Article featured in Advance Healthcare Network For Speech & Hearing by Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP

In 2010, during the strategic planning process, the dean of the Salus University College of Education and Rehabilitation envisioned the expansion of programs offered. 

Seeking to enhance the diversity of its programs while remaining true to the mission of the college, 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 at Salus, and an inaugural cohort of 25 SLP students was admitted to the Class of 2017. 

Today, Salus 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."

Evolution of an SLP Graduate ProgramA 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 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 Salus' on-campus SLP clinic.  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. Designed by faculty, in consultation with leading experts, novel syllabi were vetted by the University's Educational Policy and Curriculum.

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.

Delivery of course content was diversified to include not only podium talks and PowerPoint presentations, but discussion boards, individual and group projects, video tutorials, peer presentations and reviews, as well as guest lectures. This blending of traditional and new teaching methodologies, varying the style and demonstration of pertinent materials, serves to strengthen student attention and the retention of information.

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

From its inception, the Salus Department of Speech-Language Pathology believed that 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 Salus' on-campus clinic.  Positive patient feedback and marketing to local constituents has succeeded in cultivating a large pool of patient referrals and fostered community relationships flowing into several additional community rotations.

Clinical supervisors and teaching faculty meet on a regular basis to coordinate client care activities and share information on theory, assessment and intervention presented in the classroom. This harmonious coordination of didactic and clinical education 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.

Student Selection and Admission

The ever-growing need for more qualified clinicians in the field of speech-language pathology necessitates a demand for program development and expansion. Matching  students with each program is as much an art as it is a science. 

Currently, prospective students apply utilizing the Communication Sciences and Disorders Centralized Application Service (CSDCAS).  Once meeting minimum requirements, students compete for admission which includes an on-site personal interview and campus tour. 

Salus University strongly believes that the interview process gives prospective Salus students an opportunity to highlight skills that might otherwise be "glossed over" in a traditional application.  Faculty and staff convene to discuss each applicant's portfolio, as well as its merits and challenges, before eventually choosing best applicants.

Cooperative communication between the Office of Admissions and the Department of Speech-Language Pathology helps students prepare for their transition to graduate school.  University-wide orientation and department-specified training begins prior to the initial semester to ensure that students become acclimated to each Salus program's requirements and rigors before coursework and clinical demands commence.

Constant communication between faculty, staff and administration sets the tone and example by which students are required to function.  Expectations are developed, defined and documented with students in course and clinic formats.  The program contains developed guidelines published in its handbook which clearly define both the program's requirements and the tenets of the department's and University's leadership.

Continuing communication between students within the program and the College and the University as a whole takes place not only in the classroom and the clinical facility, but through campus activities such as Student Government and the local chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA).  These activities allow for peer leadership, professional relationship-building and local, national and international community service.

Degree Requirements

Students will complete the 60 credits required for graduation while collecting a minimum of 400 clinical clock hours over three distinct experiences.  Competencies are defined and recorded using the CALIPSO program, allowing supervisors and students access to clearly outlined expectations.

Students also follow the Salus tradition of a capstone project, completing a year-long study and presenting their final results to the University community.  All SLP students are required to complete the Praxis II examination, a national exam that samples a culmination of knowledge and skills, along with other program specific summative assessments developed and administered by Salus faculty.

Successful completion of the didactic and clinical pieces of the SLP program leads to a Clinical Fellowship (CF) in the student's first role as a member of the profession.  The CF acts as a bridge between the guided practice of the graduate student and the independent practitioner.  Depending on the state in which the student chooses to practice, additional licensure and certification requirements may apply. 

Students become full members of the SLP community with the achievement of their Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), with all the rights and privileges as outlined by the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA).

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.

The Salus SLP program is expected 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.

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