Educating Other Professionals about What Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists Do

The following statement regarding professional cross-training is directed towards ASHA CE providers, but contains information that is relevant to the practicing clinician, as well:

Many continuing education offerings focus on the multidisciplinary approach to evaluation and treatment of various communication disorders. Such a focus can offer opportunities for audiologists and speech-language pathologists to educate other professions about what our professions do. The real question, however, in this competitive education and health care environment is "Should we educate others about what we do or to do what we do?" This distinction is a critical one for each speaker/educator to consider. It is a critical question for all clinicians who work in a multidisciplinary or "team" environment as well.

Educating other professionals about what audiologists and speech-language pathologists do can expand our service delivery and allow us to reach children and adults with communication disorders who might not otherwise be referred to us or who might be referred too late or later than the optimum. However, teaching other professionals to do what we do can be dangerous. All of the particular aspects of what we do that make our treatments and evaluations successful cannot be taught in any short-term continuing education environment to individuals who do not have the intensive graduate education required for audiologists and speech-language pathologists. How we successfully select and apply the assessment and treatment procedures we use depends upon our background knowledge of normal and abnormal function in each of the areas in which we work. Other professionals do not come to our continuing education programs with that kind of educational background. In addition, to teach another professional to do what we do opens up the possibility of an unnecessary and potentially unhealthy competition that could compromise outcomes for patients or even their well-being.

It is critical that every speaker participating in a continuing education program ask him- or herself, "How can I teach about what I do without misleading members of the audience, which may include other professionals, to think that they are now prepared to do what I do?" Our scope of practice, our clinical diagnostic and treatment procedures, and our competencies require the in-depth education we receive on the undergraduate and graduate levels. We sell our professions and our clients short, as well as diminish the value of our education, if we try to teach others in a brief, multihour or even multiday continuing education course/workshop to do even a small part of what we do.

As an ASHA CE Administrator you need to be aware of this potential problem in courses your organization may offer. Talk about this issue with your speaker(s) and program planner(s). Look carefully at each speaker's proposed content and the expected outcomes for the participants. If the speaker intends that as a result of successful completion of the course in question the participants will be able to "do" (perform, interpret, analyze…), then it is important that specific prerequisites be noted so the participants understand what skills and knowledge they should have before enrolling in the course. These prerequisites should be as specific as possible (e.g., attendance limited to SLPs with prior experience in evaluating patients with _____ disorder). Also, it is important to identify the target audience for the course. It is difficult for a speaker to have different outcomes in mind for different audiences (e.g., SLPs will be able to do _____; everyone else will be familiar with what SLPs can do with _____). As the CE Administrator, it is your responsibility to make sure that the printed promotional materials accurately describe the target audience, course content, prerequisites, and the expected learner outcomes so that all potential participants know what to expect if they attend the course. Offerings that are administrative (rather than clinical) in nature may be more appropriate for a diverse audience (e.g., "Understanding the Impact of Reimbursement Changes on Rehab Professionals"). Finally, with some offerings, it is good practice to provide a disclaimer, such as the following: "This 2-hour course does not provide you with all the skills and knowledge necessary to provide a comprehensive diagnosis of swallowing disorders in infants."

This statement was developed by a 1999 ASHA Executive Board (EB) subcommittee. The subcommittee consisted of EB members (Jeri Logemann and Nancy Swigert, who worked with National Office staff members Debra Busacco, Ellen Fagan, and Arlene Pietranton) appointed to address the issue of professional cross-training (i.e., training individuals in another profession to perform activities within one's scope of practice).

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