Inside NYU Steinhardt: A J-Term Course for Nutrition and Communicative Sciences and Disorders Students

“Interdisciplinary Case-Based Management of Dysphagia,” offered during NYU’s J-Term, was  an opportunity for communicative sciences and disorders graduate students to team up with their peers in nutrition and dietetics to explore how to feed and care for people with difficulty swallowing—a problem that in the United States affects about 22% of adults over 50.

A student talks to Chef Amanda C. Smith (center), food program coordinator in Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies. (Credit: Kate Lord / New York University)

Each small group of students was given a hypothetical patient’s profile, which included details about the individual’s medical history as well as cultural background and culinary likes and dislikes. Taught by Lisa Sasson, clinical assistant professor of nutrition, and Erin Embry, clinical assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders, this course encouraged students to think creatively to develop a food plan that not only would meet patients’ physical and nutritional needs, but also satisfy their taste and bring comfort.

“It’s not a diabetic. It’s not a stroke victim. It’s a real person who has a life,” Sasson said. “What is their culture? What would bring back good memories for them? That’s what we’re trying to create in this kitchen.”

During one class session, the students even discussed their “patients” with real physicians in mock medical rounds at NYU’s Rusk Rehabilitation Medical Center.

Patients with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing, so many of the foods presented were blended or thickened to aid in swallowing. (Credit: Kate Lord / New York University)

“Students seem to find the opportunity to interact with their peers and learn more about the role other disciplines play in patient care rewarding,” Embry said. “This is a rare opportunity to practice collaborative, person-centered care in the context of a basic, yet essential quality of life need—eating and drinking!”

All the careful prep work culminated in a final Iron Chef-style cooking competition in which each team prepared a meal specifically designed for the needs of their assigned patient. The food was presented to a panel of guest judges and an audience, who votee on a winner. This year’s judges included food writer Tanya Steel, chef Franklin Becker, communicative sciences and disorders professor Sonja Molfenter, occupational therapy professor Kristie Koenig, and NYU provost Katherine Fleming.