Hamilton native Lyn Turkstra has returned home with the goal of keeping highly qualified Canadians at home to learn speech-language pathology (SLP) at McMaster University's new program.

"It's so hard to get into Canadian programs. I am a classic example. I went and then stayed in the U.S.," said Turkstra, the professor and assistant dean of the Speech Language Pathology Program of the School of Rehabilitation Science.

The Dundas native worked for 26 years in the U.S. as a SLP instructor and researcher, with a focus on helping people with brain injuries learn to communicate again. In 2016, she returned to Canada to help shape and then run the new, two-year graduate SLP program which opens this fall.

Speech language pathology is an often misunderstood area of rehabilitative therapy, Turkstra said. While the critically acclaimed movie The King's Speech in 2010 raised the profile of speech therapy, not enough is known. SLP therapists help a range of people from children with language disorders to seniors with dementia or anyone with autism struggling to organize day-to-day life activities.

"Our goal is to support communication functioning in people of all ages and with all types of disabilities," Turkstra said. "We are the communication disorders specialists."

The new SLP program complements the existing physiotherapy and occupational therapy programs at the School of Rehabilitation Science.

It is also expected to be a follow-on course for students completing the Cognitive Science of Language program in McMaster's Faculty of Humanities.

"It's a nice fit here in this interdisciplinary environment," Turkstra said.

When Turkstra expressed interest in teaching at McMaster, "it was the stars aligning," said Patty Solomon, associate dean of the School of Rehabilitation Science. She was already planning a problem-based learning speech language program at McMaster.

"This will be the only problem-based speech-language pathology program in North America," Turkstra said.

There's a pent-up demand for speech-language pathology training at McMaster, they say. By the January application cut-off date, 431 applicants had requested one of the first 28 student spaces available in September. That was the highest application rate of any SLP program in Canada.

The new program is expected to grow to 32 spaces in fall 2018.

Turkstra studied honours French at McMaster in 1984, before heading to the State University of New York at Buffalo to study science and speech-language pathology.

She earned her PhD in SLP in 1990 at the University of Arizona. She instructed at schools including at Case Western University in Cleveland and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, before returning home to McMaster and Dundas.

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