Schulich medical resident Emad Henein is one of hundreds of Western students who has participated in the Southwestern Ontario Medical Education Network which has been recognized for encouraging tomorrow's physicians to consider careers in rural medicine.
Western, London and Southwestern Ontario:
Partners for growth and prosperity
In a recent London Free Press column, Ivey Business School Dean, Carol Stephenson, highlighted five ways to stimulate economic growth in a knowledge-based, global economy. Among her themes, Dean Stephenson emphasized the need for communities and organizations to pursue bold new partnerships that reach beyond their local or institutional borders.
Carol makes an important point that reinforces my own belief that Western has a leadership role to play as a catalyst for economic development in London and the Southwestern Ontario region.
A history of partnerships
Western’s ties to London date back to 1878 when the University was founded, and that partnership has continued to strengthen ever since. On several occasions the City of London has come to the financial aid of the University, most recently with a $10-million pledge during Campaign Western that leveraged additional government funding through the provincial SuperBuild program. Indeed, the very structure that symbolizes Western in our logo – the Middlesex Memorial Tower at University College – was made possible by a gift from the County to honor the men and women who gave their lives during the First World War.
In return for this ongoing investment, London has benefited from Western’s impact as the city’s second largest employer, generating $1.5 billion annually for the local economy, in addition to the countless contributions faculty, staff and students make to the social and cultural fabric of our local community.
Recognizing student leadership
An essential component of our mission to deliver Canada’s best student experience is the leadership opportunities we provide and encourage our students to pursue outside the classroom, particularly in the community.
For example, over the last five years our Residence staff have organized an “Excellence in Leadership Awards” program that recognizes students for paid and unpaid contributions made to their residence, the campus community, or the London community. Last year alone, 320 students participated in this program by tracking the hours they contributed to a variety of community groups. Of these participants, 134 students received bronze, silver or gold awards for logging a minimum of 75, 100 or 125 “leadership/volunteer” hours, respectively.
Not including the hours contributed by those who did not reach the bronze award level, Western students contributed a total of 15,778 community service hours between September 2005 and March 2006. And the range of organizations they supported is as diverse as the students themselves: from Canadian Blood Services and the London Boys & Girls Club, to Habitat for Humanity and Community Living London.
Improving regional health care
The impact of Western’s community outreach, however, stretches well beyond London’s municipal boundaries, with broader social and economic benefits for the region as a whole. For example, addressing the regional family doctor shortage is a priority for Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
Through the Southwestern Ontario Medical Education Network (SWOMEN), Schulich medical students train in more than 30 rural and regional communities, from Windsor to Wiarton, learning about the needs and opportunities within these communities. The success of the network relies on the involvement of more than 300 practicing physicians (or “preceptors”) who play an essential role in the medical students’ education.
In fact, the success of this program was recently recognized through the first annual Rural Educators Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. This new award credits SWOMEN with making the largest percentage increase in Canada for students who established rural practices after completing their postgraduate training. As Dean Carol Herbert said, “SWOMEN has shown tremendous leadership in changing the culture within our medical school, to encourage young physicians to see rural practice as a destination of choice.”
Looking ahead, Western will expand medical student enrolment by 14 positions over the next two years with the hope of training more physicians who will choose to stay and practice within the region. As part of this expansion, the Schulich School is developing its existing SWOMEN clinical campus in Windsor to offer a four-year MD program for 24 students with a planned start date of 2008.
SWOMEN’s impact demonstrates the power of regionally collaborative relationships and how they enhance the teaching, learning and quality of clinical practice throughout Southwestern Ontario.
Accelerating business and technological innovation
Another regional success story is Western’s Research & Development Park. With its first campus established here in London 15 years ago, a new campus was launched in February 2005 in Sarnia-Lambton, thanks to a partnership between Western, the County of Lambton and the City of Sarnia.
The Park’s mandate is to help businesses identify and accelerate product and service innovations so they can be brought to market quickly while at the same time diversifying the regional economy. The new campus is located on 80 acres just outside Sarnia, and during its first year of operation spawned more than 60 new industry projects.
With the addition of its new campus, Western’s Research Park is now home to 50 organizations and more than 2,000 employees, all of whom work in partnership with the University to turn ideas and knowledge into marketable innovations.
Promoting regional economic cooperation
With a few notable exceptions, economic growth in Southwestern Ontario has tended to occur on a community-by-community basis. The time has come to consider what greater prosperity is possible when stronger relationships across the region are developed.
That has been the impetus for the Southwest Economic Assembly scheduled for May 23-24 in Stratford. Western’s Vice-President (Research & International Relations), Ted Hewitt, has been instrumental in organizing the Assembly, and I am honored to co-chair this special event with Tom Jenkins, who is Executive Chairman of Open Text, a leading provider of Enterprise Content Management software based in Waterloo. Mr. Jenkins and I are excited by the Assembly’s goal to bring together leaders from various sectors to build strategies that will fuel prosperity across the region.
The Assembly’s agenda will focus on four sectors essential to prosperity in the Southwest region. Each sector is chaired by a prominent leader in the field, who together represent the Assembly’s advisory committee. They are:
Trade and Manufacturing – Chaired by Dennis DesRosiers, President, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants
Knowledge-based Industry (Health, Education and Research & Development) – Chaired by David Johnston, President, The University of Waterloo
Agriculture and Agrifood – Chaired by Dave Gardner, Director Regional Manufacturing, U.S. and Canada, CASCO (Corn Products International)
Tourism and Culture – Chaired by Jamie Grant, General Manager, The Centre in the Square
I am pleased to represent Western in facilitating this forum, which I hope will draw wide-ranging participation from all sectors of the economy.
Growing Western’s community profile
In light of these and many other community outreach activities, it is not surprising that Western fared very well in a recent survey asking Londoners about their impressions of the University. Conducted in February by The Strategic Counsel, the survey polled 500 Londoners who were randomly selected from a sample excluding current students, faculty and staff.
The survey suggests that London is largely defined by its education and healthcare institutions, and that Western is well known and highly regarded within the community. Eighty-five per cent of respondents reported a positive impression of Western, with 48 per cent saying their impression was “very positive.” Negative impressions were limited to 4 per cent of respondents.
Not only do Londoners hold very positive impressions of Western, they also strongly believe they benefit from having the University located in their community. Forty-eight per cent of Londoners think the city receives a “very great” benefit from Western, and an examination of the reasons reveals that the benefits are often seen to be economic. Just over half of those who see Western as a benefit to London say it is because the University is “good for the economy.”
Building partnerships leads to prosperity
As Carol Stephenson points out in her Free Press article, communities must be bold, and they must not be afraid of striking up new partnerships beyond the confines of their own region. Collectively, our campus community must continue to build on existing relationships while pursuing new partnerships in Southwestern Ontario and beyond.
Our economic growth and future prosperity depend on it.