McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Bill Walsh was a 'doctor's doctor' and co-founder of McMaster medical school

Published: January 10, 2017
Bill Walsh

Dr. William Walsh is joined by family who work at McMaster. From left: Daughter Allyn Walsh, granddaughter-in-law Kim Legault; William Walsh; son-in-law Wes Oczkowski and grandson Simon Oczkowski.

Dr. William Walsh, one of the five "founding fathers" of the McMaster University Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, died on Jan. 7 at age 92.

Walsh was the second faculty member hired for the new medical school when the Hamilton physician was appointed assistant dean by the founding dean Dr. John Evans in August 1965. Along with three of Evans' colleagues from the University of Toronto -- Dr. Fraser Mustard, Dr. William Spaulding and Dr. James Anderson -- the five envisioned a then-radical approach to training physicians.

Standard at the time was a four-year program that saturated student doctors with lectures and exams long before they began interacting with patients.  Instead, a three-year program took shape at McMaster, with a focus on small-group, problem-based learning and early exposure to patients. Students did not require a science background for admission, nor did they complete formal exams.

The success of the program, dubbed the "McMaster Approach," has been proved by its adoption in hundreds of medical and other health professional schools worldwide.

"Dr. Bill Walsh's immense impact on the foundation of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine cannot be overestimated," said Paul O'Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

"As a leader of Hamilton's medical community at the time, he ensured that his many medical colleagues, not only accepted, but also embraced the fledgling medical school. As the assistant dean, he was an important member of the group of five 'founding fathers' who created the pioneering medical education system for which McMaster is internationally renowned.

"He was a superb clinician and a teacher who mentored many of the individuals who have subsequently had leadership roles in the medical school.  He will be dearly missed."

Walsh also represented McMaster at the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, and later was that organization's president.  He was the agent of change who convinced the college to accept the untested medical education approach, wrote Spaulding in his book Revitalizing Medical Education: McMaster   Medical School, The Early Years, 1965-1974.

"Dr. Bill Walsh was a master clinician, educator and a visionary about both medical education and clinical care," said Dr. Akbar Panju, acting chair of the Department of Medicine. "He trained many physicians and left a legacy that will be felt for many years to come. Not only that, Bill was loved by everyone, both colleagues and patients. He was a wonderful man."

 "Dr. Walsh was a fabulous doctor; many Hamilton physicians went to him for their own care," said Dr. John Kelton, professor of medicine and director of the Michael G. DeGroote Initiative for Innovation in Healthcare.

"Most important for the founding of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine in the '60s, Bill was the leader of the city's medical community who soothed the natural tension that came up between established Hamilton physicians who were wary and the academic physicians being hired in for the new school."

Dr. Peter Dent, professor emeritus of pediatrics, remembered Walsh as a "doctor's doctor".

"He was a role model, the kind of doctor that everyone would like to have, as he had a confidence that you could trust," Dent said.

"Bill was smart, practical and he was very congenial, a friend to a lot of people. He was someone who was accorded the unqualified admiration and respect of everyone who knew him."

Walsh had two endowed chairs named for him, both funded by philanthropist and friend Michael G. DeGroote.

Dr. Judah Denburg, professor of medicine and holder of the William J. Walsh Chair in Medicine, described Walsh as an "exemplary physician, committed to academic medicine and teaching excellence, and compassionate with his patients.

"I was fortunate to learn directly from him when I first came to McMaster, and I have tried to follow his lead in being dedicated to McMaster's unique and visionary approach to the art and science of medicine."

Walsh inspired young doctors to teach, including Dr. Ameen Patel, a professor of medicine who holds the William Walsh Chair in Medical Education at McMaster.

"He made me feel, as a young physician training under him, that my personal and professional goals were his first priority. He instilled in me his core belief that the primary goal of a physician is to provide superb patient care, but also to contribute to national and international scholarship to advance general internal medicine."

Walsh was the assistant dean, health sciences education, from 1965 to 1971. He was then associate dean, education, a role he held until 1979. He retired as a professor emeritus in 1989.

He has a legacy of family as faculty members at the medical school. His daughter, Dr. Allyn Walsh, is a professor of family medicine, and her husband Dr. Wes Oczkowski is a professor of neurology. Their son Simon Oczkowski is an assistant professor of critical care, and Simon's wife Dr. Kim Legault is an assistant professor of rheumatology. Walsh also leaves his sons James and Robert, and grandchildren Colin, Aidan, Hannah and Naomi.

Visitation is from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan 13 at Marlatt Funeral Home, Swackhamer Chapel, 195 King Street West, Dundas.  A funeral service is planned for Saturday, Jan. 14, at 2:30 p.m. in the funeral home chapel. 

Walsh's family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, or to the Hamilton YMCA.


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