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Winter 2008

March 2008 Volume 5 Issue 1

McGill Speech-Language Pathology Students Help English-Speaking Communities in the Eastern Townships
Author: Isabelle Allain

Version française

As a general rule nationwide, there are not enough speech-language services to fulfill the population’s needs, and the situation is even more critical in minority language communities in Canada, such as the English-speaking communities of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The Retention Program, part of the larger “Training and Human Resources Development" project under the aegis of McGill University provides student health professionals an opportunity to gain valuable clinical skills while helping to meet the needs of communities such as Granby, Knowlton, and Sherbrooke for additional speech-language services.

Eleanor, now in her final semester of graduate studies at McGill, traveled to the Eastern townships of Quebec in May 2007, where she gained valuable clinical skills while working with elementary school-aged children in the Anglophone school board of Granby and Knowlton. Alongside Eleanor, Gabrielle and Stephanie, both recent alumni from McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, completed their final clinical practicum in Speech-Language Pathology last spring in the town of Granby. For a duration of three months, Gabrielle worked in a hospital with preschoolers, between the ages of 18 months and five years old, presenting swallowing, speech and language disorders, while Stephanie worked in a rehabilitation center with preschoolers, between the ages of two and five years old, presenting language disorders, motor speech disorders, autism, motor disorders and multiple handicaps. Besides speech-language pathology, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and social work were among the other health care and social professions represented by students in the Granby area last spring.

At the time Eleanor was in the communities of Granby and Knowlton, the region of the Eastern Townships was served by only two speech-language pathologists in the Anglophone school board. They assessed children in as many as fifteen different schools and were even sent several hospital referrals. Working with a large and varied caseload stretched across a broad territory is the primary challenge for speech-language pathologists who work in rural areas - this takes a lot of independence, flexibility, creativity and hard work. Eleanor does not fail to mention that the speech-language pathologists with whom she worked were doing a fantastic job with the support they had. In fact, one of the reasons Eleanor believes the Retention Program is important is to see how speech-language pathology services work outside the city of Montreal. She explains: “I would never have realized how desperate they [speech-language pathologists] are, even though you hear about it all the time. It’s important to see the impact this has on children who would potentially receive services, as well as on the speech-language pathologists themselves”.

When asked to describe the advantages of participating in the Retention Program, the friendly people and lifestyle of the Eastern Townships, the no expense incentives, the possibility of working with their population of interest in the realm of speech-language pathology, as well the beautiful scenery of the Eastern Townships were listed by the students. In fact, Knowlton, one of the communities where Eleanor undertook her clinical practicum activities, was voted one of Quebec’s top 100 most beautiful villages. All of the mentioned benefits may be among the reasons why the two recent McGill alumni, Stephanie and Gabrielle, chose to work as speech-language pathologists in the Eastern Townships upon their graduation.

Finally, the Retention Program is important in encouraging students to gain clinical experience working with English-speaking populations of Quebec and to share their expertise, on a long-term basis, with communities who are in dire need of health and social services in their own language. When asked why she believes these types of programs are important, Gabrielle responds: “They promote migration of bilingual health care professionals in rural settings, ensuring both Francophone and Anglophone populations are well served in their language of choice”, and this is exactly what the Retention Program seeks to achieve. All three students truly enjoyed their experience in Eastern Townships. They acquired valuable skills and new perspectives as future speech-language pathologists. They highly recommend other students to take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of the Retention Program. As Eleanor points out: “You have nothing to loose and a lot to gain”.

The Eastern Townships of Quebec and the Retention Program
Author: Alla Sorokin

The Eastern Townships is a southern region of Quebec that covers a territory of 16,000 km².. The bilingual tradition of the region has its roots in the original English settlements from two centuries ago, followed by the French settlements. Since the 1860s, the number of English-speaking Townshippers began declining due to migration to Western Canada, the United States, Montreal and Toronto. Presently with 41,000 English-speakers, the English community in the Eastern Townships has become a minority, representing only 6% of the region’s total population (Statistics Canada, 2001). Despite the decline in the number of Anglophones in the region, the interrelations between the Anglophones and the Francophones, based on mutual respect and friendship, never disappeared. In fact, the Anglophones and the Francophones have always lived with each other as neighbors, helping each other out regardless of their linguistic differences.

Initiatives to promote the interests of the Anglophone community were first undertaken with the foundation of the Townshippers’ Association in 1979. The goals of the association revolve around providing economic and social opportunities for young Anglophones. Furthermore, incentives are directed at encouraging the English-speakers to remain in the region by strengthening their cultural identity and by actively participating in the development of their own community as well as the community at large.

In 2005, the Training and Human Resources Development Project was designed by McGill University, in collaboration with Health Canada’s Consultative Committee for English-Speaking Minority Communities and the Community Health and Social Sciences Network (CHSSN), which partners with the Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux. The main agenda of this project is to ensure English-speaking Quebecers have equitable access to health care and social services in their own language. The project was allocated a federal budget of 11.5 million dollars by Health Canada to implement the Health and Social Services Act, which seeks the implementation of regional programs for access to services in English.

A subproject, the Retention program and the Distance Professional and Community Support Program, is designed to encourage students from the health and social services disciplines in Quebec’s Anglophone educational institutions to undertake their clinical practicum, and possibly a professional career upon graduation, in the Eastern Townships. McGill has been actively collaborating with the local Health and Social Services Institutions. The latter offers supervised field placements for students from the following disciplines: social work, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, as well as dietetics and human nutrition. Various incentives are offered to students during their temporary field placements, notably financial support for their transportation and accommodations. The students are also financially assisted for their travel to interviews and potential reallocation for the undertaking of a permanent job position.

In 2008, a special innovative project has been arranged between the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) and the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University: four graduate students in speech-Language pathology will work in pairs to provide intensive and extensive speech therapy services to children at a school while being supervised by an SLP from the ETSB and by the Head of the McGill Clinical SLP Graduate Program. These children who would otherwise not be able to receive services because of a shortage of speech-language pathologists are now able to receive twice weekly speech therapy services over a five-week period. Services are geared to the children’s specific needs in the domains of receptive language skills, expressive language skills, speech and phonological awareness.