Dr. Mark Awuku: A lifetime of learning
By Jennifer Párraga, BA’93, Western University
For more than 40 years, Dr. Mark Awuku has been learning to improve and enhance the patient care he provides and to teach and inspire medical learners. Now, he’s putting that experience to work as the chair of the Royal College’s Continuing Professional Development Accreditation Committee.
“Learning never stops,” says Mark Awuku, MBChB, FRCPC, professor emeritus and adjunct clinical professor, Pediatrics, at Western University. “As physicians, things are changing daily and we need to be committed to lifelong learning to ensure our patients always receive the best care.”
A teacher, examiner, mentor, former medical director, assistant- and associate dean, Dr. Awuku has spent more than 40 years learning to improve and enhance the patient care he provides and to teach and inspire medical learners.
With such an expansive career, it is fitting that Dr. Awuku is now the chair of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Accreditation Committee for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College).
The committee’s role is to develop national standards and processes relevant to accreditation and reaccreditation of CPD providers, as well as guidelines for continued professional medical learning. This covers a number of areas such as developing innovative approaches to learning, and assessing the effectiveness and delivery of teaching. It also includes managing interactions with industry.
In addition to engaging with CPD through accredited conferences, seminars and courses, Dr. Awuku says that his own personal learning has been greatly enriched through teaching.
“As you teach and interact with students, you advance your own knowledge,” he explains.
Dr. Awuku has long nurtured his skills and passion for teaching
The beloved faculty member began teaching in 1978. A newly minted physician in Ghana, Dr. Awuku was beginning his residency training and was charged with teaching junior medical learners. After catching the eye and approval of his professor, his teaching opportunities broadened and so did his skills.
A move to Canada and further training at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto led to more teaching, a year serving as chief resident and recognition for his teaching prowess. Fast forward 20 years, Dr. Awuku was not just a seasoned teacher, he was a much in-demand pediatrician and a professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. He would soon move into curriculum development, program oversight and into decanal roles with the creation of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry – Windsor Campus.
For the past eight years, Dr. Awuku has also been returning to Ghana as a volunteer to teach in-service programs for Ghanaian physicians. He is joined by internationally-based medical colleagues from a variety of medical specialties, all of whom are dedicated to lifelong learning. Additionally, he has assisted with medical school curriculum design and examination preparation.
The award-winning teacher says that a key to successful teaching and student learning is creating the right learning environment from the very beginning.
“How you engage the students and how comfortable you make them feel initially is very important,” he says. “I empower them to ask any question they want and I try to challenge them, while using errors as teaching moments. Once you create a good environment, there is no limit to learning.”
“Sometimes, they will ask me questions and I don’t have the answer, and so I assign them the work to research the answer. Then we all learn,” he says with a chuckle.
Seeking to enrich lifelong learning
Watching students learn and succeed brings Dr. Awuku great satisfaction.
“Whether I’m seeing a student answer a challenging question in a lecture or on the ward, or I’m watching them years later giving expert advice on the news, I feel great pride,” he says.
What he gains from teaching goes much further. He’s grateful to the hundreds of students who he says have taught him patience and, through interactions, remind him every day how thankful he is to be part of peoples’ lives — whether it’s providing care, teaching or mentorship.
Dr. Awuku is channelling all his experiences as a teacher and learner into his role as chair of the Royal College CPD Accreditation Committee with an aim to create new and innovative opportunities for learning.
In the end, he says, everything the committee does is about creating a positive patient experience by enriching lifelong learning for physicians and surgeons.