Students in Speech-Language Pathology at McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders are trained to work with a wide variety of disorders, and to provide high quality services to individuals of all backgrounds.
It is an unfortunate reality that people who are racialized or who identify with marginalized groups are more likely to receive inferior healthcare services. One transmasculine patient (who wished to remain anonymous) described his experiences with healthcare as frustrating, and said that, for the most part, health care practitioners “just didn’t know anything. (...) There’s a lot that they don’t understand, and they’re just not educated enough.” When asked what he thought could be done to improve the quality of care he and other members of marginalized groups receive, he replied simply: “Education. Education and exposure.”
The School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (SCSD) has several projects to begin providing such education and exposure.
Diversity Training at McGill
New initiatives are being set in place at the SCSD that are meant to help students learn how to deliver anti-oppressive care. In clinical students’ third semester, one course in particular – Practicum & Seminar III – dedicates over half of its classes to issues related to diversity, counselling, and proper communication with patients. This course, taught by Assistant Professor Kelly Root, includes training on Indigenous History and Health, a workshop on supporting conversation with persons with aphasia, and presentations on various topics in diversity by students, for other students.
Students have opportunities to develop these skills in several ways. For the past few years, some students have had the opportunity to complete clinical practica in primarily Indigenous communities in Northern Quebec, including the Algonquin community in Lac Simon and Cree community in Chisasibi. In recent years, Dr. Nicole Li-Jessen’s Voice Disorders class has given students the opportunity to deliver workshops on vocal masculinization/feminization to youth who identify as transgender.
Going Beyond Education
Efforts to increase diversity at McGill extend more broadly through the Faculty of Medicine. The Widening Participation Committee is mandated by the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Social Accountability to increase diversity and equity in the Faculty of Medicine, and to increase the participation of under-represented and marginalized populations in the application to McGill’s health professional programs.
Yasmin Beydoun, a second-year MScA student, and Emily Jarvis, a first-year MScA student, are our representatives on the Students’ Widening Participation Committee. Yasmin says, “Currently, we are working with the Widening Participation Committee and Faculty of Medicine to create a mentorship program that will pair younger diverse students (high schoolers) with people in a field of interest. This is interesting as it may have a longer and stronger impact on the students’ path into a healthcare related field, unlike a day camp. Stay tuned!”
Always Room for Progress
Most of the diversity training SCSD students received happens in their second year of the program. Last year, Yasmin conducted a diversity training survey of the first-year speech-language pathology students. Yasmin says, “The main goal for the survey was to assess where the students in our class felt they needed more training in terms of working with a diverse population in an anti-oppressive manner.” Overall, the survey showed that students in their first year felt that this type of training and education was important, but that more of it would be necessary in order for them to feel confident in providing anti-oppressive healthcare.
When it comes to diversity, there is always room for progress. The diversity training survey suggested that steps could be taken to introduce more cultural competency and anti-oppressive training earlier in the program, but that nevertheless, many strides are being taken at the SCSD in favor of diversity. The transmasculine patient quoted above also said, “I think we are headed in the right direction for health care” but he acknowledged that this will take time.
Indeed, the initiatives at the SCSD are working in the right direction, and further efforts will allow students to develop the clinical skills and competence to provide excellent clinical care to clients of all backgrounds.