Opening doors for future health-care professionals

UAlberta's MD class of 1963 and orthodontics pioneer Ronald Mullen with his wife Betty receive 2017 National Philanthropy Awards.

Laura Vega - 15 November 2017

Sometimes it takes a former medical or dental student to understand how far a donation can go to support health-care professionals of the future, so they can pursue their dreams and help many others in the process.

Two contributions by University of Alberta alumni from the medical and dental schools have provided opportunities for the academic development of future health-science professionals and have been honoured with National Philanthropy Awards.

MD Class of '63: A new opportunity to support the next generation of medicine

In 2013, the U of A's Alumni Weekend and the centenary of the university's medical school served as the perfect festive scenario for the MD class of '63 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation. The milestone came with a legacy that would connect them to the future generations of Canadian physicians.

With the reunion quickly approaching, respirologist and researcher Eliot Phillipson came up with the idea of creating a bursary on behalf of the class of '63 and proposed it to former classmates Roger Cumming, Eric Schloss and Pat Heslip. They were all inspired by the idea and decided to bring it to the rest of the class. Phillipson wrote a comprehensive letter to all classmates, encouraging them to participate as a way to express their appreciation for their own opportunities as students and to leave a legacy for future classes of medical students, helping them access the same opportunities.

"With the benefit of 50 years of hindsight, and therefore a broader perspective, we all should've come to appreciate-perhaps more than we did at the time-the tremendous opportunity that we had all been provided by graduating in medicine from the University of Alberta," said Phillipson, who was bestowed with a prestigious Honorary Doctor of Science degree at the U of A in 2009.

His proposal received a great deal of support among their peers and Phillipson, Cumming, Schloss and Heslip began the process to create the Medicine Class of 1963 Bursary, bolstered by the contributions of all their classmates. The bursary is awarded to U of A undergraduate medical students with good academic standing and increases the available funds to support students when they need it.

"One physician can make a big difference on the lives of many people," said Phillipson. "They may discover or develop treatments that could affect thousands, if not millions of people around the world, and that's why opportunities like the bursary are important."

Danielle Thiel, second-year medical student and recipient of the Medicine Class of 1963 Bursary in 2016, recognizes the importance of having access to financial support when a busy school schedule makes it difficult to hold down a part-time job.

"Tuition and living costs can add up, so receiving the bursary and having these options available to us as med students helps take the financial burden off and you have to rely less on student loans. Just being able to do things that maybe otherwise I wouldn't be able to do, like going to conferences and having a balanced life with other activities," said Thiel.

Thiel combines her success in the medical program with competitive running and is a part of the U of A varsity cross-country team. She is looking forward to beginning her clinical practice and choose her specialty soon.

A longtime legacy of support to dentistry graduate students

The name of Ronald Mullen is well known and admired at the U of A and throughout the province of Alberta. Mullen, '53 DDS, went on to continue his studies outside of Edmonton after graduating from the U of A. He obtained his master of orthodontics degree from Northwestern University in 1957. Realizing the need for a specialized program in Alberta, he became one of three Edmonton dentists (along with Rowland Bus Haryett and Z. Michael Pawliuk) who helped establish the orthodontics graduate program at the U of A, the first master's program in the School of Dentistry.

Mullen's pioneering spirit and genuine passion to contribute to the future oral care professionals has extended for more than four decades, in his roles as a clinical instructor, full professor and involved contributor to UAlberta's dentistry programs. He and his wife Betty-a U of A graduate in home economics-have had a longtime commitment to the development of learners.

Acknowledging the importance of providing valuable resources to students and building on the legacy of the orthodontics program, the Mullens started the Dr. Ronald and Betty Mullen Library Collection Fund in 2006, aiming to support graduate students in orthodontics with specialized library resources to advance their careers and research abilities.

The Mullens continue their involvement with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, hoping to help U of A orthodontics students maintain the highest standards of expertise.

November 15 is National Philanthropy Day, an annual celebration held to honour those who contribute their time, talents, financial support and other resources to Edmonton's philanthropic organizations. The National Philanthropy Day Awards event, hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Edmonton and Area Chapter, recognizes volunteers and donors who provide outstanding service to the community through their spirit of giving.

The 2017 National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon took place on November 9 at Shaw Conference Centre.