Ten (and a half) years ago, a group of excited, yet scared wannabe SLPs, gathered together for our “first day of school”. We quickly found solidarity amidst the diversity amongst us – we were “the NUS students” and no longer the accountants, biomedical science professionals, psychologists, engineers, or teachers that we once were.
What exactly does it mean to have graduated from NUS? Amongst other things, it means that we managed to squeeze four years of syllabus and placements into two; we met on Mondays and Fridays to discuss cases that were obviously Australian but became Singaporean; we used “lah”, “loh”, “uncle”, “auntie”, “nenek” and “atok” on placements to build rapport with our clients; we went all over Singapore finding males and females who are 3-4 years old or 70-80 years old to collect norms for local assessment tools.
It is always great to reminisce, but five cohorts of local grads (over 100 NQPs) have now joined the army of Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) in Singapore. Surely things must have changed over the years?
Problem Based Learning (PBL) cases
Ex-NUS students might remember Miss Beryl Tee. Well, out she went, and in came Miss Lillian Tee. Their surnames are the same, but Lillian is a true red-and-white-with- stars-and- a-crescent local. She joins Aidil Razak, Patricia Lee, Sze En, Hassan Ali, Shamini Krishnan and many more. These are cases written by the NUS team to ensure PBL tutorials represent cases SLPs would likely meet in the local setting. Issue such as bilingualism, code-switching, local education and healthcare systems, local grammar and syntax are discussed. The assessment tools in the PBL cases often include locally developed tests that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
These changes make the principles of PBL case processing – picking out key information, hypothesizing underlying issues, assessments as a form of hypothesis testing, and a basis for treatment planning, setting SMART goals in collaboration with clients, the importance of measuring treatment efficacy, and discharge planning – more automatic and relevant when managing clients in real
Perhaps the biggest challenge has been to replace observations for the first placement with more client contact. In Semester 1, the students are immersed in community settings, conducting assessments with residents of nursing homes and pupils in kindergartens. These experiences provide opportunities to practice within a supported comfortable zone, and to be exposed to clinical work with populations that have high needs for ST services but receive insufficient support for swallowing and communication difficulties.
Research projects in the early years sought to plug gaps in assessment tools available for the local setting. Tools that have been developed so far include the Cognitive-Linguistic Assessment Profile (Rickard Liow & Lee, 2015), Cognitive-Communication Screener for Acquired Brain Injuries (Low, 2016), Semantic Assessment Batteries (Malay – Jalil, Rickard Liow and Tng, 2008; Mandarin – Teh, 2012; English – Wong, 2012). Norms were also collected, so that quantitative interpretation of assessment results was possible.
There are still some gaps in the inventory of local norms but the focus is now shifting towards innovative treatment studies in various areas including using music to elicit expressive verbalisations for children with special needs (Tan, 2016), autobiographical naming treatment for people with Primary Progressive Aphasia (Sohn Chaird, 2016), and phonological cueing treatment for people with aphasia who are fluent in Mandarin (Tan, 2016).
Many of the assessment tools and treatment protocols are available in the NUS SLP library. Clinical educators are updated on locally developed resources and plans are underway for team members to give a workshop to introduce these to a wider range of SLPs who are interested in using them. Do look out for announcements via NUS or TIC!
It has been a fruitful 10 years, and the programme is looking forward to introducing even more new initiatives to make formal SLP training in Singapore an excellent one. We look forward to continue working closely with the SLP community.