Silcox tells grads to 'push' ahead


By Heather Travis
Thursday, June 17, 2010
A university degree represents more than a piece of paper, but the degree inscribed on it should not limit the scope of your dreams.
This was the advice of Dr. Jim Silcox, who was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.) in recognition of his contributions as a physician, his nearly three decades of clinical practice in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and his involvement in the creation of the Southwestern Ontario Medical Education Network (SWOMEN).
Silcox spoke to about 700 graduates from the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, the Faculty of Science/Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry – BMSc Honors Programs, and the Faculty of Science – BSc and BA Honors Programs at the June 17 afternoon session of Western's 295th Convocation.
Dr. Jim Silcox
It takes hard work and determination to obtain a degree, but Silcox reminds graduates it does not reflect the breadth of knowledge acquired both inside and outside the university classroom.
“It will be able to open unimagined doors and opportunities for you for the rest of your life,” he says. “You are today being given not just a simple, static piece of paper suitable for print, but a magical, amazing ticket to ride.
“Graduates, climb on board. Don’t let the degree on your wall limit your destination.”
Each degree has a special worth to the person holding it, and it is an accomplishment to be celebrated and coveted, he says. As Silcox has demonstrated in his own life, the learning has just begun for graduates.
He comically performed a mini-lecture on delivering a baby to demonstrate how every person’s method of learning is different.
He rattled off medical jargon describing how to perform the delivery and comically asked the audience to yell “push” in unison. Although this may not be information most people will use or remember, the diversity of reactions to his lecture demonstrates how everyone has a personal learning experience.
It is these unique learning experiences that give value to the degree.
“As you go forward from this institution, do not let your parchment fence you in. Do not let it define and limit you,” says Silcox.
During his distinguished professional and academic career, Silcox has been recognized frequently for his teaching, receiving Western’s highest teaching honour (the Edward G. Pleva Award) in 1983. He received the Class of 1962 Award for Undergraduate Teaching nine times, as well as the Ontario Council of University Faculty Association Teaching Award in 2000, the Dean’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada Duncan Graham Award for Lifetime Commitment to Teaching in 2006, and the prestigious 3M Fellowship in 2008.
Silcox served as a member of the decanal team at Schulich for more than 20 years, taking on the roles of Assistant Dean Undergraduate, Associate Dean Admissions and Student Affairs, and Vice Dean Education. During the 1980s and 1990s, he advocated for shifting traditional didactic medical teaching to small-group learning and guided the curriculum to foster the multifaceted roles a doctor must learn in addition to becoming a medical expert. These are the standards by which all medical schools are now measured.
His influence as an educator has also been felt across Canada through his service on provincial and national committees with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada.
Recently his work in medical education has expanded to Rwanda, where he has served as a core member of the Task Force on Partnership in Curriculum Development for the medical school at the National University of Rwanda.
As an innovator, Silcox began the standardized patient program at Schulich, instituted faculty training and policies for equity and professionalism, and was instrumental in the expansion of medical education across the region through SWOMEN, particularly through his leadership in the establishment of the SWOMEN-Windsor Program which is now a full, four-year Schulich undergraduate doctor of medicine program in Windsor.
A lifelong learner, he completed his Masters in Education in 1990, his Bachelor of Arts in English in 2006, and Master of Arts in English in 2007.
In her citation, Schulich Dean Carol Herbert says Silcox’s knowledge, experience and ability – coupled with his innate compassion – truly makes him one of Western’s top educators and role models to emulate.
“Among academic physicians, it is not rare to find a clinical expert, mentor, teacher, administrator, innovator, leader of lifelong learning,” says Herbert. “But it is extremely rare to find a single individual who embodies all of these roles of the physician so completely as James Silcox. At the core he is a humble, humane, compassionate man; a servant-leader throughout his career.”
As part of the ceremony, the status of Professor Emeritus was conferred upon Vincent Morris (Department of Microbiology and Immunology) and Peter Norton (Chemistry).
Dr. Andrew Krahn (Medicine) was awarded The Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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