McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Founding dean remembered for his innovative approach to medical education

Published: February 20, 2015
Dr. John Evans
Dr. John Evans

A memorial service was held Feb. 19 for the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine's founding dean. Dr. John Evans died on Feb. 13 after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease.

"Dr. John Evans' inquisitive brilliance sparked a revolution in medical education. His founding of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, with the 'McMaster Approach' for developing humanist physicians willing to work as part of interdisciplinary healthcare teams, has been copied around the world," said Dr. John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University.

"John went on to create many innovations, but his change of medical education is one that will improve the lives of millions of people for many generations."

A Rhodes Scholar who received his medical training in cardiology at the University of Toronto, Evans was 35 years old in 1965 when then McMaster University President Harry Thode chose him to found the University's medical school.

He drew together a team that included Hamilton physician Dr. William Walsh as well as three colleagues from the University of Toronto: Dr. Fraser Mustard, Dr. William Spaulding and Dr. James Anderson. Between them they developed a radically different medical school with a focus on small group, problem-based learning and early exposure to patients. Initial concepts included recognition of the importance of primary care, integration between the school and its community and an emphasis on a full range of research.  Students did not require a science background for admission and the program was three years rather than the traditional four.

Dr. John Evans
Ray Walker, then executive director of the university hospital (left) and John Evans, then vice-president, health sciences and dean of medicine, view a model of the Health Sciences Centre in 1969.
— Photo by Tom Bochsler Photography

The success of the program, dubbed the 'McMaster Approach', is illustrated in its use in hundreds of medical and other health professional schools worldwide.

Evans left McMaster to become president of the University of Toronto in 1972. His career spanned many innovations and disciplines.  He was the first director of the World Bank's Population, Health and Nutrition Division; CEO of Allelix, Canada's first biotechnology company; chair of the media company TorStar; first chair of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation; chair of the Rockefeller Foundation and the founding chair of MaRS, the research discovery enterprise in Toronto.

He returned to McMaster on a regular basis to assist with events ranging from speaking to high school students about careers in science to chairing prestigious medical panel discussions and talking with medical students. The John R. Evans Chair in Health Sciences Educational Research and Instructional Development at McMaster was endowed by manufacturer Alcan Inc. in honour of Evans' time as its chair.

He leaves his wife Gay and his children Derek, Mark, Michael, Gill, Tim and Willa, their spouses and 23 grandchildren. The service will be held at Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto at 2 p.m. Thursday.

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