Last year we discovered the DysphagiaCafe.com It’s a website for clinicians to exchange ideas and knowledge about dysphagia.
We like it because it discusses serious dysphagia related topics in an informal manner. From thickened drinks and pureed food, latest ideas and clinicians experience. It covers it all.
As you may not of heard of it, we think it would be useful to find out more and so we asked its founder to tell us about how he started and what he hopes it will achieve. Over to Jonathan…
Dysphagia Café: An evolving project to bridge the gap between clinician and expert.
It was literally at a Café in Seattle, Washington in 2013, where Dysphagia Café was conceived, on a napkin. It was after one of the mid-afternoon sessions at the Dysphagia Research Society (DRS) meeting, when my brain was overloaded with research and a latte seemed like the only respite. That is when the idea was born.
It was my first year at DRS and I was exhilarated to see a roomful of thought-leaders from all over the world; lecturing, presenting and discussing dysphagia. I was truly inspired. I wanted to mobilize all the clinicians I knew to get excited as well and to get into dysphagia research. I wanted to invite them all to the next DRS conference.
I returned to my full-time hospital job revitalized and began citing names and articles to everyone who would listen. I was fired up with research. Soon enough though, it all went back to square one. It was not so easy to alter my clinical practice habits, which had been picked up way back during my internship and fellowship years. Of course, I often read journal articles; that wasn’t the issue. The “bad” practice habits were engrained from the beginning, because of which I did not feel like an expert in dysphagia. I felt like most of my learning had been on the job. In fact, I started to wonder if I was alone in my thinking. I started to pose a very difficult question to the profession I loved: “Are there any Speech-Language Pathologists who can claim to be an ‘expert’ in the field of swallowing disorders upon graduation?”
To me, it certainly seemed like the group at DRS could assert expertise. I felt like there was a large gap between the clinical expertise of the attendees at DRS and myself. I wanted to bridge this gap in some way. I started out with small changes. I began to observe more. I listened more to students that I had. I listened to other clinicians that I met at different courses across the country and on social media. I decided I wanted to be the best possible dysphagia clinician I could be. All this led to the conception of Dysphagia Café. On a selfish level, it was created to force me into research and encourage me to interact with other clinicians and mentors, so I could become a better clinician myself.
I began reading and writing, but quickly realized that writing daily, weekly or even monthly was not for me. There were many other talented writers and experts in our field. In fact, many of the leaders at DRS were incredible writers and were already contributing to textbooks and peer-reviewed journals. Was there a way to publicize evidence-based content from the same leaders in a blog format through social media? There was only one way to find out- I started to ask. I emailed and called many dysphagia experts. I respectfully got declined several times due to other pressing deadlines, but then some started to say yes. Soon, the number of Yes responses outnumbered the No’s. Thus, Dysphagia Café was born- with kind contributions from dysphagia experts and leaders worldwide in short formats.
Dysphagia Café is not intended to be a journal, nor a peer-reviewed resource. The hope is that knowledge and information related to dysphagia will be shared across today’s social format for maximum exposure. Social media, though often a scary form in academic and scientific circles, can be used as a powerful and positive medium. My hope is that Dysphagia Café will connect clinicians from day one of their careers, with researchers and thought-leaders from all over the world, so that we can all start to communicate on the same page about this complex area of study.
The trip to DRS for a first timer like me was a much needed gut check. It opened my eyes to an existing gap; a gap between my understanding of what it means to be a clinician who manages dysphagia versus an expert in the field of dysphagia. Dysphagia Café continues to be an evolving project. The hope is that the words on a napkin in a Seattle Café that were once just messy notes and reflections will continue to evolve into a resource that will have a large scale global impact on our profession.
Jonathan M. Waller