Helping students understand

La Trobe University’s Associate Professor of Rural and Regional Speech Pathology, Dr Bernice Mathisen has been taking part in a collaborative research project aimed at incorporating palliative care into university courses, including speech pathology.

stressful-moment-standardAssociate Professor Mathisen cites her favourite quote from Barbato, 2000: ‘We talk about death but we don’t really know about it.’

‘Speech pathologists may be shocked when they are faced with the death of a patient, largely because palliative care is currently not included in their university course to a great degree,’ said Associate Professor Mathisen.

‘It’s not unusual for speech pathologists to treat patients who have had a stroke and need help with communication and swallowing problems. Other patients that they may deal with include those with terminal illnesses such as cancer, Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) as well as extremely preterm infants, so they are working with patients across the lifespan,’ said Associate Professor Mathisen.

Associate Professor Mathisen said that the research, which is funded by the Department of Health and Ageing, aims to get undergraduate students to understand palliative care.

Associate Professor Mathisen worked on the project with primary researcher Associate Professor Patsy Yates from the Queensland Institute of Technology, Brisbane and Ms Penny Crofts from the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle.

The research culminated in a website ( with a series of case studies on palliative care and other learning resources for staff and students that could be used in each year of the four-year Bachelor of Health Sciences/Master of Speech Pathology or two-year Master of Speech Pathology course offered at Bendigo.

The new curriculum was designed specifically for speech pathology students. In their first year, the course aims to get students to talk about the subject from a personal perspective. They examine the effects of dealing with grief, loss and bereavement in a clinical setting in the next year. In third year, students incorporate their knowledge of palliative care in adult and paediatric clinical settings and in the final year, students integrate the personal and the professional aspects of palliative care.


Associate Professor Mathisen, who joined La Trobe University in February 2011, has conducted extensive research in a wide range of areas including disability, swallowing, and speech-language pathology in developing communities.

She is keen to continue her research in palliative care and apply the curricula to the La Trobe speech-pathology courses.

Associate Professor Mathisen is one of several interdisciplinary supervisors for PhD students doing research in other related areas.

Research topics being undertaken by Associate Professor Mathison with PhD and Master of Applied Science students at La Trobe University, the University of Newcastle and the University of Sydney include:

1. Contextual influences on the Communicative Interactions of Students with Multiple and Severe Disabilities

2. The Effect of Early Intervention Methods on Speech and Educational Outcomes For Children Utilizing Cochlear Implants Prior to 12 Months of Age

3. Evaluation of the effects of tongue strengthening exercise in patients with    swallowing disorders  

4.  The effect of high dosage swallowing rehabilitation on outcomes for patients with stroke    

5. The relationship between early use of enteral nutrition (feeding tubes) including percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) in the development of feeding and eating skills in infants less than 12 months old.


Media enquiries

For more information or to arrange a photo/interview, please contact:

Associate Professor Bernice Mathisen, Ph (03) 5444 7473 M 0400 861 571


Zerin Knight, Ph (03) 5444 7375 F +613 5444 7526 M 0428 463 161 E