Dean of rehabilitation medicine reappointed

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta Board of Governors has reappointed Martin Ferguson-Pell as dean of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. His second five-year term begins July 1, 2013, following his one-year term as acting provost.

“Dean Ferguson-Pell is an exemplary leader,” said U of A provost Carl Amrhein. “A charismatic speaker, Dr. Ferguson-Pell keenly articulates the vision of the faculty and led the faculty in raising its profile within the academy, with hospital and clinical partners, and with the community at large. He initiates and develops external relationships, some of which have become resources in support of research, teaching and service programs.”

Ferguson-Pell came to the University of Alberta in 2007 to assume the role of dean, after 11 years as research director for the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital and the inaugural ASPIRE Research Chair in Technology and Disability, where he founded the Centre for Disability Sciences at the Institute of Orthopedics and Musculoskeletal Science, University College London. His background is in biomedical engineering and he is a registered clinical scientist. He has extensive experience working in clinical-academic settings, developing engineering solutions to overcome barriers experienced by people with physical disabilities.

And while Ferguson-Pell says he made the move for the great opportunity to lead a faculty with an international reputation for excellence, he was impressed by the strong culture of innovation and creativity that existed when he got here.

“I think that the U of A is by far the most collegial university I have been associated with and I’ve found that while working at the U of A, I have been more productive than anywhere else I’ve worked,” he said. Along with his research team, Ferguson-Pell recently opened the interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy. “I believe the positive focus that the university has, and the faculty and administrative structures, which are relatively streamlined compared with many other universities, are the main reasons I am also passionate about my research here.“

In his time at the U of A, Ferguson-Pell has been successful in supporting and promoting the research and clinical activities within the faculty, and in positively influencing initiatives throughout the university. Among his more notable achievements is establishing two endowed chairs: the Military and Veterans Chair in Clinical Rehabilitation—a first in Canada—and the Chair in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation.

Ferguson-Pell also guided the development of physical-therapy satellite programs in Camrose and, later this year, Calgary, which employ advanced real-time videoconferencing technologies. This synchronized teaching model enables the faculty to teach the entire university physical-therapy professional entry master’s degree program simultaneously and interactively in three locations. Importantly, the model places education and training for professional practice where professionals are needed. This increases the likelihood that highly qualified professionals would remain in their own communities to practice, rather than relocate to areas in less need.

“This is really an innovative way of distributing our teaching out across the province,” said Ferguson-Pell, who adds he is looking to get footholds in Alberta locations such as Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Medicine Hat as well as focus on building clinical capacity for rehabilitation in the Calgary area. “We’re a provincial program and I’m looking to get a strong starting point in these communities in terms of our presence and our contribution.”

Going forward, Ferguson-Pell says he has a number of initiatives that focus on being seen as a leading rehabilitation medicine program. He says the faculty has made great strides in forming a world-class cluster of researchers in musculoskeletal science, and he foresees similar research clusters that focus on seniors, oncology rehabilitation, and occupational injury and rehabilitation.

“Rehabilitation is an increasingly important area in health sciences. With an aging population and with pressures on our health-care system, the professionals that we’re producing through our programs are absolutely critical to Alberta’s health economy of the future,” said Ferguson-Pell.

“The U of A is visionary in giving a faculty like ours the autonomy and the identity that it has. The innovative research and excellent teaching that define our faculty are reinforcing the confidence the university has put in us by delivering on these excellent programs.”