McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

324 graduate from McMaster with health science degrees

Ugandan AIDs crusader will receive honorary degree

Published: May 18, 2007
Dr. Nelson Sewankambo
Dr. Nelson Sewankambo, Aids Crusader and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Makerere University in Uganda, receives honorary degree from McMaster.

Shawn Benninger is one of four members of Canada’s armed forces becoming doctors at today’s convocation of McMaster University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, as part of the military’s initiative to resolve its physician shortage.

The graduates of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine read the Hippocratic Oath at a special ceremony at the Hamilton Convention Centre on this morning. The medical students will graduate at the convocation this afternoon at Hamilton Place, along with midwives, Bachelor of Health Sciences and a variety of master’s and doctoral graduates. There are 342 graduates in the health sciences convocation.

Benninger, 25, imagines that a decade from now he could be posted as a physician in a Canadian forces base specializing in sports medicine, deployed overseas – perhaps working in a field hospital in a war-torn country - or providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance (DART).

There is no question he is needed. As in the rest of Canada, Canada’s armed forces are facing a doctor shortage.

Benninger worked as a general duty nurse at a naval hospital in Halifax after receiving a nursing degree. It was there that he learned the armed forces were attempting to counteract its doctor shortage by advertising full scholarships to medical school applicants. 

The Canadian Forces Medical Officer Training Plan offers Canadian medical students and family physician residents who enrol in the armed forces a salary and full subsidization of tuition and textbooks.  In return, the new physician must serve for four years in the Canadian forces after completing family medicine residency training.

Benninger is heading to Victoria for his family medicine residency training. During his years at McMaster, he was captain of the university’s cross-country running and track and field teams.

"It was a very wise career decision to work for the armed forces because they subsidized my education and are providing me with a stable job when I’m finished," he said. "There is also a pride that comes with the fact that you are doing something which is making a difference."

In spite of the demands of medical school, Benninger said the McMaster medical school’s self-directed approach to training doctors allowed him to live a balanced life because he wasn’t "spoon-fed" with lectures. "Not only did it let me build on my knowledge from nursing, but it allowed me to have a life outside of medical school," he said.

Another of today’s graduates, Randi Ai, finished his coursework for McMaster's prestigious Bachelor of Health Sciences (B.H.Sc.) program last year, but delayed his graduation so that he could graduate with his friends. He spent the last year at Osgoode Hall in law studies.

Ai, 22, is also receiving a President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership, one of two in the Faculty of Health Sciences this year. 

As a B.H.Sc. student, he co-authored a book on the teaching method called ‘Inquiry’ used for the program. The book has been accepted for publication.

In preparation for his plan for a career as a politician, he has worked as a volunteer for his local Toronto MP and served as policy director of the Don Valley East Young Liberals. He is a national Millennium Scholarship winner and helped organize many of their conferences.  

Dr. Nelson Sewankambo, a global leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree (LLD) at the convocation.

Sewankambo, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, received his Master of Science degree in clinical epidemiology at McMaster University in 1989.

He has been a doctor for more than 40 years, a world leader in the battle against AIDS in Africa for more than 20 years, and is active in numerous international research projects and other initiatives involving infectious disease, improving training for health care providers in Africa, and enhancing the quality of health care delivery in Africa.

He was one of the first scientists to publish data on AIDS in Africa, and was instrumental in starting one of the country’s first AIDS clinics at Mulago Hospital in Uganda.

He was a co-founder of the Academic Alliance for AIDS Care and Prevention in Africa, a unique partnership of North American and European academic physician-researchers in the field of infectious disease, their counterparts at Makerere University, and others who are seeking an innovative solution to overcome the burden of infectious disease in Africa.
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