March 15, 2018

Two Programs Forge Ties with India’s Manipal Academy of Higher Education

Two departments in the College of Health Professions (CHP) — Audiology and Speech Pathology and Genetic Counseling — are forging ties with India’s Manipal Academy of Higher Education, formerly Manipal University.

Both departments have sent faculty to Manipal to present workshops, and Genetic Counseling has sent one student to complete a clinical rotation there. UAMS and Manipal Academy have a memorandum of interest, which allows the two to explore a collaborative relationship.

Both departments also have a personal connection to Manipal. Naveen Nagaraj, Ph.D., an assistant professor in audiology, worked at Manipal University between 2002 and 2006 as a clinician and faculty member. Smita Rao, M.S., an adjunct faculty member in genetic counseling, graduated from Manipal.

“These built-in connections with Manipal have made it a natural collaborator as the College of Health Professions explores how best to educate our students for this global society,” said Susan Long, Ed.D., the college’s interim dean.

Audiology and Speech Pathology

Nagaraj said a student’s interest in an overseas externship is what started his department’s initial conversation with Manipal. Ultimately, the student decided not to go to India, but the discussion had sparked additional interest.

Faculty members in front of Manipal University

Assistant professor Naveen Nagaraj, Ph.D., (third from left) Amyn Amlani, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology (second from right) and Samuel Atcherson, Ph.D., director of Audiology, (right) are exploring ways that the department might partner with India’s Manipal Academy of Higher Education, formerly Manipal University.

Then-CHP Dean Douglas Murphy, Ph.D., and Amyn Amlani, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, which is a joint program of UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, liked the idea of a study abroad program, Nagaraj said.

In November 2017, Amlani, Nagaraj and Samuel Atcherson, Ph.D., director of audiology, traveled to India to present a workshop at Manipal and tour the facility.

“The response to our workshop, ‘Redefining Hearing Aid Selection, Fitting and Verification Practices,’ was very positive,” said Nagaraj. “About 150 people, including students and working professionals from all over India, attended.”

During the trip, the three UAMS faculty discussed with Krishna Yerraguntla, Ph.D., head of Manipal’s Department of Speech and Hearing, and other school officials, including the registrar, ways to further the relationship between the two universities. Avenues to explore include student and faculty exchanges, research projects and training of doctoral students.

Department faculty and their Manipal counterparts have identified a joint research project — looking at hearing aid sales in India. India doesn’t have a database of how many hearing aids are sold or how many people are using amplification devices, said Nagaraj.

“This project is important from the sense that UAMS and Manipal are striving to assess speech, language and audiology problems from a global standpoint,” said Amlani. “There are several other international projects in our field (Nottingham, England and Australia; South Africa and University of South Florida) and these international collaborations have wielded scholars, extramural funding and valuable interprofessional partnerships.”

Nagaraj is excited about the thought of UAMS audiology students traveling to India for their clinical externships. This experience will allow them to learn about unique audiological service delivery models that exist in India, where the majority of individuals still reside in rural areas where health care access is limited. Such experiences would be invaluable, he said.

A large group of workshop attendees at Manipal University

About 150 people attended a workshop at Manipal Academy of Higher Education that was led by three faculty members from UAMS’ Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology.

Genetic Counseling

Lori Williamson Dean, M.S. C.G.C., assistant director of the Genetics Counseling program and an assistant professor, said she can’t overstate the importance of global experiences for her students.

Smita Rao and Lori Dean

Smita Rao, M.S., and Lori Williamson Dean, M.S., assistant director of the Genetics Counseling program, presented at India’s first conference focused on genetic counseling.

“I think it is essential for genetic counseling student to be exposed to the field outside of the U.S. If we could give every student that sort of opportunity it would be fantastic,” she said. “To expose students to other cultures, other health care systems and other ways of practicing genetic counseling can only help expand their practice here.”

Dean and Rao, who also works as a cancer genetic counselor at Vanderbilt University, are working to develop their department’s relationship with Manipal, which has India’s first master’s-level genetic counseling program. Both women traveled to Manipal in March 2017 to present at India’s first conference focused on genetic counseling.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase scholarly efforts on both campuses, such as journal clubs between the students, collaborative genetic counseling research programs and student exchanges,” Dean said.

Brittany Henson was the first genetic counseling student to travel to Manipal for a summer clerkship, which occurs between the first and second years of the program. She spent her two weeks in India shadowing the students at Manipal as well as geneticists and genetic counselors.

Henson said her experience “spurred her interest in helping to improve genetic services worldwide.”

“My goal is to give our students an appreciation for the similarities and differences among families in India and the United States in dealing with the impact of genetic conditions,” said Dean. “I also want them to see a critical assessment of the differences and similarities between the two countries’ health care system, especially as to how genetic counseling is practiced.”