Man-Joe Watt isn't slowing down any time soon

Professor steps aside from administrative roles at Glenrose

Tamara Vineberg - 04 February 2019

Man-Joe Watt may have more time for travelling, hiking, singing, swimming or running now that he's stepping aside from his Alberta Health Services administrative roles at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. Watt retired from his position as medical director of Unit 201, the Physical Medicine and Orthopedic Treatment Clinics, Pediatric Upper Extremity Clinic and Syncrude Center for Motion and Balance, all of which he started over the past 39 years.

It's not unusual for the 71-year-old to work 70 hours a week. Since joining the Glenrose as an assistant clinical professor in 1980, Watt has worked in almost every pediatric rehabilitation portfolio. He is currently a professor in the Division of Developmental Pediatrics, clinical professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as a consulting pediatric physiatrist at the Glenrose and will continue in these roles.

"I did everything. It was a one man show. I was hired as the associate director for rehabilitation for this whole hospital," says Watt. He credits former clinical directors George Eddy and Brian Woodhead, pediatric neurologist Ehor Gauk and developmental pediatrician Charlene Robertson for his career path.

Watt first came to the Department of Pediatrics to study after graduating from the University of Hong Kong in 1972. He and his wife had the choice between Edmonton and Hawaii for his training in pediatrics in 1974. They chose Edmonton because his wife desired to experience the northern climate. "My wife wanted to see the snow. We came here in July and by September, we saw our first snow," says Watt.

Once he completed two years of general pediatric training, he came to the Glenrose to do pediatric rehabilitation as part of his residency. At the time, the Glenrose wasn't very well established as a pediatric rehabilitation centre. Eddy sent Watt to the Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto for a fellowship in pediatric rehabilitation. He decided to remain for two more years to complete a second fellowship in physical medicine and rehabilitation. "I'm still the only two people in Canada who has two fellowships in this field," he says.

Watt developed his own specialty of caring for children with motor disabilities, in particular those with cerebral palsy, neuromuscular disorders, acquired brain injuries and spinal cord disorders. "The mandate given to me when I was hired was to establish a world class pediatric rehabilitation centre in Edmonton. Thankfully, we have been able to achieve a lot of that and the Glenrose is quite well recognized internationally. Almost every centre in Canada doing similar type of work has people who have been trained here," says Watt.

Despite his numerous awards and accolades, he feels his real success is the improvement of his patients' lives as a result of family centred multidisciplinary services. At one point, children had to remain indefinitely at the Glenrose for full-time care. Now Watt sees many of his patients become adults who live independently, work at jobs, having families and make financial decisions for themselves. His pursuit to help people may not see him retire fully anytime soon. "I want to work for two or three more years, especially to do international teaching. Maybe at 75 I will try to quit. There's a standing joke that I've been trying to retire for many years," laughs Watt.