SPEECH LANGUAGE PATHOLOGY

A REWARDING PROFESSION FILLED WITH SHORTAGES

01/07/2018
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING
By Regina Lemmon Bush

Speech-language pathology is a wonderful profession filled with an awesome responsibility to change people’s lives by improving their communication skills and abilities.  Communication and cognitive ability are the most important variables that separate humans from other species. 

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Schools nationwide are facing a severe shortage of SLPs with school districts reporting 48 percent more job openings than seekers. (ASHA Schools Survey, 2014)

Effective communication can break down barriers between people, help to improve community relationships, household relationships, explain occurrences to avoid jail sentences, advocate for the under-privileged/ underserved, conduct business transactions and express words of affection to those that we love.  Effective communication is extremely important to establishing and maintaining a successful life.  Without effective communication, there are misunderstandings, violence, decreased in learning and education, which may lead to a decreased in socio-economic status.  At the most basic level, effective communication is the glue that keeps families, communities and societies operating in a peaceful manner. 

Speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat individuals who have communication impairments to improve their communication skills and abilities. Communication impairments are defined as disorders related to hearing, language, articulation, voice and fluency, language (Owens, 2015).  Speech-language pathologists’ Scope of Practice also includes swallowing, cognition and literacy disorders.  Hearing is the sense through which every individual processes sound in the brain.  Without hearing, a person is unable to effectively communicate with others. If an individual has some residual hearing, an audiologist may be able to fit the person with hearing aids or recommend a cochlear implant for sound amplification. Once amplification occurs, sound is processed as words and sentences that convey a shared meaning that has been established within a specific language.  Communication requires good receptive and expressive language skills.  Receptive language is the ability to understand and process sounds.  Expressive language is the ability to use words to state wants, needs and desires.  Articulation is one’s ability to rapidly move the articulators — lips, teeth, tongue and jaw — to say words and sentences. Voicing is the usage of the larynx — e.g. voice box — to produce sound. Fluency is the ability to say words and sentences without repeating portions or exhibiting secondary disfluency characteristics — e.g. tension in neck, lips, eye blinking etc. In most humans, these five processes work harmoniously together for an individual to communicate their most basic needs and desires in life. However, 7.7 percent of U.S. children has had a speech-language disorder in the past 12 months making it difficult to effectively communicate (Black, Vahratian and Hoffman, 2012).  Speech-language pathologists are professionals who work with individuals with disorders to improve their communication abilities. 

As a speech-language pathologist, I have had the utter joy to provide speech-language therapy services in a vast array of settings — pre-schools, public as well as private schools, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, home healthcare, travelling therapy and private practice.  Each setting has been a rewarding experience because I’ve used my four years of undergraduate training and two years of graduate education to positively impact the lives of others, especially children.  I entered this profession at the urging of my mother, who was an educator for over 35 years.  Her classroom was across the hall from the speech-language pathologists. She urged me to shadow the speech-language pathologists during my high school Teacher Cadet practica experiences.  From that day to the present, providing high-quality speech-language therapy to children with special needs has been my calling.  As a speech-language pathology professor, educating the next generation of speech-language pathologists provides me with joy and opportunity to share my knowledge with students who are handworkers, bright, eager learners and possess the essential skills to become a speech-language pathologist. In my classes students are taught didactically. They learn theory as well as speech-language content knowledge along with the practical application to provide treatment to children using scenario-based learning — e.g. problem-based learning. Therefore, students begin to learn the intricate thought process and rationale that it requires to address communication disorders. This training is carried over to clinical practica experiences where students work with speech-language pathologists to learn additional therapeutic strategies and implement them with individuals in a supervised environment. 

Schools nationwide are facing a severe shortage of SLPs with school districts reporting 48 percent more job openings than seekers (ASHA Schools Survey, 2014).  ASHA Schools Survey 2000-2014 reported that this shortage has been consistent from 2000.  The Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (2016) projects the demand for, “employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.” Additionally, Speech Language Pathology is ranked 19th in Best Health Care jobs (U.S. News and World Report Ranking, 2015).  It is ranked 28th among the U.S. News and World Reports 2015 list of “The 100 Best Jobs.”  All of these statistics translates to a demand for SLPs that will continue beyond the upcoming decade. 

The shortage in speech-language pathology therapy service provides may be due to the increase in the number of children identified with autism spectrum disorders and premature infants who live as a result of the advancement in medical science. This national trend of increased need for speech-language therapy service will requires that school-based SLPs have specific training to address the needs of the changing demographics of children enrolled in special education services. The data clearly shows that implicit need for additional SLPs, while the changing demographics of children with special needs show a need for school-based SLPs with a strong background in evidence-based practices and knowledge with these etiologies that affect speech-language development.

Another factor that affects the shortage of SLPs in schools is the training required to become a SLP (Roth and Robertson, 2012). Due to the rigorous educational and training requirements to become a speech-language pathologist, graduate schools can only accept a limited number of students to adequately educate students and provide enough clinical practica sites for all of the students in the program.  SLPs must have a master’s degree in speech-language pathology and complete a Clinical Fellow experience which takes a minimum of nine months of full-time employment under the supervision of an SLP with a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC).  Earning a master’s degree in speech-language pathology requires didactic education consisting of theoretical learning and clinical education. The theoretical aspect of learning includes normal and disordered aspects of human communication across the lifespan from birth to death (geriatrics). Specifically, students must acquire classroom-based knowledge and competency across nine areas including articulation, fluency, voice/resonance, language, hearing, swallowing, cognitive aspects of communication, social aspects of communication and communication modalities. The clinical education component requires students to obtain 400 hours of direct clinical experience with clients under the supervision of an American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) certified SLP.  Specifically, the clinical education must occur in a minimum of three different practice settings — example: school, clinic and skilled nursing home or hospital. Because of these stringent educational requirements, it is very time intensive to educate speech-language pathology students; therefore, master’s programs can only accept a small number of students to ensure that each student receives a high-quality education in order to pass the National Examination in Speech-Language Pathology. Ultimately, the educational requirements lead to professionals who are competent with providing speech-language therapy services to individuals of varying ages who have a variety of communication disorders. 

If you are interested in learning more about the field of speech-language pathology and programs in Speech-Language Pathology — many programs referred to as Communication Sciences & Disorders, visit:

American Speech-Language Hearing Association at www.asha.org/students

National Student Speech Language Hearing Association at www.asha.org/nsslha/

Regina Lemmon Bush is an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator at Columbia College of South Carolina.  She is the a past member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association Advisory Board in Speech-Language Pathology. Dr. Lemmon is also a past President of the South Carolina Speech-Language Hearing Association.  She is the ASHA SMAC representative for South Carolina and actively engaged in the profession, her community and with her family. She may be contacted at [email protected].
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Issue 20.1 | Spring 2018

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