In the first decade of the 21st century the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan celebrated two milestone anniversaries. First, the College marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of its first 4 year class in the MD program and in 2008, the College Alumni Association celebrated its 25th anniversary.
(written by Daphne Tkachuk, former Executive Director and updated by Verity Moore-Wright, College Alumni Relations office)
This article is a review of the history of the College of Medicine Alumni Association. The early activity of the Association is one of vision, effort (mostly volunteer), perseverance, and growing pains. To gather information about the Association’s development, I interviewed Dr. Ian McDonald, Dean of Medicine 1983 -1993, Dr. Hal Baldwin, the first President of the College of Medicine Alumni Association and Dr. Jim Spooner, former Director of Educational Support and Development, College of Medicine. The following are their personal perspectives on the development of the Association. Prior to becoming Dean in 1983, Dr. McDonald attended the 100th anniversary of the University of Manitoba. He was accompanied by Dr. Doug Buchan, Professor of Medicine, author of Greenhouse to Medical Center, Saskatchewan’s Medical School 1926-78. Both attended to class reunions and became excited about what they saw. They witnessed Alumni reconnecting, the joy and laughter of reminiscing, and how the University of Manitoba was working to keep graduates involved with their alma mater.
On becoming Dean in 1983, Dr. McDonald established the College of Medicine Alumni Association. He passionately believed that the Association should have its own identity, that the spirit among the College of Medicine graduates be nurtured and that alumni should take ownership of the organization. Dean McDonald agreed the College would fund the Association for a period of time until it was established and was able to support the day to day operation of the office and make the annual reunion, the Highlights in Medicine Conference, financially independent. The College funded the Association until 1988.
Harnessing the excitement of the idea of an organization of alumni, the 75th Anniversary of the University of Saskatchewan was chosen to launch the College of Medicine Alumni Association with an all-class reunion. The Dean approached Dr. Hal Baldwin (Class of 1975) to accept the role of first President. The first Board consisted of Drs. Bill Chernenkoff, Alanna Danilkewich, Ann Doig, Brian Gushulak, Oli Laxdal, representing Continuing Medical Education and Jim Spooner, representing the Dean’s Office. After his appointment, Dr. Baldwin said that in speaking with colleagues about the possibility of developing the Alumni Association, all responses were very positive. The fundamentals of the Association were to provide services to its membership to strengthen the bond between alumni and the College of Medicine and to develop within the Alumni a sense of tradition and history.
At that time it was hoped the Association would act as a fund raising arm for the College. It was agreed the Association would be complementary to the University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association by encouraging continued interest in and commitment to the University by facilitating communication among its graduates through class reunions, a newsletter and a current mailing list. The Board’s deliberations on how it could become financially independent resulted in a membership fee. It was anticipated all Alumni would take out memberships but, in reality, only one third did. However, those memberships resulted in enough funds to allow the Association to retain an office and do what was necessary to get the Association on a firm footing.
As noted above, Dean McDonald wanted the birth of the Association to coincide with celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the University of Saskatchewan. A committee was formed and all alumni were invited to the first Highlights in Medicine Conference –with the theme “Medicine – Today and Tomorrow” in June, 1984. The College of Medicine obtained the services of Ms. Mona Chappell who immediately started to collect all the information that was needed to contact Alumni. With her organizational skills and the assistance of Continuing Medical Education, Mona and the committee brought the proposed celebration to reality. Speakers from various graduating classes of the College were invited to present. The conference and the reunion provided challenges to alumni to examine the needs and expectations that society had of its physicians, opportunities for social and professional interaction to facilitate up-dating and exchange of ideas and new developments and examples of achievements of graduates of the College of Medicine.
Dr. McDonald recollects the event with very fond memories. All former Deans were invited with Drs. Wendell MacLeod, John Gutelius and Bob Murray in attendance. The College was overwhelmed by the response, not only by the numbers that attended, but also by the enthusiasm of individuals from the various classes who had not seen each other for years. Surprisingly a number of alumni from the School of Medical Sciences returned for the special event. This was a particularly moving experience as many of them had not been back to the campus since they left, and had not seen each other since their graduation. They told great stories of time spent overseas during World War II, of chance encounters with old school mates and of their lives when they were medical students in Saskatoon during the depression and drought. Alumni stories of boarding houses, landladies and the difficulty in scraping up money to support themselves, added to the general atmosphere of the alumni gatherings. This testified to their sense of obligation to the University which provided them with a first-rate preclinical education and that without the support of the School of Medical Sciences they would probably have never fulfilled their dreams of a medical career. It was indeed a very memorable experience.
The excitement of the first event had to be maintained. The Board continued to look at ways the Alumni could continue to be part of the Association and to return on an annual basis to the conference and reunion. It was agreed that instead of inviting all Alumni on a yearly basis, it would start with classes that had graduated ten years prior and every five years thereafter. Representatives of each class were contacted to become part of the planning of annual reunions and to assist the Alumni office recruiting their classmates to be part of the celebration.
The “Spirit of the Class” Award was established by the Board to assist in building relationships with undergraduate classes. This award was to be given to an individual from each graduating class who showed exemplary participation in leadership roles in the activities of his or her class. It was agreed that each graduating class would nominate the individuals and the Executive of the Board of Directors of the College of Medicine Alumni Association would choose the recipient. Dr. Shirley Maltman (nee Bell), Class of 1985 was the first recipient.
When the Alumni Association was first formed, it was not actively involved in fund raising activities; an area that Dr. McDonald had hoped would be a prominent part of the organization. The major reason for the inactivity was the attitude that the University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association was responsible for fund raising. He said that in hindsight he wished that the Association had pursued this role more vigorously. He still feels today that if one of his colleagues had approached him to donate specifically to the College of Medicine, he would be much more inclined to do so. The personal contact reinforces the fact that donations would be put to good use and gives the donor a sense of pride in giving back to the institution that gave them their start. Indeed, at the first Reunion there was so much excitement by some of the Alumni to get something organized among their classmates to “give back to the College” that Dr. McDonald felt there would be no problem in obtaining financial support through this avenue.
At that time, it was also hoped that chapters of the Association could be formed in various cities throughout Canada and the United States. Prior to a visit to Vancouver by the Dean in April 1985, invitations were extended to Alumni in that area to discuss the possibility of starting a chapter. The evening was organized by Dr. Bob Thompson (Class of ‘66). The astonishingly large number that showed up confirmed the belief that the Association’s purpose was worthwhile. Over the next several years, attempts were made to start regional chapters but due to lack of financial support and interest, the idea eventually waned.
Following the inaugural all-alumni reunion in 1984, the Association flourished under the leadership and direction of Dr. Hal Baldwin, its first President and Mona Chappell, its first Executive Director. From 1986 to 1996, Dr. Baldwin (‘74) was succeeded in the presidency by Drs. Bill Chernenkoff (‘63) Anne Doig, (‘76) Rick Swanson (‘79) (deceased), Ken Stakiw (‘72) Charlie Simpson (‘71) Thirza Smith (‘73) Joel Yelland (‘80), Garry Rebalkin (‘68) Shirley Maltman (‘85) and Anita Chakravarti (‘82).
All of these alumni gave freely of their ideas, time and energy to nurture the Association. The Association continued in its efforts to maintain meaningful relationships with its alumni and in keeping with the constitution, constantly encouraged members to keep in touch with the college and to attend the annual Highlights in Medicine conferences and reunions. Regarding reunions, the Association’s Board determined that classes should reunite every five years with the exception of the most recently graduated class which would hold its first reunion ten years after graduation. Alumni who spent two years at the School of Medical Sciences prior to the establishment of the College of Medicine were also recognized and invited to all annual reunions. The students in the School of Medical Sciences took pre-clinical studies in Saskatchewan before enrolling for the clinical portion at other medical schools in Canada. To honor these special alumni, it was unanimously agreed that all matriculates would receive honorary life memberships in the Association. From the outset the educational focus of the reunions was the Highlights in Medicine conference, thereby combining continuing learning with social opportunities. Each conference was organized by the Scientific Planning Committee in conjunction with the Division of Continuing Medical Education of the College of Medicine. Each Scientific Planning Committee had representation, mostly local, from honoured classes that were scheduling reunions, with one representative designated as chair. All committee members and chosen speakers were volunteers, none received any remuneration. Their rewards were the quality and reception of their programs and the joy of contributing. Without their input and contributions the conferences would never have been able to take place and for this the Association sincerely thanks all who have so faithfully contributed over the years.
Honorary Alumni Lecturer: The Association established an honourary alumni lectureship to recognize individuals who had attained distinction in their professional careers. In any given year, the person selected would be honored at the annual conference, would deliver a lecture and serve as Honorary President during the year following his/her nomination. Any member of the School of Medical Sciences or any graduate of the College of Medicine was eligible to receive this honor. Nominations for lecturer were solicited annually by the alumni Association with the board making the final decision as to who would be worthy of this nomination. Honourary lecturers to date are: D. Mulder ‘62, R. Haslam ‘60, D. Stollar ‘59, C. Stiller ‘65, K. Crocker ‘46, E. Baergen ‘57, P. Dyck ‘53, J. Wedge ‘69, J. Alexander ‘65, R. Hasselback ‘51, C. Zylak ‘62, J. Griffith ‘58, I. Rebeyka ‘79, L. Fisher ‘60, L. Israels ‘64, B. McManus ’77, A. Doig ‘76, K. Gelmon ‘79, M. Gertler ’40, B. Gushulak ’81, K. McDonald ’62, R. Uitti ’88, E. DeCoteau ’64, S. Houston ’75, S. Nijssen-Jordan ’81, R. Dyck ’72 and J. Conly ‘78
Financing the Association: Fees from memberships in the Association continued to be the sole support for the day-to-day operation of the alumni office. The first annual fees were $25 and lifetime memberships $300. At present, membership fees are $75/year and $750 for a lifetime membership.
Newsletters: In 1985 the Association published its first Alumni Newsletter edited by Mona Chappell. The newsletter was distributed twice a year with the content ranging from stories of interest to the alumni to current information from the college. It was also a means for graduates to contribute information about their present whereabouts in relation to family and profession. The newsletter later joined forces with the college of Medicine’s newsletter Medscan to become the College of Medicine and Alumni Review initially edited by Ms. Chappell and later by Bryce Erickson. When Bryce left the college in the early 2000’s, the Review was revamped to focus more on the alumni with a separate newsletter containing information specific to the College. Prior to my leaving the college, one of my last contributions was to help to create the first issue of “Connective Issue”, with many favorable reports being received from all concerned. The alumni Association anticipated that its members would receive two issues a year.
1996 – 1999 Dr. E. DeCoteau (’64): Dr. DeCoteau took on the presidency of the Association, maintaining this position for three years. Mona Chappell had made the decision to resign and was replaced by myself. Dr. DeCoteau felt very strongly about the Association and believed it needed to do more in order to be a viable and successful organization. Costs for the conference continued to rise, attendance at the reunions was decreasing and the Association was losing money. The conference and reunion were the major events held each year and should have been the means for the Association to turn a profit and revitalize itself.
Dr. DeCoteau and the Board were aware that a change was needed, and after much discussion and debate, decided that the Association would assume full responsibility for organizing the Highlights in Medicine Conference. The Association, through its administrative office, could coordinate the program with the direction of the Scientific Planning Committee. As an initial step, the registration fee normally charged for the conference was reduced to encourage attendance. The result: the first year saw a marked increase in the attendance and the conference made a profit. During this time period the constitution of the Association was revised and printed, with copies sent to all members of the Association.
Funding of the Association continued to be a source of frustration and membership fees had to be raised to allow the office to continue to function. In spite of a constant effort to promote memberships, their number remained at one-third of all alumni. Rather than be discouraged, the Association felt that one-third represented sufficient interest to continue its efforts and to re-embrace the vision of its founders.
1999- 2005: The presidents following Dr. DeCoteau were Drs. Wayne Chappell (‘58), David Keegan (‘64), George Armitage (‘64) and Don Stefiuk (‘77), continued with the zeal of their predecessors, and the Association continued its efforts to maintain a high level of visibility for the organization.
Medical Student Bursary Fund: The perennial problem of raising funds remained high on the Association’s agenda. One consideration in raising funds by any college is that its activities should not be in conflict with those of the university. Another consideration is that graduates of the College of Medicine traditionally, have not been of the same mind set as those of engineering or even veterinary medicine when it comes to giving back. However, one thing that has always resonated with medical alumni is the opportunity to help undergraduate medical students with the cost of their education through bursaries or other assistance programs. With this in mind, the Association created the Medical Student Bursary Fund. The terms of reference for the fund were forwarded to the Board of Governors of the University of Saskatchewan and approved in 1998.
To make alumni members aware of the bursary fund, the Association held an art auction in 1999 in conjunction with the banquet held as part of the Highlights in Medicine Conference with proceeds going to the bursary fund. The sources of the art for auction were the graduates themselves or members of their families – talented artisans who, when approached, willingly donated their masterpieces which included paintings, photographs, ceramics, woodwork, jewelry or threadwork. Their donations represented another form of voluntary contributions for the benefit of others. In all, 66 pieces were collected and auctioned off with Dr. Dennis Lanigan (‘77) acting as auctioneer. Approximately 30 items were put up for silent auction. The night was a memorable occasion for all who attended the sold out banquet with the proceeds – a little over $16,000 – jumpstarting the bursary fund. Two further auctions were held, but not of the same magnitude. Sufficient funds were obtained to activate the bursary fund and allow the Association to award two bursaries a year to students in need. The fund has since grown to provide 10 bursaries and currently totals $250,000. A lot of time and effort were put into these events and much gratitude needs to be extended to all who so willingly contributed.
Dr. Patch Adams Fundraiser: In a similar vein, the Association was approached by Dr. Brian Scharfstein (‘76) the then Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA), about whether the Association would like to become involved in a joint fundraising venture. Dr. Scharfstein had been approached by the Workers’ Compensation Board to determine if the SMA would consider sponsoring an event that would feature Dr. Patch Adams, a colorful and controversial U.S. Physician who had been the subject of a motion picture starring Robin Williams.
The cost for the services for Dr. Adams was $5,000. (A little bit of trivia: Dr. Lyman Fisher, Class of ‘60 and one of our Honorary Alumni Lecturers, actually taught Patch Adams at Virginia State University.) Timing of the event was a concern to the Association because it was immediately followed the Highlights in Medicine conference. The Association felt that it could be done and an agreement was reached with the SMA to become involved with the proceeds to be split between the Medical Student Bursary fund and also a fund established by the SMA to assist practicing physicians when in need. In cooperation between our office and the SMA, the event was planned and organized and members of the SMA and our alumni were invited to attend. The event was sold out and a profit of approximately $14,000.
Organizing the event again required much volunteer effort plus collaboration between both groups. The Highlights in Medicine conferences continued to grow with presenters being of a very high caliber and thereby demonstrating the excellence of their undergraduate education with the College of Medicine.
50th Anniversary Celebration: One of the biggest events involving the alumni Association was the 50th anniversary of the College of Medicine. The idea originated, as an opportunity to arouse interest among the alumni and to improve the image of the college in the community. Members of the board met with Acting Dean Dr. Charles Baker. He recognized the initiative of the Association and gave his full support for the anniversary event. Drs. Donald Stefiuk (‘77) and Lou Horlick agreed to act as co-chairs of an organizing committee. The 50th anniversary program replaced the regular Highlights in Medicine Conference and Reunion programs and all alumni were invited to attend. An executive committee, scientific planning committee and specific-subcommittees were established. The objective of the celebration was to make the people of Saskatchewan aware of the important role that the College of Medicine had played and continues to play in the Saskatchewan Health Care system. During its 50 years of existence the college had trained and graduated over 2000 physicians and a host of other health care workers.
The scientific program was extended to one week – and included a portion of the program being held in La Ronge (cosponsored by the Northern Medical Services). The remainder of the program was held in Saskatoon. The Scientific Planning Committee chaired by Dr. George Armitage (‘64) produced perhaps the largest and most sophisticated scientific program ever presented at any of the previous annual conferences.
As part of the Highlights in Medicine Conference, Dr. William Albritton, as new Dean to the College, hosted the Dean’s Reception, to which many dignitaries were invited to celebrate with the college. Other social events included, class functions, a banquet, and a tour of the Canadian Light Source. A very moving ceremony at the Health Sciences Building was held. A stained glass window, designed and executed by Dr. G. Burkholder, and a donor wall were unveiled by Dean Albritton and Dr. D. Keegan (‘64), to honor all graduates of the College of Medicine. I was very proud to bring this successful project forward. A garden party was held for the delegates at the residence of President Peter MacKinnon. A wonderful concert by a trio playing the Amati instruments was enjoyed by all in attendance.
As a thank you to the province of Saskatoon, the committee also organized a ten lecture series for the public at the Saskatoon Public Library in the year leading up to the Highlights in Medicine conference,. The objectives of the lectures were to make people aware of the contributions the College of Medicine has made to medical research, the education of health care personnel and the provision of special clinical services during the past 50 years. One of the other objectives was to raise the profile of the college and to celebrate its achievements. In addition, to inform the public at large of the history of the college, Dr. Jim Spooner spearheaded the publication of the contents of the ten lectures in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.
Dr. Lou Horlick coordinated a student essay contest directed at high school students in grades 9 to 12. It was hoped that this would encourage high school students to think about health sciences and medicine as career choices and make them aware of the opportunities in the health care field. Entries were received from all over the province. The winners of the contest were invited to a special luncheon honouring the present and former deans of the college and the Honourable Linda Haverstock, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. Hospital shows were also coordinated with the three teaching hospitals in Saskatoon. The shows were set up to emphasize the essential role of the teaching hospitals as partners with the College of Medicine in the teaching and training of physicians and other health science personnel and to create public awareness of the special areas of excellence in each of the teaching hospitals.
To showcase the importance of teaching in Regina, a special one day event was held at the Regina General Hospital where members of the teaching staff were honoured. Emphasis was placed on the educational role of the departments in the work of the College of Medicine.
A medical education symposium was planned, offering the opportunity for current curriculum planners of the college to benefit from 50 years of past planning experience and to involve graduates in the process. Med Shows were a regular feature of the early life of the College and the 50th Anniversary Committee hosted a Med Show that was presented by departments of the college using their own staff. The student body was invited to participate by manning some of the displays and we are very thankful to the approximately 64 students who volunteered their time to do this. It was felt by the organizing committee that the show met the criteria that were established, which was to provide the opportunity for members of the public to view at first hand, the work of the different departments within the college and for the public to interact with students and staff.
In addition to all of the above events, the Association started a fundraising campaign targeted at its members, keeping in mind the existence of the bursary fund, and allowing members to donate to an area of their choice. On the whole, most of those contributing opted to give to the bursary fund. A little over $100,000 was raised from this early attempt at approaching our alumni. Alumni that contributed $5,000 or more were honoured by having their names added to the College of Medicine Donor Wall.
In 2004 changes affecting the alumni Association began to happen within the college. The university started placing development officers within various colleges, a move that was felt would benefit the College of Medicine. In addition, the university was establishing alumni officer positions, an initiative that was regarded as an opportunity for the alumni Association to share an administrative position with the college similar to the Executive Director position.
It is with much gratitude that the alumni members have to thank their fellow members who have taken time out from their busy schedules to give of their time and energy to ensure the College of Medicine Alumni Association continues to grow and be of service to the college, its students, and above all its alumni. The board of the Association continues to do what it feels is best for its members and look at many ways for them to appreciate the richness of their education and their alma mater.