TCU Professor Showcases Harris College on the International Stage

By Laine Zizka

TCU is making strides in the international community thanks to the work of Dr. Chris Watts. In his capacities as Harris College’s Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives as well as the Director of the Davies School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Watts represented TCU at two European conferences this past September.

In 11 days, Watts attended both the Pan-European Voice Conference and the European Interprofessional Education Network Conference presenting research and the Harris College interprofessional education model to interested audiences.

The Pan-European Voice Conference took place in Ghent, Belgium. Watts presented three research papers that were the product of both student and professional collaboration. One such student collaboration was with recent graduate Brittany Burke, looking at the effects of tremor phenotype in Parkinson’s disease on voice production.

Another paper, in collaboration with the Center for Voice Care at the UT Southwestern Medical School, explored the effects of a voice tremor treatment called stretch-and-flow voice therapy for people who have voice disorders. Watts’ final paper looked at how spasmodic dysphonia, another type of voice disorder, affects people’s attitudes and reactions to speaking situations.

“I get to represent TCU at an international forum, and also the Davies School and Harris College,” said Watts about the importance of this opportunity. “People are hearing about TCU and people are learning about Harris College and about the research that’s going on at the Davies School of Communication Sciences and Disorders.”

Moreover, many of those in the audience would be the same people who would go on to peer-review the publication submissions, giving Watts the opportunity to explain his research methodology and findings with more dynamism than can be conveyed on paper.

“You’re spreading the word of your research and the findings of your research to large audiences that represent countries from all over the world,” Watts said. “Within that audience are going to be experts that are going to be reviewing not only my publication, [but] also my students’ publications when they submit them to journals.”

For Watts, this experience has been a long time coming. His passion for communication disorders began when he himself went to speech therapy for his own speech problems as a child. In college, his fascination blossomed as he was able to learn more about the thing that plagued him as a kid and work to help others.

In addition to getting the chance to present research to an international audience, Watts was able to showcase the Harris College model at the European Interprofessional Education Network Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Harris College model of interprofessional education has been in development for nearly 10 years, now.

“Interprofessional education is the way of preparing future health care professionals for interprofessional collaborative practice when they graduate and go on to health care careers,” Watts said. “Because of changes in health care, changes in health care policy, changes in how health care is delivered, students realize that they are going to have to work collaboratively with other disciplines…in order to maximize patient outcomes and the patient experience.”

It’s a movement happening in universities, colleges, and medical schools all over the country and the world. As one of only three Americans to present at the EIPEN Conference, Watts was able to share with them the Harris College model.

“People were very interested in what we are doing here and have since followed up with me to get more information about what Harris College is doing with interprofessional education,” said Watts.

To prepare students for interprofessional practice in the real world, Harris College provides them with opportunities to learn about, with, and from students from other health care professions. Students get the chance to come together with other departments in Harris College or even on a larger-scale at the UNT Health Science Center where Harris students learn alongside medical and health care graduate students. Activities center on working to create that experience of communicating with and understanding the roles and responsibilities of those in another field.

“They’re not traditional classroom activities, these are experiential activities,” Watts said. “They all come together and learn about these different disciplines, again with the long term goal of preparing these students to work collaboratively when they graduate and become professionals.”

Watts notes that TCU is ahead of the curve in many respects compared to the majority of health care or health science colleges across the United States. In Europe, they seem to be approaching it from another angle, looking instead at interprofessional practice in actual practice environments. The challenge then becomes how to bridge the gap between interprofessional education and practice, posing the potential to learn from our European counterparts.

“What we’ve created in our model, people at other universities look up to and look toward and are trying to emulate some of the things that we do,” Watts said. “At the same time, there are other universities in the U.S. who we’re trying to emulate, because they’re further ahead than us.”

In addition to these opportunities to showcase TCU and Harris College on the international stage, Watts continues to forge a standing relationship with the World Health Organization where TCU has sent students to work in the division that specializes in HIV. It is an exciting time for both Harris College and the University as whole, as we live up to our vision of being a world-class university.