Making speech pathology more accessible

12 April 2016

2009 Menzies Scholar in Allied Health, Dr Jane McCormackWhen Dr Jane McCormack worked on several initiatives aimed at understanding speech difficulties in children and improving the accessibility to speech pathology services in Australia, little did she know it would lead to a new role at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

But the 2009 Menzies Scholar in Allied Health Sciences is now coordinating the delivery of online modules for post-graduate students at the University’s Department of Human Communication Sciences, allowing her to expand on her teaching, research and speech-language pathology skills.

Jane spent the past 8 years working as a researcher, lecturer and discipline leader in speech-language pathology at Charles Sturt University. Her research focused on understanding the experience and impact of childhood speech impairment and led her to deliver national workshops and invited lectures in the US and the UK.

“Through my PhD and subsequent work, I recognised there was some work that needed to be done both within metropolitan areas due to high demand and long wait lists and rural areas where despite the prevalence of (communication) difficulties and need for services, there’s still a lack of trained professionals available to assist patients” she said.

SoundStart May2014 21“Since completing my PhD, I’ve been involved in mapping the extent of need against available support around the country to provide evidence of where the services are required. I’ve also been researching collaborations with early childhood educators to see how we can work with them to be agents of change when trained speech-language pathologists are not available”, she said.

As a result of her research, Jane has been involved with several initiatives aimed at improving training and accessibility of support around the country, including the development of virtual communities to provide simulated case studies for allied health students as an alternative workplace learning experience. She has also worked with a team to set up an online Master of Speech Pathology.

“University programs are increasingly needing to provide flexible learning opportunities for students who may be unable to attend classes due to family, work commitments, or their geographical location. The speech-language pathology team at CSU developed the first online Master of Speech Pathology program to enable students to train as speech-language pathologists without needing to be on-campus.”

As a result of her work, Jane was asked by Speech Pathology Australia to be their national tour speaker for 2015 which involved delivering workshops around the country to share her research and experience.

SoundStartAusTeamCSU Feb2013 2 web

“The title of my workshop was ‘Kids, communication and context: Providing holistic and evidence-based care to children with speech and language difficulties’. The objective was to encourage workshop participants to re-think how we work with children with speech and language difficulties, and their families and teachers. We looked at some of the long-term implications of communication difficulties, considered the interaction between communication, life activities and environmental facilitators/barriers, then spent time exploring how we can examine/support children’s communication in the context of their everyday lives” she said.

In October last year Jane moved to the University of Sheffield to work as a senior lecturer in the Department of Human Communication Sciences in the field of paediatric speech difficulties.

“The University has a strong history of research in speech-language pathology (therapy) and a wonderful team of people undertaking interesting and important work. I saw the move as an opportunity to learn more about speech-language pathology in an international context and to gain experience teaching and researching at a different institution.

“The University of Sheffield encourages and supports staff to undertake research and takes great pride in the research generated here. It also plays a key role in the life of the city itself and sees its role as researching issues of concern to the community, generating products of value to the community, and translating research findings so they are meaningful and accessible to the community” she said.

Jane remains an adjunct associate professor with the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE) at CSU. She is currently finalising an Australian Research Council Project with a team of researchers from CSU, The University of Sydney and The University of the West of England examining the value of a computer-based program for supporting children with speech difficulties in early childhood centres.

Photos courtesy of the Bloorview Institute in Canada and Professor Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University.