The former Dean of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), Prof Jimmy Volmink, has received many honours during a long and illustrious career. Canada’s McMaster University added to this list recently when it awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Science.
The latest accolade was largely in recognition of his pioneering role in the field of evidence-based medicine (EBM), and the university described him in its citation as an internationally recognised leader in this area.
“He was … the founding director of Cochrane SA at the invitation of the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and he guided Cochrane SA to becoming a leader in the promotion and proliferation of EBM in order to make more healthcare decisions based on reliable research rather than tradition or opinion,” said McMaster University President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Farrar, in the citation.
“Throughout his career, he has combined clinical work with research and innovation that has produced more than 200 co-authored publications on topics including interventions for tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular disease; promoting evidence-based decision making; addressing health and social inequities; and building research capacity on the African continent.”
With specific reference to Volmink’s ground-breaking work on tuberculosis, the citation stated: “His systematic review of the Directly Observed Therapy Short Course treatment of TB … generated international debate and led to fundamental changes in how we treat that disease today.”
The citation also acknowledged Volmink’s role in establishing health research centres across South Africa. In addition, it noted, he made various contributions further afield, including serving on committees and advisory boards of institutions such as the World Health Organisation and the University of Ottawa’s Evidence for Equity Nutrition Stakeholder Panel.
Volmink, a long-time professor in the FMHS’s Department of Global Health, attended the graduation ceremony at the university in Hamilton, Ontario, at the end of May. In his address to the convocation, he lauded the university as the birthplace of EBM.
“I am deeply humbled to have been considered worthy of an honour of such enormous magnitude from one of the world’s leading academic institutions,” said Volmink in his speech.
“Much has changed in healthcare since I graduated from medical school in 1982. Evidence-based medicine pioneered by key individuals based at this fine institution was introduced as a bold new paradigm for making healthcare decisions, with far-reaching impact on health professional training and practice worldwide.”
Volmink told the convocation that an online poll of global readers of the British Medical Journal conducted in 2007 ranked EBM seventh among the 15 most important milestones that shaped modern medicine: “More broadly, EBM has helped improve how health policy is made at the highest level globally and has also challenged thinking about the nature of evidence in fields beyond health, such as in education, criminal justice and the social sciences.”
Volmink has played an important role in this process and is regarded by many as the father of evidence-based healthcare in Africa. When he established Cochrane SA in 1997, it marked the beginning of the formal promotion of EBM on the continent. Today, Cochrane SA coordinates a Cochrane Africa Network in partnership with the Cochrane Centre in Nigeria.
In recognition of Volmink’s contribution to EBM, he received the Leverhulme Medal from the United Kingdom’s Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 2015 and a Recognition Award from the SAMRC in 2016. He went on to chair the Global Organising Committee of the First Global Evidence Summit in Cape Town in 2016-2017.
Last year Volmink, who was Dean of Stellenbosch University’s FMHS from 2011 to 2021, received the university’s Lifetime Chancellor’s Award for sustained excellent career performance, the President’s Lifetime Achiever Award from the SAMRC and an honorary doctorate from KU Leuven in Belgium in recognition of his work in science and, more generally, for promoting human dignity.
His honorary doctorate from McMaster University is the latest acknowledgement of his many achievements during a highly distinguished career. In a statement after the graduation ceremony, Farrar noted: “I am pleased that McMaster University chose to confer an Honorary Doctor of Science on … Volmink. [His] long history of transforming evidence into impact and his track record of advancing global health and medical education make him a worthy recipient of this honour.”
This doctorate was clearly of special significance to Volmink. “For more than three decades I cherished the dream of visiting the birthplace of evidence-based medicine,” he said in his convocation address. “However, not in my wildest imagination did I ever anticipate that this long-awaited visit would occur after receiving a letter from the President of McMaster University offering me an honorary doctorate.
“It is an honour I would like to share with all those who, through their encouragement and support, enabled the achievements for which I am being recognised. These individuals include members of my family (particularly my parents who sacrificed much), friends, teachers, mentors and colleagues.
“I especially wish to acknowledge my wife Blossom for her unfailing support over the years, as well as my dear friends and inspiring collaborators, Dr Patrice Matchaba and Dr Lehana Thabane. I am delighted they are here … to witness and celebrate this special occasion with me.”
Photo caption: Prof Jimmy Volmink
Photo credit: Damien Schumann