Students from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (SCSD) have once again been busy organizing a series of events for spring 2019. Working under the guidance of Dr. Nicole Li-Jessen, Assistant Professor at the SCSD, two groups of students, each comprised of five final year Master’s students in Speech-Language Pathology, have developed events geared towards raising public awareness of often-overlooked issues related to swallowing and voice.

From left to right: Claudio Ales, Kirsten Stagg, Hadeel Sheshah, Charlotte Field and Katelyn Bernier

Making the connection between swallowing and breathing

Swallowing and breathing are actions most perform without paying them a second thought. However, these two functions working properly together are essential to ensuring we are able to eat and drink safely. This critical coordination at play is the theme of this year’s iteration of the collaborative swallowing-focused event, taking place on Wednesday April 3, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH).

For the event, the team of students, which includes Claudio Ales, Katelyn Bernier, Charlotte Field, Hadeel Sheshah and Kirsten Stagg, have developed an informational pamphlet on the topic that will be available to the public who visit their booth. Continuing their annual collaboration with Gina Mills, the Chief of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology at the JGH, the students will also once again be offering free swallowing screenings and educating the general public about the Speech-Language Pathology profession.

“These activities are important to share with the public because communication and swallowing are things that most people experience hundreds of times each day without thinking about twice,” explains the team.  “Yet, communicating effectively and swallowing safely are both critical factors in our everyday well-being and overall quality of life. It is important for people to have an understanding of the significance of these mechanisms and we believe that these activities will help bring awareness to that.”

The students, who selected the swallowing independent study class for their final semester due to a shared interest in the anatomy of the human body and the physiology of different mechanisms, stress that the goals of the event go beyond simply increasing awareness of the importance of swallowing. “It is about advocating for our profession, instilling knowledge and education about the field of Speech-Language Pathology and explaining the services that we can provide.”

From left to right: Ben Gaunce, Allison Chen, Emily Foreman, Sarah AlFraih and Meghan Hollett

Be kind to your voice

“Most of us take our voices for granted, but if for some reason you injure your voice the impact can be very severe,” explains the second group of SCSD students. “Pain or fatigue associated with speaking can easily interfere with a person’s ability to make a living. Voice is even more critical to individuals who rely on their voice for work, such as teachers or singers. A very small change in voice quality could have a devastating impact on a singer’s ability to perform, for example. More broadly, voice is the main way most of us communicate, so when it hurts to talk that can be very difficult for anyone’s daily life. Some of us have experienced firsthand what the vocal pain and fatigue is like and have had personal experiences with voice problems”

To highlight the importance of one’s voice, students Meghan Hollett, Sarah AlFraih, Allison Chen, Emily Foreman and Ben Gaunce worked together to develop two events celebrating this year’s World Voice Day, under the theme of “Be Kind with Your Voice.”

On April 5, from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. in Rm A832 in the Elizabeth Wirth Music Building, the students have once again teamed up with the Schulich School of Music and Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) to develop a 90-minute interactive workshop on vocal care. The workshop format, new this year, will include information and hands-on activities geared to people who use their voices for a living. It will also include a secondary focus on chronic cough and its effects on voice, a research topic selected by the students. “This topic is very relevant for the public as everyone experiences cough at some point in time, and chronic cough is also one of most common health complaints in adults,” notes the team.

On April 8, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. on the 8th floor of the Elizabeth Wirth Music Building, the students will once again be offering free screenings for voice disorders that will be open to the public. The voice screenings will be similar to previous years, with an updated and improved set of tools and protocols.

The events mark the fifth anniversary of McGill’s participation in World Voice Day activities.

March 28, 2019