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NMSU graduate students provide speech therapy to children in Peru

Marlene Salas-Provance, department head of Special Education and Communication Disorders in New Mexico State University?s College of Education, has always dreamed of taking students abroad to provide speech therapy, and because of NMSU?s Faculty-Led International Programs, it became a reality in June.

Two women (left) work with a young boy (right).
New Mexico State University communication disorders graduate students Marysa DeBlassie (left) and Jessica Bozzell (center) conduct speech therapy with a young boy during a faculty-led international program course to Lima, Peru, in June. (Courtesy photo)

Salas-Provance and a group of 12 graduate students traveled to Lima, Peru, for a clinical practicum experience where the students spent two weeks providing speech and language therapy at a medical center to patients with communication disorders.

?This group of 12 graduate students in communication disorders provided 250 hours of speech therapy,? Salas-Provance said. ?We saw literally hundreds of patients and their families who came in each day for their therapy session.

?What they were able to do in those days of intensive speech therapy was phenomenal,? she said. ?They could see by the end of the week that the children were already improving.?

The NMSU group worked with children who recently had surgery for cleft lip or palate, and the students assessed their speech and provided therapy services and techniques.

Christina Newman, a communication disorders graduate student, said the opportunity for international outreach was one of the reasons she decided to attend NMSU.

?We had the opportunity to work with clients that we don?t get to see as much in the States,? Newman said. ?I think having the opportunity to see so many children with this anomaly impacted our education and our ability to apply the textbook case to real life.?

Hali Marte, a communication disorders graduate student, agreed and she hopes to continue to travel internationally.

?I think this has stoked the fire,? Marte said. ?I would definitely do this again, not just for cleft palate, but for all sorts of needs. We saw clients there who had fluency issues, stuttering, as we know it, autism and language development. There are so many needs.?

Salas-Provance said the students made an immediate impact on many patients including a week-old baby with cleft palate. Students trained the parents in feeding because the bottle nipple was the wrong size and thickness for the newborn. With the appropriate nipple, the baby started sucking and swallowing immediately in a normal fashion.

Marysa DeBlassie, a communication disorders graduate student, said even though the trip was only two weeks, she was able to build relationships with the patients and their families.

?We did a lot of things where we taught them a lot of strategies,? DeBlassie said. ?I felt like it was a privilege. We gave them a lot, but I also felt like they gave us a lot.?
With vast experience working with cleft lip and palate, Salas-Provance has traveled the world with Rotaplast International and a medical team for 10 years and she knows the benefits students receive from outreach programs.

?For the students to go there to speak a second language, to practice their clinical skills and to make a commitment much larger than themselves, I think that makes them clinicians that will be open to diversity, open to people of different cultures, different needs,? Salas-Provance said. ?That?s what we try to do. We can teach them the academics, but to teach them how to be a caring, loving, sensitive clinician that comes from the heart. I saw that every day in Peru in each of these students.?

Along with the 12 graduate students, three professional speech language pathologists, who are NMSU alumni, volunteered for the trip to supervise the students? clinical work. Guy Garcia, CEO of VOCES in Tucson, and Vickie Flores and Margie Medina, both from Las Cruces Public Schools, also were members of this FLiP experience. There were three other volunteers, two of whom were recent graduates in nursing and kinesiology at NMSU, for a total of 19 people.

Salas-Provance said she decided to travel to Lima because of professional contacts with an orthodontist and a plastic surgeon she had worked with on previous trips to the country.

?This orthodontist and plastic surgeon were critical and instrumental in us getting access to this medical center because it?s difficult to get permission to enter a high-level medical center community in another country and to be able to attract enough patients for 12 graduate students to conduct therapy.?

Salas-Provance said she would continue to lead trips to Peru as long as students are interested.

?One of the key things about providing a clinical service in another country is that you want it to be sustainable,? she said.

In addition to the therapy NMSU students provided, Salas-Provance has started to develop agreements with the medical center, Hospital Nacional Arzobispo Loayza, and university, Universidad Nacional Federico Villarrea, for new partnerships.

?We hope to continue with exchanges for graduate training, clinical education and research,? she said. We want to build sustainability and a long-term and lasting partnership with the people and the professionals in Lima, Peru.?