Physical therapy alumnus recognized as Fulbright Scholar

A prestigious scholarship leads one physical therapy graduate to Europe and Asia

Since graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy (’87) and a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology (’89), Dr. James Laskin has represented Canada at international sports competitions, participated in faculty exchanges and presented at international conferences.

Laskin was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship that will have him travel to Europe and Asia as part of an international exchange program in physical therapy.

Laskin is the director of New Directions Wellness Center, a physical therapy fitness and supervised exercise centre for people with disabilities, and an associate professor at the University of Montana, a position he’s held for 18 years.

He looks back on his alma mater with fondness.

“When I was there it was one of the last years of the four-year undergrad program and kids out of high school were getting in. I went and actually I did my master’s degree at the same time,” recalled Laskin. “I really loved Saskatoon, and liked a small class – there were only 22 of us at a time. It was just like the perfect place to go, and also, because of my experience in sports medicine, I immediately joined up with athletics.”

Like many people interested in a health profession, he was leaning toward medicine and admits he didn’t really know what physical therapy was. When he tore his ACL playing rugby at the University of Victoria, Laskin was introduced to physical therapy and sports medicine.

“I really find physical therapy is a profession that’s growing, and the need for us is growing and what we actually do as physical therapy is so much broader than what it was when I went to school,” Laskin acknowledged. “I think it provides a wonderful quality of life. It provides great opportunities - you can move, travel, try different areas and see what really fits. When I was at the U of S they did a great job of training us as generalists and giving us all the basic information that we need to grow and learn.”

Laskin’s interest in sports medicine led to his involvement with Paralympics, primarily with the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team. The sport has taken him around the globe and he’s built connections with coaches, physical therapists and academics.

“I’ve been working with Paralympic sports from basically ’87. I worked directly with teams as a physical therapist and a sports scientist until about 2011.”

As the recipient of the Fulbright he will participate in a six-month teaching and research program in Thailand and Laos. Laskin’s previous work there made the locations a natural choice. He is concurrently taking a sabbatical to teach in physical therapy programs at universities in Thailand and Poland, and will lead a U.S. Department of State-sponsored sports program while in Laos.

Laskin notes that service to the profession is important to him. “Going and teaching and supporting other graduate students and faculty to do research and publish in English, I mean that’s a piece of what I’ve done,” he said. “Service, especially as I am getting a little older and later in my career you know it seems to be the direction I am going.”

These days as Laskin instructs his own students, the impact of his professors’ teaching still stands out.

“I know that a few of my professors who are still there – Liz Harrison is one of them – she is someone who I remember clearly teaching me,” recalled Laskin. “I have great memories of that time in Saskatoon and my classmates. I still keep in touch with them, even now, over 30 years later.”  

His advice for students considering physical therapy? Be open to opportunities, because you never know where your degree will take you. He mentions his work with Paralympics as one example where he has had to lean on learning across everything from neurology to pressure sores and orthopedic injuries.

 “All these tidbits that you learn that you think you’re not going to use because you think you’re going in a particular direction, you might be surprised what you end up doing.”

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