two students use a blender to make food swallowable

In “Interdisciplinary Case-Based Management of Dysphagia," communicative sciences and disorders grad students 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.

the NYU kitchen manager chats with students in the kitchen while they cook

Each small group of students is given a hypothetical patient’s profile, which includes details about the individual’s medical history as well as their 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 J-Term course encourages students to think creatively to develop a food plan that will not just meet patients’ physical and nutritional needs, but also satisfy their taste and bring them comfort.

a can of a product called Thicken Up on the counter with leafy vegetables and measuring cups

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

two students stirfry in the kitchen

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

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

a completed pureed meal shaped into a heart and plated

a completed meal of soft fish and pureed vegetables

All the careful prep work culminates in a final Iron Chef-style cooking competition in which teach team prepares a meal specifically designed for the needs of their "patient." The food is presented to a panel of guest judges and an audience, who vote 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.

Provost Katie Fleming and other judges