The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 110,000 working speech language pathologists (SLP) in the country. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.
With the training on a range of issues from children with speech delays to adults with swallowing disorders, SLPs are needed in educational, health care and home settings. But a rising demand for their work has left many areas with a severe shortage of SLPs.
At UC, Nancy Creaghead, PhD, is marshaling all the resources she can to do something about it. As the head of the College of Allied Health Sciences’ communications sciences and disorders department, she’s worked to advance programs promoting SLP education and placement.
Creaghead recently received a $745,000 U.S. Department of Education leadership grant to continue the department’s "Language and Literacy Leadership” project. The project requires doctoral students to pursue leadership roles in addition to their research and educational training.
Visiting assistant professor Lesley Raisor-Becker, PhD, and adjunct assistant professor Sandra Combs, PhD, are now co-directors of the project. As doctoral students, they both participated in it, mentoring and teaching their peers after one year in the program.
"From the get-go, you become a mentor and teacher in this program,” Combs says. "You feel like you have something to share with the field. It helps with retention and it helps get people through the program.”
By working as leaders at the local, state and national levels, Creaghead hopes students will be better prepared to move into higher education and train future students.
"If you can’t find faculty to hire, then you can’t educate more students,” she says. "It’s not that students aren’t coming into the field, it’s really more that we can’t pump them out fast enough.”
To meet that immediate need, Jo-Anne Prendeville, PhD, leads an $800,000 U.S. Department of Education project, funding 10 speech language pathologists to prepare to work in the schools each year for four years. This project is in its third year.
The department also participates in the Ohio Master’s Network Initiatives in Education (OMNIE). The statewide collaboration brings together universities, professional organizations and the Ohio Department of Education to find new ways to place SLPs in Ohio schools.
To recruit new students, UC works with OMNIE’s distance learning project, which reaches students across the state. This year, Creaghead and visiting instructor Sally Disney secured a $798,000 U.S. Department of Education grant for the program.
"The project targets non-traditional students who want to be SLPs,” says Disney. She says UC matriculates 17 students a year into distance learning, half of the OMNIE’s annual class.
"Our students come from education, from corporations, from mental health and music fields,” says Disney. "We’re trying to get the word out in other areas. We want as many people as possible to know about a career in speech language pathology.”