Team member spotlight: Dr. Daniel Laskin
At 16, when Daniel Laskin, DDS, MS, professor, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, registered for his freshman year at New York University, he wanted to study physical education. “When I was in high school, I was more interested in athletics than anything else. Believe it or not, my sport was basketball,” he admits, noting that he could touch the net but not the rim. “I wanted to be a coach or maybe go into physical education.” His mother refused to enroll him for a PE major, even though he promised to also major in business. She enrolled him in pre-med. After a year, he transferred to Indiana University and two and a half years into his education, World War II began. Dr. Laskin entered the enlisted reserve and, despite his strong B-average, was not accepted into the medical schools he applied to. A friend suggested dental school so he applied. During basic training, Dr. Laskin received notice that he had been accepted at Indiana University’s School of Dentistry so the Army sent him under the Army Specialized Training Program. This ultimately led to his specialty, oral and maxillofacial surgery, he notes, the perfect hybrid of medicine and dentistry.
More than seventy years later, Dr. Laskin is still caring for patients, researching and educating. He spent 35 years at the University of Illinois (he chaired the department from 1973-1983). “I’ve been [at VCU] for 33 years. I’m on my third VCU president and third dean,” observes Laskin with his signature wit. “I don’t play golf. I don’t hunt or fish. So I teach.”
He also works with residents, helping guide their research projects; educates dental students; practices in VCU’s outpatient oral surgery clinic; edits the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons newsletter; helps his colleagues write and publish research papers; and, lectures internationally – Spain, Italy and China this year.
“Up until two years ago, I still operated and saw my own patients,” he notes. “Now I work four days every week. I take Fridays off.”
There is no question that Dr. Laskin is respected and acclaimed by his colleagues and his students, not only for his academic achievements but also for his humbleness and his genuine commitment to his guiding principles: “Always do the right thing. Always do what’s best for your patients. The rewards will come from doing that,” he shares. “People will develop trust in you if you treat them properly. Be a constant student. I tell my residents, ‘When you finish here, that’s just the beginning of your learning.’”
In these pursuits, Dr. Laskin is a true role model. He is deeply committed to giving back to the institutions for which he’s worked so tirelessly, having established numerous endowments and funds at Indiana University, the University of Illinois and, most recently, at VCU. The Dr. Daniel M. Laskin Research Professorship in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery will support a faculty member at the VCU School of Dentistry who will be dedicated to research. Dr. Laskin explains, “Faculty are too busy to do in-depth research alone so my idea is to establish a research professorship. This will help faculty and it will also help residents find good research projects that will have real, major implications.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Laskin estimates that he has made more than 1,000 contributions to the professional literature and he has authored or co-authored 16 books. And, of course, he’s conducted countless hours of research throughout his career.
Circling back to his professional philosophy to do the right thing, do what’s best for patients, earn trust and keep learning, Dr. Laskin comments on the current opioid epidemic. “Dentistry has contributed to the opioid epidemic,” shares Dr. Laskin, citing two research studies that he and a Canadian colleague conducted. “In the United States, we found that oral and maxillofacial surgeons prescribed at least 20, and some as many as 40, tablets of hydrocodone to their patients following surgery. In Canada, oral and maxillofacial surgeons reported most commonly prescribing ibuprofen alone or ibuprofen and codeine, which is the mildest opioid pain killer that you can prescribe.” The lesson, he concludes, is that pain killers are being over-prescribed. “I think things are changing but it’s going to take a while,” he asserts. “In our clinic, we have started to prescribe fewer tablets, 7-10 at the most.”
It’s easy to understand how colleagues and students of oral and maxillofacial surgery revere Dr. Laskin. His energy when speaking about topics from ethics to treating patients in his specialty, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and his breadth of knowledge – and his modesty -- are inspirational.
With a significant amount of pride and energy, he shares his annual devotion by working at the Mission of Mercy project in Wise, Virginia. Three long days of donating care to patients and working alongside residents and other medical professionals, are a source of great joy and pride for Dr. Laskin. Recently, he was re-united with a previous patient. It had been more than 10 years since he had treated her injuries from a serious accident. “A colleague of mine said that he was treating a patient who kept talking about ‘Dr. Laskin, who saved her life,’” he recalls, sharing the recent photo of himself and his former patient that he saved on his phone. “Every year, she stops by to see me. I hope I see her again this year.”
“I enjoy what I do. I still like what I do. When you work with young people, it keeps you young. I’m glad I am still able to do things,” shares Dr. Laskin, noting that he has no immediate plans to retire.
But he does have plans to watch the VCU Men’s Basketball team – he has season tickets to the games. He’s still a basketball player at heart.