by Dawn Brazell
dean of the College of Health
Professions, almost died last
She says it
matter of fact, a tight smile
playing at the corners of her
mouth. As one of three female
deans at MUSC, she hasn't gotten
to where she is by being afraid of
who is trained as a physical
therapist, enjoys backpacking
jaunts to decompress. It'll be a
long time before she'll forget her
latest trip. She was hauling her
50-pound backpack from Chamonix
France to Zermatt Switzerland on a
hiking trip with her husband
Michael Saladin, Ph.D., Health
Sciences and Research.
feet up, they looked down on a
glacier from their 8-inch wide
ledge on the trail. Saladin faced
a vertical wall with two ascending
ladders. Hikers have to make a
short jump from one to the other.
knowledge that a fall from this
height would likely result in
death, she reminded herself that
she'd been told even grandmothers
had made the climb.
"I looked at it
and thought maybe Swiss ones."
the climb, did the jump and found
herself dangerously dangling by a
hand. "I misjudged the weight of
my pack and how much it would
cause me to sway in the opposite
direction. I had my closest near-
death experience where I really
thought this was it. I was hanging
with one arm, and I had to use
every bit of strength I had to get
my feet grounded and get my other
Dr. Lisa Saladin,
dean of MUSC's College of Health
Professions, enjoys the view
during a backpacking trip in
Switzerland. Saladin is being
recognized as part of MUSC's
National Women's History Month.
Though she has
had flashbacks about the moment,
she doesn't let it stop her. She
just returned from South America
where she explored Patagonia.
"It's about the challenge. I want
to prove that I can do something
different every year."
plays out in her career as well.
She became dean
of the college in August 2011
after serving a year in an interim
position, so she knew what to
"It's a challenge every day. It's
a steep learning curve, but I'm
very much enjoying it. The
environment is changing around us
as far as funding goes."
selection committee praised her
especially for her collaborative
approach to decision making. When
asked what she wants most for the
college, she's quick to answer
that it is the goals that have
been collectively set up and fall
into seven different areas ranging
from research to faculty and staff
recruitment and mentoring.
in a team concept kind of care,
she has seen how that approach in
management can get the best
results. She encourages people to
challenge her on a regular basis.
That's how the best ideas get
born, she said.
An area that needs to be
strengthened in the college is
mentorship, which now occurs as a
kind of hit-or-miss practice that
she would like more structured.
Some people complain that
mentorship just enhances skills
for personnel to then leave. She
disagrees. "I would rather grow
and develop a faculty member who
leaves than ignore someone here
who stays and is miserable. My
advice across the board is to look
for people who strive to do things
well and promote them in every way
One of her
proudest accomplishments, other
than her numerous teaching awards,
is becoming dean. Five years ago
it wasn't even a goal, but Mark S.
Sothmann, Ph.D., became dean of
the college in 2007, and she was
given opportunities to have more
input and influence in the
thought of it as an opportunity
until Mark came. I guess he saw
something in me. I do have a head
for budgets and figures and
looking at big pictures and
analyzing data. He mentored me and
offered some opportunities to test
the water in administration in
higher levels than I had been
Saladin said it
was an incredibly rewarding
experience, one she tries to pay
forward. She feels that women
especially need mentorship.
"Competition among females is so
intense and so hurtful that we
often don't build each other up
and help each other move through.
Most of my ability to move forward
has been from male
Her advice to
managers is to build everyone up
and look for potential leaders.
"Look to help
women because I think we are
disadvantaged. We as women have
been part of the system that
disadvantages other women to move
through the system. So can we
remove some of that competition?
Can we remove some of the harsh
criticism that seems to be leveled
at females who try to move into
leadership positions? It's can we
level the playing field because I
don't think we have a level
playing field now."
diversity, whether gender or
ethnicity, makes for a better
administration. She likes that
three of the six MUSC's college
deans are female and feels it will
have a good impact on campus.
"We all have
different styles, and I like that.
It's demonstrating that females
can be good leaders and accepted
leaders with very different
styles. People need to be open to
exploring that sometimes one
leadership style might be good in
a setting, in one college, in one
time frame. I don't think we were
put in these positions because we
are all females. I think we were
put in these positions because we
were the right person, in the
right time at the right place."
Raised to enjoy the fresh air and
the outdoors, Saladin relishes her
Canadian and Lithuanian roots.
Both of her
parents were born in Lithuania.
Her mother's family left their
belongings and escaped during
World War II with just an ox cart.
Many of her relatives still live
there in very poor conditions. "In
some ways, I feel very blessed. If
not for an ox cart, I could be
living in Lithuania and not had
the advantages that I have had. At
the same time, I have gained a lot
from that background and
perspective seeing how they live
and what they appreciate."
Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada,
Saladin remembers her grandmother
coming to enjoy summers with her.
They'd pick mushrooms or go
fishing. It's where she realized
her love of the outdoors.
She also loved
science and art and thought she
wanted to go into architecture,
but when she enrolled she found
out that it wasn't what she
expected. An accidental visit to a
career fair with a friend led to
her fascination with physical
therapy. She liked how it seemed
to combine art and science and
working with people.
her bachelor's degree in medical
rehabilitation physical therapy
and a Master of Science degree in
anatomy from the University of
Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba,
Canada. Her Doctor of Philosophy
degree in physical therapy was
earned from Nova Southeastern
University in Fort Lauderdale,
husband to MUSC in 1990, Saladin
began moving up within the ranks
of the College of Health
Professions. When she became dean
last year, she was asked whether
she wanted to keep teaching or
not. Loving the challenge of
motivating her 120 students to
learn the intricacies of
neurotherapy, Saladin chose to
"Not all deans
choose to do it, but I'm going to
keep doing it because I love to do
it and it keeps me connected with
students and faculty. It's a way
to stay connected. I love the
nurturing part — watching someone
grow and seeing the lights come on
when you teach a very difficult
topic. I teach neuroscience. It's
not the easiest topic. I like to
find all kinds of creative ways to
teach it and reach students with
different learning styles."
been awarded three University
Teaching Excellence awards, been
designated a Master Teacher by the
MUSC board of trustees and is the
recipient of the national Dorothy
E. Baethke-Eleanor J. Carlin Award
for Excellence in Academic
She likes to
see students get as excited as she
is about the whole concept of
neuroplasticity and how therapy
can change someone's brain.
"I love to hear
someone saying that they want to
be a neurotherapist after having
had the class. Motivating them,
exciting them, challenging them
and watching them grow are the
components I love about teaching."
She also tries
to impart to students that they
will have to take risks to win
battles personally and
professionally. She recalls being
involved in a legislative battle
that was important to her
professionally, but that pitted
different health care providers
against each other. It would have
been safer to not take a vocal
stand. "I learned 'stick to your
guns.' I basically told the dean
at the time that I'm not stopping.
This is incredibly important to
our profession. There are risks.
When you take a stand, you take
risks. You have to assume the
risks that go with it."
What keeps her
going are the rewards. She loves
being in a profession that allows
people to have less pain, more
function and a better quality of
life. She starts off each course
she teaches with a real story
about a patient.
"It's a patient
who against all odds and maybe
against all the knowledge at the
time not only survived but to
watch them for the first time take
that first step and to feel what
they feel for you and their
appreciation for what you did to
change their life," she said.
"When you talk about our theme
changing what's possible, that's
what we do, particularly as a
neurotherapist. You take people
who are paralyzed, comatose and
some of them walk out the door. To
watch that in progress – to be
part of that – to me that is what
makes me tick."