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Tips for Teaching Graduate Students About Dysphagia

by Jennifer WIlson
written by
Pumpkin and carrot puree

“When I was in graduate school, we didn’t even have a class on dysphagia,” I sometimes tell my students. But before you hold this against me, I did realize this gap in my education during my clinical fellowship back in 1993, so I attended a course taught by Jeri Logemann.

The course helped me connect the dots, but I did my fellowship in an outpatient department for a children’s hospital, so I needed to learn quickly. Fortunately, Joan Arvedson, Bob Beecher and Monica Wojcik continued to shape my pediatric dysphagia knowledge.

Now I’m a clinical instructor and guest lecturer teaching a pediatric dysphagia course to speech-language pathology graduate students. Hearkening back to my experiences 25 years ago, I get more excited each year about ways to engage and prepare students. I am thrilled to educate budding professionals on how to best serve clients and families with often complex feeding and swallowing issues.

Here are some resources and insights I use to engage my students and teach them problem-solving skills:

Dysphagia awareness. On Sept. 27, 2008, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution designating the month of June (coming right up!) as National Dysphagia Awareness Month. You can use this as a motivation to provide hands-on learning labs throughout your university clinic. Cover issues including altering liquid viscosity, assessing nipple flow and testing swallowing tools, such as expiratory muscle strength training and mesh bag feeders. In addition, holding a specific Dysphagia Awareness Day during the month allows students who already took the dysphagia course to build on their academic coursework foundation by organizing and participating in a day of activities.

More case studies and patient simulation. Provide students with case studies that guide them to rule out contributing medical issues and determine intervention solutions. Offering virtual patient simulation training also gives students additional opportunities for increased clinical problem-solving.


Bridging the Dysphagia Education Gap

When you bring together students from three disciplines to treat virtual patients, interprofessional learning gets real.

Simulating Patient Communication Strategies


Include other professionals. Invite area professionals who also treat patients with dysphagia to discuss topics including food allergies, head and neck cancer treatment, or dietary support. Provide students with increased content and preparation before speakers arrive so they are prepared to engage in the discussion, ask questions and apply the information.

Offer resources beyond textbooks. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups publish clinical articles with useful takeaways. SIG 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia), obviously publishes a lot of relevant content. Specifically, Part 3 of the SIG ‘s 2016  issue presents a group of articles focused on student training in dysphagia. Subjects range from developing a university-based dysphagia research clinic to conceptual ideals for developing future dysphagia experts. Some challenges cited include a generation of students who are less apt to acquire information through traditional teaching and a considerable amount of information to teach.

As dysphagia caseloads continue to increase for speech-language pathologists working with patients with dysphagia in  adult and pediatric settings, we as educators need to offer engaging content and clinical problem-solving skills to meet professional standards.

I hope to train and prepare my students with all the tools and resources they need going into their clinical fellowships. My best possible outcomes involve knowing my students graduate with confidence in their knowledge and ability to face challenges when working in the field of dysphagia.

Jennifer Wilson, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinical instructor in speech-language pathology at the University Of Tennessee Health Science Center. She has more than 20 years’ experience serving clients with pediatric dysphagia in a variety of settings. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia). JWils176@uthsc.edu

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