HAMILTON— Every other year since 2013 McMaster University has embarked on an initiative to honour its distinguished alumni. This year, the second in which such recognition has been preferred, Derek Debassige of M’Chigeeng First Nation was recognized as a 2015 PT (physiotherapist) Distinguished Alumni Recipient. Mr. Debassige graduated from McMaster with a BHSc(PT) (Bachelor of Health Sciences) in 2000.
“I was kind of surprised by it,” admitted Mr. Debassige. “You find yourself in the trenches, doing the work and you are not really sure anyone notices.”
As surprises go, the phone call informing Mr. Debassige that he was selected certainly falls into the category of pleasant. “It’s nice,” he admitted. “It’s been 15 years since I graduated from McMaster and it was great to go back for the dinner and ceremony.”
Mr. Debassige said that he found the McMaster of today had changed considerably, while remaining the same. “It is just as exciting a place to be as it was then,” he said, “but there are a lot of new buildings and the student population has grown.”
As to whether anyone had been noticing his work “in the trenches” any question was soon dispelled. “They start reading off the list of the work you have done,” said Mr. Debassige. It is an impressive list. While he has been deeply immersed in his work, the physiotherapist has contributed articles furthering the understanding of his profession, been appointed to the board of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and regularly hosts students in his clinics.
Not only has he contributed to his profession, Mr. Debassige is an active member of his community, having been elected to the M’Chigeeng First Nation Band Council in 2013 and was appointed as chair of the community’s Health Services Committee.
“Mac students have always been known for being very versatile,” noted Mr. Debassige, whose other “stream” at McMaster involved playing on the volleyball team, a highly regarded varsity team that is noted for producing some of top Canada’s Olympic athletes in volleyball.
Just as any dedicated health professional, Mr. Debassige is embarked on a lifelong learning process. “You have to like reading,” he laughed. “There is a lot going on in the field all the time, things are constantly changing and we are learning more about how the human body works all the time. You might as well like it, because you are going to be a lifelong learner whether you like it or not. It is important to be passionate about what you are doing and staying on top of the field.”
As he networked with some new friends and reconnected with old, Mr. Debassige admitted that it was gratifying to see his photograph hanging on the wall at his alma mater, recognized as a distinguished alumnus.