Name: Paul R. Rao, PhD, CCC-SLP
Day Job: Chief Operating Officer for Inpatient Services, National Rehabilitation Hospital, Washington, DC
Other Talents: Cook and pun-master
Extroverted and enthusiastic, health care executive Paul R. Rao generates energy wherever he goes. Rao has a renaissance touch—overseeing a large rehabilitation hospital operation, teaching and mentoring students, treating individuals with aphasia, and building a broad network of colleagues and friends. This year, Rao will bring his talents to the association as 2011 president.
What's on the short list of what you'd like to accomplish?
Health care advocacy, evidence-based practice, and ethics are three issues I strongly support and will be talking about this year. Advocacy is critical—I'd like to see members even more involved as advocates so that ASHA remains a significant player in the new health care reform legislation. This grassroots involvement would help position members to serve clients' needs better while improving reimbursement and access. I also hope members will tap the wealth of ASHA resources on evidence-based practice and comparative effectiveness research—because these resources will lead to improved outcomes. Professional ethics will be another focus of interest—I will promote ASHA's revised Code of Ethics as our compass to "do the right thing" and continue as a trusted leader when it comes to ensuring high-quality service delivery.
"Two Professions, One Discipline"—this is in ASHA's strategic plan, but how can we achieve it? How can ASHA best meet profession-specific needs while strengthening the broader discipline of communication sciences and disorders?
In today's environment, audiologists and speech-language pathologists must work together even as we build our careers within our own profession. The old saying holds true—"United we stand, divided we fall." We need to keep our eyes on client/patient care as the keystone of our practice; once we realize our work is not about us but about those we serve, our personal concerns will take a back seat and we can see the power of our discipline. Together we're 140,000 strong with a political and professional voice that trumps that of any other allied health profession. I hope we continue to collaborate with related organizations on issues of mutual concern to audiology and speech-language pathology. ASHA will continue to provide information, resources, and support to both professions while expanding the knowledge base and the reach of the discipline of communication sciences and disorders. That benefits us all.
Poet William Blake wrote, "The crooked roads are the roads of genius." Your path curved to speech-language pathology after a BA in philosophy and eight years of seminary study. How did your early studies influence your approach to speech-language pathology?
Studying philosophy enhanced my understanding of how a person thinks, learns language, solves ethical problems, and postulates a logical argument. My seminary training instilled in me a discipline of study and meditation. It also offered an environment that encouraged a mission-focused approach and the exploration of larger life questions. The seminary was the "seed" that helped me grow in mind, body, and soul. It kept me focused on what was most important when I later helped individuals overcome communication or swallowing disorders, taught graduate students the "art and science" of what we do, and managed a rehab hospital.
You have an interest in "servant leadership," which is implied in your statements on the need to stay focused on patients. In what other ways have you have applied this approach?
Long ago I realized that community service builds leadership skills and enhances your quality of life and world view. Recently at the hospital, a patient and his family were waiting to be transported to acute care for a chest X-ray. Our transporter was with another patient, so I offered to take the patient to X-ray. As it turned out, the escort returned to the unit and I was "off the hook." But leaders will do whatever is necessary to serve patients with compassion. That's one aspect of servant leadership.
In the seminary, we learned that it is in giving that you receive. In my service to professional organizations, I have consistently reaped more than I have sown. At St. Leo's church in Baltimore's Little Italy, my wife and I serve meatball subs at the Italian Festival each summer. We meet people, raise money, and walk away refreshed and humbled by the ability to serve others.
When we, as professionals, serve a greater good than ourselves, we grow stronger, and so does ASHA. As Albert Schweitzer said, "Those among you who will be truly happy are those who have found a way to serve." Practice servant leadership and you will enrich and be enriched.
Your wife, Martina, and daughter, Angela, also are SLPs. What have you learned from them?
Martina, my wife of 40 years and a stellar SLP at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, has a calming effect on me. When I want to climb that next mountain, she subtly reminds me that I still need to take the trash out and empty the humidifier. Actually we seldom talk shop. It is because she is such a stable anchor that I have been able to grow professionally and risked running for ASHA office four times—losing in the first three attempts! Angela, my wonderful daughter and mother of our two terrific granddaughters, Gabbi and Maddi, is a clinician in the schools and in private practice. More than anyone, she has taught me about community integration and advocacy. She exhibits such passion for her kids that I am motivated to turn it up a notch as well. I should also mention our youngest son, Jeff, who is a vice president with Fidelity Investments in Santa Monica—we're hoping he is our collective retirement solution!
Back to the world of ASHA—what do you see as the biggest challenges and greatest opportunities for audiology and speech-language pathology this year?
Reimbursement for services is the engine of our service-oriented business—Medicaid in the schools, and private insurance and Medicare for adult services. Fifty percent of our members are in the schools, an arena that is under tremendous pressure to cut costs and permit lower-cost (and less-qualified) practitioners to provide services in the classroom, such as California's proposed reading/communication technicians.
The audiology profession, despite its hard-earned AuD and reputation for service excellence, is at risk of becoming a technician-oriented field fitting high-tech aids quickly. Fifteen percent of our members are in hospitals and with the rollout over the next four years of the Healthcare Affordability Act, clearly we are in a make-or-break mode—we must be tireless and persuasive advocates of the return on investment for hearing and speech-language services.
The challenges are clear, and so are the opportunities. With the age wave and those older than 85 years being the fastest-growing segment of the population, hearing and speech professionals caring for elders will serve a growing number of patients.
We are effective advocates and we should leverage our education, reputation, and clinical foundation to ensure quality care for individuals with communication disorders. This means being fully engaged in the next couple of years with our clients, congressional representatives, various payers, and other stakeholders. If we don't speak out on behalf of our students, clients, and patients, who will?
We also can collect and disseminate case studies, touting our comparative effectiveness while abiding by our revised Code of Ethics. Do you have a story or two to tell your legislators about what you do? What's your "elevator speech" about what we do? Every ASHA member—all 140,000 of us—should market the value of our services.
Daniel Webster once stated that if all his possessions but one were taken from him, he would keep the power of communication—"for by it," he said, "I would soon regain all the rest." Consider ASHA's current vision statement: "Making effective communication, a human right, accessible and achievable for all." How can you not be pumped about what we do and who we serve? I get pumped about it—in my view, ASHA rocks!
What changes do you predict in our discipline in the next decade?
Looking back on the past decade, who would have predicted the explosion of literature in CSD,
the leveraging of social media among our members, and the application of technology to daily practice? I predict our documentation and billing will be fully electronic, consistent with the evolving health care legislation. Audiology will finally enjoy direct access and a comprehensive benefit package for Medicare beneficiaries. School SLPs will take the lead in tracking student outcomes and demonstrating the efficacy of a lower case load with better student performance. Audiologists and SLPs will be reimbursed for telemedicine and each sector of our practice will be fully engaged in delivering care via this modality. In fact, the majority of CEU opportunities will be virtual and web conferences will be the norm. Cognizant of this trend, ASHA's Board of Directors may even find themselves discussing creating a position for a vice president for technology! Our discipline will reach the 150,000 mark of members, with another 10,000 speech-language pathology assistants under the ASHA umbrella as associates with the highly successful implementation of this new program.
Any final thoughts? How about one of your famous puns?
No, I don't want to "pun"ish the membership. I would like to end with a personal reminder to "carpe diem"—seize the day. That saying is engraved on the gravestone of our 16-year-old son, who died 20 years ago following a motor vehicle accident.
Several years later, Fred Spahr, ASHA's former executive director, shared a Sanskrit proverb that captures for me our journey on planet earth: "Look to this day, for it is life...in its brief course lie all the realities and verities of existence, the bliss of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power—for yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision...Look well, therefore, to this day!"
Looking to this day and the year ahead, I feel honored and blessed to serve this wonderful association. Thank you.