated from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in 2005, he quickly learned that he wanted to do more with his career than simply be in private practice. A lover of science and the arts, he made the decision to devote his time to education, through learning himself and through teaching others.
“The time I spent at Western were some of the best years of my life, and I look back on them very fondly,” Dr. Steele said. “I knew I wanted to go to Western University early in high school, and I ended up completing my BA, DDS and JD degrees there.”
A community leader and advocate for social justice, Dr. Steele is well known for his desire to increase access to dental care for the most vulnerable in our communities. He is credited with changing a long-standing policy of only treating inpatients, so that patients can continue to be treated as outpatients as well at certain hospital sites. Through his work at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, he created a model of care that provides comprehensive dental care of patients with special needs.
As someone who has already achieved so much in his years as an alumnus, Dr. Steele explained it is all about pushing your limits, making sacrifices when necessary, and doing what makes you happy.
“I do what I do because I want to benefit others and myself,” he said. “The chance to be recognized publicly for the work I do is an honour, and one I am very grateful for. Sometimes you wonder if you are making a difference, but receiving recognition in this way really validates what I do.”