By: Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP

In 2010, during the strategic planning process, the dean of the University’s College of Education and Rehabilitation (CER) envisioned the expansion of programs offered. 

Seeking to enhance the diversity of its programs while remaining true to the mission of CER, an intense environmental scan led to the selection of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) as a potential graduate degree program. The Department of Speech-Language Pathology was formed and faculty and staff were hired in preparation for the new educational offering. By July 2015, and after earlier approval of the degree program by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Council of Academic Accreditation (CAA) in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology awarded candidacy status to the fledgling program, and an inaugural cohort of 25 SLP students were admitted as the Class of 2017. 

SLP Class of 2017
Class of 2017
 
Today, the University's College of Education and Rehabilitation is home to the Departments of Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, and Blindness and Low Vision Studies. The College's mission is "to develop and offer graduate education and rehabilitation programs preparing highly qualified professionals to support individuals who have, or are at risk for, disabilities by creating an interprofessional environment of practitioners committed to lifelong learning, critical thinking, and dedication to the individuals and communities they serve."

A Tradition of Quality

Salus University continued to develop this state-of-the-art program, grounded in the tradition of quality SLP student education. By combining unique didactic coursework with excellent clinical experiences, the Salus program followed other clinical educational programs, including the University’s Optometry, Audiology, Occupational Therapy and Physician Assistant Studies. The Salus institutional commitment to interprofessional education-working with and learning from two or more professions-fit well within the training of SLP professionals.

Beginning with the selection of a department chair/program director, a position requiring a seasoned and forward-thinking individual the program's lead needed to address Salus administration and accreditation requirements for a quality professional program. The second leadership piece was the naming of a clinical director. This position was best suited to an individual with knowledge of the "marketplace" and one with existing local and regional professional relationships leading to strong clinical externship placements, all complementing student experience in the University’s on-campus Speech-Language Institute. Extensive clinical training across a diverse client population and business leadership were two additional, needed and ideal traits.

The dyad of department chair and clinical director forged a strong working team to develop a plan leading to a successful candidacy application and site visit for accreditation. This was accomplished while weaving a new program into the interprofessional fabric of Salus University. The team also recruited teaching faculty with eclectic backgrounds, in addition to a diverse group of clinical educators with expertise in a variety of areas facilitating student supervisory needs.

Curriculum Development and Delivery

The selection and development of graduate education courses within the SLP program was driven by the accreditation mantra: depth and breadth of the profession. 

Guided by the nine areas of disorder and the SLP scope of practice, courses were fashioned into a lock-step program, designed to expose the students to evidence-based practice over five continuous semesters of graduate work.

Coursework delivery was front-loaded into the program, meaning students would take a majority of their core courses during their first three semesters, preparing them to carry "book knowledge" into their clinical experiences. Crosswalk documents ensured that competencies paramount to the profession were specifically and sufficiently addressed across the curriculum.

Infused into the coursework, and critical to student learning, were critical lab experiences.  Recognizing that students would have unique client exposures during each clinical rotation, lab experiences were developed with local institutions and universities to provide hands-on involvement directly applicable to coursework major themes, providing students with crucial patient example and frame of reference.  Observations were fashioned to provide students with similar vantage points which also allowed them to reflect on their unique experience in the lab. 

Clinical Education

Clinical Education - SLP ProgramFrom its inception, the Department of Speech-Language Pathology believed the best practice for the clinical education of its SLP students was significantly strengthened by the creation of its own on-campus clinic. The clinic's space allocation and design infused state-of-the-art technology with time-honored teaching and student supervisory approaches. The clinic was outfitted with advanced assessment protocols and functional manipulatives, complemented by an electronic health record system for documentation and reporting. 

Patient care, both individual and group sessions, and client and caregiver education underscores the hallmark of the University’s on-campus clinic. There is a  harmonious coordination of didactic and clinical education that facilitates deeper student knowledge of the subject matter.

Once successfully completing competencies at the internship level, students experience externship placements at sites within the University's community, chosen specifically to mesh student clinical exposure with didactic education, further refining their knowledge and skills. Over the course of their studies, students collect a minimum of 400 clinical clock hours over three distinct experiences. 

Future of the Program

The Salus program is committed to continuously re-inventing itself. 

Based firmly in the belief that best practices infuse theory into clinical preparation, ongoing programmatic assessment is multifaceted and gathered from student feedback, faculty and supervisors' observations, reflections of a professional advisory committee, and surveys of employers, University constituents and patient satisfaction feedback. This ongoing program reflection and improvement strengthens the connection between education to practice.

At just three years in, the University’s  SLP program is expected to continue to grow in size and recognition, while maintaining an "eye on the prize" of graduating skilled and successful clinicians who will more than meet the growing public demand for qualified speech-language pathologists.