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 ISSUE 4   MARCH 2003  
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Network research project at McGill University offers a unique student internship model with results that can benefit clinicians and impact children


Forward: The following story appears reprinted with permission from the editor of the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.








We are pleased to share this article because it provides a great account that exemplifies how our researchers are incorporating Network goals into their research projects. One of The Network's goals is to create a critical mass of highly qualified experts in Canada by contributing to the training and education of specialists in language and literacy development. Susan Rvachew, Network Project Leader, McGill University, and her team promote the clinician-researcher model by providing opportunities for speech-language pathology students to conduct research in clinical settings while they complete their clinical internships. The following story focuses on Joan Heyding, McGill University, who was the first student to be placed as a clinician-researcher practicum student from the research project, Preventing Literacy Deficits in Children with Articulation/Phonological Disorders.

Unique Student Internship Model Offers Clinician-Researcher Experience with Results that can Benefit Clinicians and Impact Children

By: Susan Rvachew, Ph.D., S-LP(C), Assistant Professor, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University and Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network Researcher

Speech-language pathology faces a current and future shortage of individuals with PhD level training. This fact has implications not only for our ability to continue to train excellent clinicians, but also for our ability to generate the knowledge and develop the technologies that we need to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our practice. Even if all of the academic positions that are opening could be filled without difficulty, the problem would not be solved. Our field requires a greater level of clinical research, ideally conducted in clinical settings.

The School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University is introducing some of their students to the clinician-researcher role through clinical internships. This opportunity was funded through a grant awarded to Susan Rvachew, PhD by The Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network (http://www.cllrnet.ca). This funding provides McGill students with a unique opportunity to practice the clinician-researcher role under supervision. It also provides the internship site with an opportunity to experience the benefits of integrating clinical research with their treatment programs.

The first student to participate, Joan Heyding, was able to extend her first-year spring practicum at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) to a four-month experience. Typically, first-year students are placed in a clinical setting for only four weeks. Joan received supervised clinical practicum experiences as well as supervised research experience throughout the spring and summer terms. During her time at CHEO, Joan assessed 23 children to determine the relationship between preschoolers' speech perception, articulation, phonological awareness and preliteracy skills. She was also able to assist at CHEO, under the supervision of Dr. Robin Gaines, with efforts to develop assessment materials for francophone families. Although student involvement in research projects is not unusual, the experience provided Joan with a unique opportunity to be involved with clinical research in a clinical setting. The arrangement offered benefits to everyone involved.

Joan is enthusiastic about the experience. "I can't believe how much fun I had at CHEO. Everybody was extremely welcoming." The primary benefit for Joan was that she was "immersed in an environment with hard-working, skilled professionals for four months". Another benefit for her was a deeper understanding of the kinds of research questions that clinicians have and the extent to which most laboratory research does not address those questions. Although Joan is planning a clinical career, she has a better appreciation now of the links between research and clinical practice, and is motivated to promote research in the clinical setting when she begins clinical practice later this year.

Linda Mace, Clinical Coordinator of the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Clinic at CHEO, was equally enthusiastic. She felt that the clinical team benefited from active involvement with the research project. It linked research and practice in a very tangible way and stimulated the team's interest in clinical research. The staff looks forward to learning the outcome of the study and how it impacts their clinical practice.

CHEO's clients also benefited. Children who participated in the research program received in-depth assessments. Joan and her clinical supervisor were able to pass on the results of these assessments to the children's families and clinicians. Furthermore, because of their children's participation in this study, parents became more aware of the importance of phonological awareness skills at the preschool level for later literacy acquisition. In this way, Joan's research-related work supported the clinical goals of the CHEO speech-language program with respect to the promotion of phonological awareness skills among children with speech and language delays.

Dr. Robin Gaines points out that the manpower offered by students is essential if front-line clinicians are to successfully follow up on their own research questions. "Student clinicians who are independent, self-assured and can fit into the busy practices of SLPs are a super benefit. Clinicians and researchers can really benefit mutually from working together. The extra time and energy put into developing these relationships can be valuable for all."

The assessments that Joan conducted are part of a Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network study, Preventing Literacy Deficits in Children with Articulation/Phonological Disorders, that involves assessing children in a number of different settings in Ottawa, Calgary and Montreal. The quality and amount of information that was collected at the CHEO site was exceptional, as a result of Joan's close working relationship with CHEO speech-language pathologists.

The data that Joan collected shows that children who have moderate or severe delays in phonological development also have difficulty with speech perception and phonological awareness tasks. This suggests that they are at risk for delayed acquisition of literacy skills. The results of the study have obvious clinical implications. This summer, Meghann Grawburg, a McGill SLP student, will conduct a treatment study to determine if she can improve the phonological awareness skills of preschoolers with speech delay and thus prevent delays in the acquisition of reading. The expectation is that transfer of the results of this study to clinical practice will be facilitated by conducting it in clinical settings. This program of research is one of many of The Network's supported projects that together have the goal of helping every Canadian child achieve a more fulfilling life, thereby creating a nation empowered by communication.


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