Second in a series on topics addressed at the Speech-Language Pathology Education Summit
Over the past 80 years, ASHA has developed a program of standards for membership, and subsequently, entry-level clinical (or personnel) certification as well as academic accreditation. The more than 100 participants in the Speech-Language Pathology Education Summit (see the April 17 issue of The ASHA Leader) discussed the history of ASHA certification in the context of emerging trends—in particular, whether the entry level-doctorate should be in the future of speech-language pathology.
Summit participants focused on the purpose of personnel certification programs and reviewed milestones in ASHA's certification program in pondering future directions. Personnel certification programs, such as the one developed by ASHA, are designed to match the knowledge, skills, and attributes of the clinician to job requirements; validate that the clinician has the knowledge, skills, and attributes to fulfill the job responsibilities; permit entry to the profession for qualified professionals; and protect the public from unqualified professionals.
Personnel certification has positive outcomes for certificate-holders, employers, and patients/clients. For professionals, it helps secure and retain jobs, increases mobility and portability of certification, promotes professional self-esteem, and improves the credibility of the occupation. For employers it helps match personnel to employer needs, streamlines education/job preparation systems, and offers assistance in employment decision-making. For consumers it provides increased protection and a fair and transparent way to identify qualified providers.
In order to meet these outcomes, a personnel certification program must exhibit certain essential characteristics. The program must develop quality systems that balance the needs of both the employer and the professionals who are employed. The program must match evolving employer needs with competencies demonstrated by the credential. The program also must promote legal compliance and controls against improper use of the credential, fraud, and corruption. Finally, the program must promote, not impede, access to jobs (see sidebar online for key components of personnel certification programs).
By the end of the Association's first 25 years of existence, it was clear to ASHA leadership (the Executive Council) that certification was an important requirement for employment, and that specialization in speech-language and hearing disorders needed to be recognized. At the time, there was a major controversy regarding separate requirements for speech-language pathology and audiology certification, which later was resolved (see sidebar online for key components of ASHA's personnel certification programs).
ASHA developed the beginning of a certification program as we know it in 1952, and the result was twice as many applications that single year than in the first 10 years of the Association's history. This influx created a backlog of several hundred applications that took three years to process, but proved that a bottleneck in Association's progress had been circumvented. With the creation of the certification program, the emergence of new questions, new interpretations, and new standards have continued as the standards have evolved. (For more information on the evolution of the program, see sidebar online.)
The ASHA voluntary certification program has accounted for major changes in practice standards for the professions and has served as a model for state licensure bills. In audiology a professional doctorate (AuD) is the entry-level degree, and licensure for audiologists exists in all states. In speech-language pathology, the master's degree is the entry level, as it has been for about three decades; however, unlike many other health care and rehabilitation professions, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, optometry, and pharmacy, speech-language pathology is not moving to a doctoral-level entry degree in the foreseeable future.
A universal doctoral-level entry to both professions would require a change in certification standards as well as in curriculum requirements within academic programs. While there have been proposals to create a doctoral-level entry to speech-language pathology, only a limited number of professional preparation programs have ever been developed. Alternatives to the doctoral degree as the entry-level degree for the discipline include creating two levels of certification, one for SLPs in health care and another for SLPs in education. Another alternative is to create an add-on or board certification for the health care arena.
A National Discussion
The summit marked the beginning of a national discussion on the historic, current, and emerging contexts, challenges, and opportunities as we prepare the future SLP. Through a series of Web chats, you can address the same questions raised at the conference.
ASHA invites you to join colleagues around the nation to discuss issues related to this article in an online chat moderated by Nancy Creaghead, a facilitator at the SLP Summit, on June 13 from 8-10 p.m. EDT.
Clarification: Beginning in 2012, entry into the profession of audiology will require a clinical doctoral degree (e.g., AuD, PhD, ScD) to achieve ASHA certification. State licensure boards may require a doctoral degree prior to that date. The Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) does not require accredited academic programs to restrict the degree offered to the AuD designator.