McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Founding father now a granddad to medical graduate

Published: May 22, 2009
Hope Kamin and Jane Robinson
Simon Oczkowski (left) and his grandfather, Dr. Bill Walsh, a founder of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine

In a rare moment in the history of McMaster University’s medical school, one of its founding fathers will hood his grandson when he graduates as a doctor during convocation ceremonies this Friday (May 22) at Hamilton Place.

In that moment, Simon Oczkowski, 26, will become the third generation in his family to become a physician.

His grandfather, Dr. Bill Walsh, 85, holds an honourary doctorate from McMaster for his leadership as a founder of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. He was instrumental in developing its innovative problem-based learning (PBL) approach to medical education. A much-respected pioneer in internal medicine in Hamilton, his reputation as a leader in the city’s medical community helped the school gain acceptance among area health professionals.

Oczkowski’s mother, Dr. Allyn Walsh, who did her postgraduate training at McMaster, is a practicing family physician with a long standing interest in medical education at all levels: undergraduate, postgraduate and for faculty members.

His father, Dr. Wes Oczkowski, a 1981 graduate and 1983 post graduate of the medical school, is a neurologist at Hamilton General Hospital and medical director of the regional stroke program. Both parents are faculty members of the medical school.

Despite their family’s long history as physicians, neither parent nor his grandfather pushed Oczkowski into medicine.

Initially, he enrolled in arts and sciences, later switching to medicine because he preferred a people-focused career. Music has also played a large part in his life. He has been a member of the Hamilton All-Star Jazz Band and toured Europe with the group. He also belonged to a hip-hop group called Warsawpack, an independent band which recorded several albums.

When he decided to follow his parents, he was accepted by seven medical schools – but chose McMaster because of its program.

With his grandfather living next door, Oczkowski has had many chances over the years to just sit and chat about the founding of McMaster and its problem-based curriculum. Now, he’s run teaching sessions for first year students and given several presentations on PBL and its origins at McMaster.

Oczkowski plans to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and specialize in internal medicine.

"Medicine is a great career for someone who chooses it," said his mother. "It’s exciting to see him first decide to apply to medical school and pick a career. I think he knows what he’s getting into."

To his grandfather, he’s carrying on the family tradition. "The hooding ceremony gives a sense of continuity," Dr. Bill Walsh said.

During Friday’s convocation, 145 graduates will receive their medical degrees. They are among 378 graduates who will be receiving degrees in philosophy, science, occupational therapy and health sciences as well as diplomas in health services and policy research, clinical behavioural sciences, occupational health and safety and child life studies.

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