Dr Rory Dunbar and his friendly service dog, Vaughn, are familiar faces at Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). And tonight (20 March 2018) they were again together at Stellenbosch University’s third graduation ceremony as Dunbar received his PhD in Paediatrics and Child Health.
Dunbar is the Data Centre Manager at the Desmond Tutu TB Centre and was awarded this degree this week for the development of a model for the virtual implementation of TB diagnostics.
Prof Nulda Beyers from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Director of the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Stellenbosch University, read a short section of the research done and also thanked the University for the support in his studies. She made special mention of the University’s efforts that support students with disabilities and that the institution lives out the principle of equity.
Serendipitously, he received his degree just four days ahead of World TB Day.
“I enjoy the work and it’s fulfilling to do something that can help the community,” he explains his motivation for doing a PhD while also working fulltime. His research can assist the Department of Health to evaluate new TB diagnostic tools.
Dunbar is a quadriplegic with damage to his C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae, which means that he is paralysed from the chest down and has restricted use of his hands. Vaughn helps him to get around by opening and closing doors and picking things up for him, and is also trained to “call” for help in case Dunbar is incapacitated. “He’s also good company,” Dunbar praises the lovable Labrador, who always shows off his plush toy to visitors at the office.
Dunbar has a background in information technology (IT) and joined the FMHS 12 years ago as a data analyst. “Working in this environment piqued my interest in research, so I decided to expand my knowledge and skills. I first obtained my honours degree in epidemiology, and that lead to a Masters, also in epidemiology. After that everyone started asking ‘when are you doing your PhD?’ When the opportunity arose, I went for it,” explains Dunbar.
While doing his PhD, Dunbar received SU’s HB & MJ Thom bursary that is annually awarded to people who show positive leadership potential in any field and boast a good academic record in their previous studies. He used the bursary to travel to the Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom to consult with an expert in operational modelling, Dr Ivor Langley, who also co-supervised his study.
“For me it’s quite expensive to travel overseas, because I have to take along a care attendant to help with my medical needs. The bursary helped me carry the cost to go over for a month,” says Dunbar.
He is very grateful to the FMHS and the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health in particular for their ongoing support. “Everybody here has been very supportive – from the director to the data capturers. They always asked how my studies were progressing, offered to help, and put things in place to make my life easier.”
By Wilma Stassen
Source Stellenbosch University