September 4, 2007 Feature

Panelists Share Skills for the Future

Speech-language pathologists today are routinely working in fast-paced and demanding environments to serve people with highly complex disorders such as medically fragile infants in neonatal intensive care units, children with tracheostomies and dysphagia in public schools, individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and adults with traumatic head injuries in polytrauma units. We are facing problems and working with populations we knew little about 15 or 20 years ago. The profession has changed.

Each blip in technology and expansion of clinical practices into new populations and environments challenges educators to provide the basic foundations that will prepare clinicians for their future jobs. Graduate programs have done a good job of adapting curricula in response to new clinical certification and program accreditation standards by grafting new classes, course content, or practicum on to the entry-level master's program. We have stretched and stuffed more and more into the master's program over the years without straying very far from the basic master's-level preparation model laid down in 1965.

Bernthal (2007) discusses the history of the speech-language pathology education and certification standards in an earlier article in this series. He acknowledges the profession has reached a point at which tiers, tracks, or new levels of clinical preparation are being considered. He observes the long-discussed notion of a clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology; yet we continue a firm grip on the master's degree as our entry-level degree.

As professionals, we are identified with the master's degree. The preparation of the master's-level practitioner is our "established academic culture" (Silliman, 2007). Silliman argues this preoccupation with the preparation of the master's-degree practitioner has stifled our ability to build a continuum for intellectually gifted students to move seamlessly into doctoral studies. Silliman suggests the prominence of the master's-level practitioner in our academic programs has jeopardized the generation of new knowledge within our profession (Silliman, 2007).

Building the research capacity of our profession is undeniably a crucial objective. Equally vital to the future is generating highly skilled and qualified clinicians capable of competing with colleagues as the experts in communication disorders, and meeting the knowledge and technical skill demands of the workplace. SLPs are no longer the only professionals on the team with graduate degrees. Clinicians are working in settings with colleagues who are better trained than they were in the past. In both medical and school settings, we have seen a gradual "credential creep"—doctor of pharmacy (PharmD), doctor of physical therapy (DPT), and doctor of occupational therapy (OTD). School psychologists are increasingly holding doctor of psychology (PsyD) degrees. Teachers, particularly special educators, are expanding their qualifications by earning graduate degrees and special certificates. As a result, they are better-educated, better-prepared, and better-paid.

Changing Demands

At the 2007 ASHA-sponsored Speech-Language Pathology Education Summit, titled "The Subject is Change," a panel of presenters was asked to consider the changing demands of the current and future work settings and to create a picture of clinicians who will be ideally prepared for those demands. The panel agreed that even though certain areas and skill requirements are setting- or population-specific, there are more commonalities than differences; ideal attitudinal characteristics of clinicians of the future are essentially the same regardless of work setting—and the future is now.

The panelists noted that clinicians entering the work force today bring the same attitudes and passions for the profession as those of us who were trained in past decades. Unlike training in medicine, where scientists take clinical courses to learn how to express empathy and communicate with patients, SLPs are generally great at communicating and empathizing, but need to become better scientists.

At the close of the conference, the summit participants—from both academic programs and clinical work settings—concluded that graduate programs are doing a good job of preparing entry-level clinicians in the master's-level model. That conclusion may be short-sighted or an example of cognitive dissonance—holding on to established notions while acknowledging evidence to the contrary. Research tells us the discomfort of cognitive dissonance can be relieved in two ways: develop rationalizations for not changing or change.

There is a saying that goes—and forgive the grammar—"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." The subject is change. The question today ought not to be is change necessary? The expanding scope of practice has already answered that for us. The question is: What changes are we willing to make?

Lee Ann C. Golper, is an associate professor and the director of the Speech-Language Pathology Division, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University. She was a representative of the Council of Academic Accreditation (CAA) to the ad hoc Planning Committee for the SLP Summit and a presenter and facilitator at the conference. Contact her at

cite as: Golper, L. C. (2007, September 04). Panelists Share Skills for the Future. The ASHA Leader.

Panelists Share Skills for the Future

by Lee Ann C. Golper

At the Speech-Language Pathology Education Summit, a panel of presenters—Emily Homer, Judy Rudebusch, and Lee Ann Golper—were asked to create a picture of the clinician of the future. The panel offered thoughts on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that should lead to successful careers today and in the future.

Scientific Knowledge

  • A solid foundation of the basic sciences that support an understanding of communication disorders and dysphagia, including anatomy, audition and perception of sound, language development, linguistics and phonetics, neuroanatomy and neuroscience, language and literacy, psycholinguistics and cognition, and speech science (acoustics, physiology of speech)
  • Additional foundations in genetics; physiology of respiration, nutrition, and hydration; human growth, development, and learning; molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from gestation to old age; organismic biology; and computer science and laboratory technologies

Clinical Knowledge

  • Experience in preventing, identifying, diagnosing, and managing the full gamut of communication and swallowing disorders across ages and work settings
  • Proficiency in the methods, technical procedures, and instruments used in diagnosis and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders 
  • Knowledge of the current theories and skills in the application of behavioral science 
  • Proficiency in setting educationally relevant and functional goals and knowledge of how to make changes in these plans 
  • Proficiency in writing succinct and clear Individualized Education Plans, treatment plans, and other documentation (such as progress notes) 
  • Understanding of eligibility, coding, billing, reimbursement, and other concerns affecting access to and coverage for services 
  • Understanding of regulatory policies that affect our practices (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Medicare, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act), facility compliance and risk management programs, and the dictates of our professional Code of Ethics

Communication and Research Skills

  • Skill in interviewing, counseling, and explaining abstract notions about communication processes to clients and families
  • Knowledge of cultural and linguistic diversity and know how to respond appropriately when clients or families do not speak English or represent a different culture 
  • Ability to speak more than one language—including, preferably, Spanish 
  • Understanding of the psychodynamics of family systems and how to use family-centered and family-supported intervention 
  • Experience working on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teams 
  • Ability to make effective professional presentations (reporting research, leading meetings, or presenting case reports) 
  • Ability to use research to guide practice 
  • Working knowledge of statistics, research design, and research ethics 
  • Ability to judge the merit of research and analyze publications and presentations 
  • Ability to conduct literature searches and access available systematic reviews

Professionalism and Attitudes 

  • Compassion for individuals with disabilities 
  • Objectivity and professionalism 
  • Scientific attitude and critical-thinking skills 
  • Desire to ask questions and seek new knowledge 
  • Comfort with technologies and the desire to seek ways to apply and adapt them to our work 
  • Ability to be creative and innovative, while remaining comfortable with following rules and complying with standards 
  • Ability to problem-solve independently, accept ambiguity, seek critical feedback, and adapt to change 
  • Demonstration of curiosity, self-motivation, and self-awareness 
  • Ability to think on their feet, respond quickly, speak articulately, and write cogently and efficiently 
  • Ability to express a logical argument and advocate for themselves and their clients 
  • Leadership and collaboration abilities 
  • Strong work ethic 
  • Understanding of business practices, including legal and financial matters, and how individual actions contribute to the financial success of the organization

The future of our profession relies on attracting and educating clinicians who bring a career-oriented attitude and appreciate that a graduate degree, the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence, teacher certification, and state license provide the privilege of entry into a profession, and not just a ticket to a job. 

Practice and Curriculum Analysis Study Gets Underway

In late 2007, ASHA's Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) and the Council for Clinical Certification in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CFCC) will begin to conduct a practice and curriculum analysis in speech-language pathology. The results of this study will inform the CAA and CFCC on academic and clinical standards for the profession as well as the content and weighting of the national Praxis examination.

The practice analysis survey will be distributed to SLPs in 2008 in order to obtain input from a large number of professionals in a variety of practice settings. For more information, please contact Georgia McMann, director of certification administration, at


Bernthal, J. (2007). Looking back and toward the future of professional education in speech-language pathology, The ASHA Leader, 12(7), 14-15.

Silliman, E. (2007). Interdisciplinary research frontiers: Building research capacity. The ASHA Leader, 12(5), 6-7.  


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