Delve into the Audiology and Speech Therapy Program, one of the most popular at Birzeit

With the start of the 2018/2019 academic year at Birzeit University, students are taking the first steps of their academic careers, which start with choosing a program to enroll in.

Currently, the university offers more than 100 programs in various disciplines and majors, but one of the most popular is the Audiology and Speech Therapy Program, which boasts a distinct mix of specialized education coupled with practical training and coaching.

Established by Tamer Essawi, the former dean of the faculty, along with Nadia Abdul Haq, then chair of the Hearing and Speech Science Department at the University of Jordan, the program is one of the first of its kind locally, and the vast majority of its graduates find employment shortly after finishing their studies.

The Faculty of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Professions inaugurated the Audiology and Speech Therapy Program in the 2011-2012 academic year, following approval by the Ministry of Higher Education’s Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission.

Students enrolled in the program are trained on identifying and treating congenital and acquired speech and hearing disabilities, such as speech impediments, language disorders, stuttering, hearing loss, and aphasia – loss of the ability to communicate due to brain injury.

The excellent teaching, combined with the focus on praxis, allow the program to attract many talented students, sometimes more than the capacity of its clinics and center. While interviewing Chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech Therapy Thair Odeh, two parents knocked the door of his office and walked in, explaining that their daughter, while academically excellent, could not enroll in the program due to it reaching its capacity.

Odeh, who suggested that the daughter enroll in a different program in the faculty and attempt to transfer to the Audiology and Speech Therapy Program next year, said the program follows an annual cycle – as opposed to the more usual biannual one. He noted that such a cycle is followed to focus efforts on the practical aspect of speech therapy and audiology education.

“The department was established to provide training and education on audiology and speech therapy in Palestine, seeing as no other college or university provides such instruction or research efforts in this area,” commented Odeh.

 He added that Audiology and Speech Therapy students have access to a clinic furnished with the latest testing and treatment equipment, where they are trained by experienced academics and medical professionals. The clinic is also open to patients from inside and outside the university, Odeh said.

All in all, 134 students graduated from the program, with the first class graduating in 2015. Odeh remarked that around 70 percent of the graduates are Palestinians living in Jerusalem or the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Over 80 percent of our graduates who live and work in the 1948-occupied territories were able to pass the government license examination – most of them from the first try. In the West Bank, virtually 100% of our graduates have found employment directly after graduation,” observed Odeh.

The program prides itself on the training and employment opportunities that it offers the students, such as training positions at the Istishari Arab Hospital, the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, and the Jerusalem Basma Centre.

The program’s networking efforts extend beyond the Palestinian borders; Odeh recently returned from an extended visit to Europe, where he signed partnership and training agreements with a number of hospitals and audiology centers in Germany and Finland, in addition to researching the possibility of bringing German audiology expertise into the region through a partnership with the European Association of Hearing Aid Professionals.