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USF Health course equips speech language pathologists with new techniques

Speech language pathologists throughout the Tampa Bay region have a new source of training on techniques for detecting medical problems of the voice, thanks to the USF Health Department of Otolaryngology and the USF Health Voice Center.

The Voice Center, in combination with the department, recently held its first training course on videostroboscopy and Fiber optic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES). Aimed at speech language pathologists (SLPs), the course shows the opportunities created when community health providers have access to academic practice resources.

Videostroboscopy is a diagnostic tool used to help physicians spot scars, lesions, or other abnormalities on the vocal cords by helping them observe the cord’s vibratory patterns. These quick patterns are difficult to see and could go unnoticed during standard laryngoscopy exams.

“We always talk about the hummingbird,” said Yael Bensoussan, MD, director of the Voice Center and an assistant professor in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology. “When the hummingbird bats their wings, we can't see them because they're too fast and they're blurry,”

Physicians use a specialized device called a stroboscope—a strobe light attached to a tiny camera inserted into the patient’s throat—that blink quickly enough to visually slow down the rapid vibrations of the vocal cords, enabling an examination and understanding of their movement.

FEES, which also uses a small camera inserted in a patient’s throat, lets SLPs assess a patient’s ability to swallow, providing instant feedback and suggesting intervention strategies.

Dr. Stephanie Watts gestures with her hands in front of a lectern to a class.

Dr. Stephanie Watts (left) addresses fellow speech language pathologists during the training course. 

“The speech pathologist goes to the bedside of the patient, gives them something to eat, and watches them swallow as it goes down,” said Stephanie Watts, PhD, a speech language pathologist and assistant professor in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology. “It provides some good techniques and sees in real time what makes you aspirate.”

The two-day training course proved popular with SLPs, with participants joining from not only the Tampa Bay area but also from throughout Florida and outside the state.

Besides granting SLPs necessary continuing education credits, the course provides invaluable hands-on experience with these techniques, allowing SLPs to immediately use this learning in their own practices, and helping them engage directly with surgeons and clinicians.

“It's really a convergence of behavioral and medical care,” Dr. Watts said. “We can't wait to continue this course next year and maybe even biannually.”

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USF Health News highlights the great work of the faculty, staff and students across the four health colleges – Morsani College of Medicine, College of Public Health, College of Nursing and Taneja College of Pharmacy – and the multispecialty physicians group. USF Health, an integral part of the University of South Florida, integrates research, education and health care to reach our shared value - making life better.