Emerson’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders connects students globally through practice clinicals

By Sabrina Lam, Staff Writer

Students from Boston, Connecticut, and Kenya virtually joined Emerson’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders’ pediatric clinical case rounds last Thursday to engage in interprofessional clinical learning.

The rounds, held over a two-hour Zoom meeting, drew in undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members pursuing various healthcare disciplines from three partnering schools: Simmons University, Quinnipiac University, and Kenyatta University. 

The participants were presented with a fictional case about a patient named Shadi. Information about the patient’s cultural history, language development, medical history, weight, menarche, and social progression were all detailed. They were then divided into break-out rooms for hypothesizing, assessment planning, and intervention. 

The activity challenged the students to collaboratively examine the case and learn from one another’s individual disciplines. It mimicked a holistic healthcare setting and the students role-played as real medical professionals.

“Looking beyond the lens and outside of our discipline—that’s what this opportunity helps to do,” Patti Nelson, a CSD faculty coordinator for student advising, said in an interview.

There were seven different disciplines present at the case rounds: social work, nutrition, nursing, occupational therapy, doctor of medicine (MD), physician assistance (PA), and speech-language pathology. 

Alexander Mass, a 25-year-old student in the MD program at Quinnipiac University, capitalized on the interdisciplinary approach of the rounds. 

It is not often that we get to learn from disciplines beyond the program that we are in,” Mass said. “It allowed me to expand my knowledge and view.”

Five years ago, Emerson’s clinical rounds didn’t look like this—they were limited to working with speech-language pathology students within the institution. When Nelson joined the CSD faculty in 2019, she was eager to extend the opportunity to other colleges to present students with various perspectives. 

“When I found out that [expansion] was an opportunity that I could be a catalyst with, I jumped on it—I felt that was something that could really benefit our students,” Nelson said.

In the fall of her first year as faculty at Emerson, Nelson contacted Simmons University’s social work department with the hope of eliciting their interest in collaborating in the case rounds. Melinda Gushwa, the director of the Simmons School of Social Work, accepted the proposal. 

“[Gushwa] kindly responded, very excited about our potential partnership,” Nelson said.

Emerson’s first intercollegiate clinical case rounds were conducted that same semester. Encouraged by the success of that initial collaboration, Nelson began reaching out to other colleges in New England. 

Quinnipiac University was the second institution to join. They brought their Allied Health professions students on, introducing a new discipline to the clinical case rounds. Kimberly Hartmann, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Healthcare Education, was glad she formed the bridge between Quinnipiac and Emerson.

“Our students have found these clinical rounds to be very beneficial, value added to their interprofessional experiences that they participate in at Quinnipiac,” Hartmann said in a seminar with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Most recently, Nelson successfully merged with Tufts University School of Medicine. Their PA students will attend the next clinical case rounds on March 7. Likewise, Quinnipiac has extended this opportunity to their PA and MD students, and Simmons hopes to bring their physical therapy students.

Dr. Mathew Kinyua Karia, a lecturer in the Speech and Language Pathology Program at Kenyatta University, contacted Emerson to expand these clinical case rounds to students from Kenya. 

He aimed to partner, collaborate, and observe how Emerson instructs interprofessional education experiences alongside his students. Dr. Ruth Grossman, a professor at Emerson’s Department of CSD, took the initiative to connect with Karia to discuss those plans.

The meeting was held from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to accommodate students in East Africa Time—students at Kenyatta University joined the clinical from 3 to 5 a.m. Nonetheless, 20 speech-language pathology graduate students from Kenya showed up to participate, observe, and learn. 

This is the first time Kenyatta University has participated in an international collaboration like this and they plan to continue doing so, by attending the adult clinical case rounds in March.

“There is mutual benefit for our students,” Karia said. “They can learn a lot from the rounds and students in U.S. colleges can also gain from our experiences in Kenya.”

Nelson hopes to continue turning these clinical case rounds into global pathways; her next partnership in mind is with higher education institutes in Dublin, Ireland. This is not the first international program Emerson offered in its curriculum, as many pre-existing programs exist in countries around the world.

There are almost 1,000 graduate students enrolled in Speech@Emerson, Emerson’s online master’s program in speech pathology, where students are able to remotely earn a master’s degree in less than two years. The college’s residential program has a total of 90 graduate students and 52 undergraduate students. 

The clinical case rounds shifted to an online format when the pandemic began. The change to remote learning wasn’t too difficult for faculty and students to adjust to because of their prior experience with Speech@Emerson. 

“We were used to teaching online anyway—in a week, we were able to pivot and continue online with our graduate program,” Nelson said.

Although no longer necessary, Nelson favors organizing these clinical case rounds remotely, as it provides solutions for issues that arose during in-person events. Previously, attendance was limited because of the maximum occupancy regulations in the Bill Bordy Theater, where most prior-pandemic clinical case rounds were held—a restriction that doesn’t exist on Zoom.

Normally, around 30 to 50 people attend the clinical case rounds. Last Thursday, there were over 100 people, the largest number of participants the department has ever seen.

Leading clinical case rounds over Zoom also abolishes any geographical limitations. Many of the graduate students in Speech@Emerson live across the country in California, Oregon, and Washington. 

Continuing online has also aided the department’s long-term goals of continuing to expand nationally and globally. Across the world, students from Kenya were able to connect with Emerson, an opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible without remote case rounds. 

Nelson recognizes that there is value in collaborating with schools from other countries. 

“Some countries are perhaps far more advanced than we are in thinking and practices, and in other ways, others are going to look to us as the experts in our field,” Nelson said. “It wouldn’t hurt to look at those practices in all of these different places and compare notes.”

These global, interdisciplinary, and intercollegiate case rounds were nationally recognized in November 2022 at the virtual conference of the American Speech Language Hearing Association. Nelson presented the steps behind organizing the clinical case rounds alongside Cali-Ryan Collin, assistant professor at Simmons School of Social Work.

“We’re so happy to be a part of [the case rounds] and I can’t wait to see what happens moving forward,” Collin said.