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A flashback on Vietnam’s first cohort of Master in Speech and Language Therapy

Despite various challenges posed by the Covid-19, in November 2021, the first cohort of 14 students successfully graduated from the first Master in Speech and Language Therapy at University of Medicine and Pharmacy in HCMC, marking a significant milestone on the development journey of Speech and Language Therapy in Vietnam.

A huge gap in the unmet need of speech and language therapy
Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) is a specialty of applied science, which works to provide treatment, support and care for clients with speech, communication and swallowing impairment/disorders.

These disorders can be associated with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury, stroke, Parkinson, cleft lips and cleft palate, head-neck cancer, etc.

Inability to speak, slurred speech, stuttering, articulation errors, etc, vastly hinder communication, negatively affect the quality of life, limiting social inclusion, access to education and career development.

SALT got recognition nearly 100 years ago since the formation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in 1926. Nowadays, SALT has been widely practiced in Europe, Australia and developed countries, territories in other regions. However, in Vietnam, SALT has only been present for around 10 years since the commencement of SALT short-term training conducted in several medical universities (Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine, Hanoi Medical University, Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy).

SALT services in Vietnam has been in high demand. According to the National Survey on People with Disabilities conducted in 2016, over 7 per cent of the population aged 2 years and older, – around 6.2 million, have a disability (mobility, hearing, sight, mental disorder, etc).
Despite the absence of official statistical data on the number of people needing SALT, according to the research ‘Disability in Vietnam 1999: A Meta-analysis of the Data” (Kane, 1999), 17%-27% of persons with disabilities in Vietnam have difficulties with speech and language.

However, due to the lack of manpower, this need remains unmet. According to the “Surveying the Demand for SALT education in Vietnam” conducted by MCNV in 2018, by late 2017, there were only 65 people who were trained and basically qualified to provide SALT services in the country.

Aiming to support Vietnam to address this need, a project titled “Speech and Language Therapy Education Development in Vietnam” was rolled out. Implemented in 5 year (2018-2022), the project is funded by USAID Vietnam via VietHealth, dedicating to lay a foundation for Vietnam’s first university-based SALT programs, including a Master course at UMP HCMC and a Bachelor course at Da Nang UMTP. Trinh Foundation Australia (TFA) participates in the project as a technical consulting partner,

Adapting in the face of adversity

The Master’s program in SALT commenced in November 2019 with 14 students who are working for HCMC UMP, Hue UMP, Da Nang UMTP, Hai Duong Medical Technical University and Tay Ninh School of Health.

A lesson on cleft lips and cleft palate as part of the Master programe in SALT.

Amidst the inevitable obstacles brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, MCNV and partners managed to come up with a set of adaptation solutions to minimize the negative impacts, ensure teaching quality and at the same time, ensure safety for the lecturers and students.

Since the time when COVID-19 hit Vietnam, most of the training activities, including clinical practice, have been shifted from direct to virtual training method, with the support of on-site Vietnamese SALT and remote international experts. The curriculum was revised, adapted while new teaching materials were developed.

Professional Zoom accounts were maintained to facilitate online learning. At the same time, memberships of Simucase – a credible clinical simulation platform – were purchased for all students and supervisors, enabling the users to assess, diagnose, make recommendations, and provide intervention for virtual patients.

During thesis research, students received continuous support from experienced supervisors of HCMC UMP and universities in Australia.

Virtual discussions between supervisors and students were facilitated with the support of assistants and interpreters to help clearly identify the objective, content and research methods of the thesis.

Encouraging outcomes
In early November 2021, all of the 14 students finally completed the graduation thesis defense. Their research covered a wide range of clinically applicable topics including stuttering, sound assessment for children, communication disability, demand for training in SALT of community-based rehabilitation therapists.

The Graduation Thesis Defence of the Master program in SALT.

More importantly, the project has benefited HCMC UMP in the long-term, since it has supported the Department of Rehabilitation in developing the proposal to the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) on issuing a training code to recognize the Master in Rehabilitation Techniques program. This Major code was approved by MOET, qualifying HCM UMP to conduct training of the three specialties (PT, OT, ST).

At the same time, the project has equipped the HCMC UMP and Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy with basic infrastructures for SALT training as well as connecting these institutions with a network of accredited SALT experts and organizations worldwide.

Building on the results brought out by the project, three designated medical universities across Vietnam are getting ready to independently offer Bachelor program in SALT.

A virtual lesson on Simucase as part of the Bachelor program in SALT, Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy.

While HCMC UMP is training the second cohort of Master program in SALT, aiming to develop a clinical supervisor team in hospitals, at HMTU, the first cohort of Bachelor program has been enrolled. Following the piloting course in Da Nang UMP, this is Vietnam’s second cohort of Bachelor program in SALT. These progresses signal the sustainable impacts of the project as well as the bright outlook of SALT in Vietnam./.