Join Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP
, the chair and program director of the department of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP)
at Salus University, as he speaks with adjunct faculty member Randy Dubin, MA, CCC-SLP, about the Post-baccalaureate Speech-Language Pathology Track
. Geared toward students who are interested in coming into the field but are missing the prerequisite courses to enter graduate school, or who are interested in working in the field but want to pursue the role of a speech-language pathology assistant, learn more about this new program at Salus.
Randy, tell us a little bit about yourself. Why did you become an SLP?
When I was in high school, I volunteered at a local hospital where I basically just did patient transport, helped that department out. During that time, I was able to observe therapies, so I observed physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, and I became pretty interested and fascinated in the speech pathologist's role, just kind of observing them, seeing what they do and how they can really make a difference. I got to see speech pathologists evaluate patients who just had a stroke, for example, who not only had speech and language issues, but also had swallowing, voice, cognitive linguistic issues. So I got to see a whole array of different disorders that a speech pathologist can treat. Similarly, I got to observe patients with trauma, and how a speech pathologist can play a vital role in recovery with speech pathology.
I went to grad school at the University of Pittsburgh, where I received a VA traineeship. I worked really closely with the ear, nose, and throat department there, got to see medically complex patients with airway and swallowing issues, voice issues. So I got a really nice education, and then fast forward to my clinical fellowship, I got placed in a position where it was split between acute care, outpatient, and a skilled nursing facility. So I really got to see different levels of care. At that position, I had to learn pretty quickly because my clinical fellow supervisor wasn't really around that much, so I had to really grow clinically by myself. So I did a lot of self-learning, took a lot of courses, talked to other therapists, and learned a lot.
After that clinical fellowship, I stayed at that organization for another year and then I eventually moved to Penn Medicine, where I've been for the last 20-plus years. Currently I work as the speech pathology team leader for Penn Medicine, where I treat patients, but also supervise speech language pathologists in our inpatient acute care, acute rehab, and our long-term acute care hospital. Over the years, I've worked in all the settings within Penn Medicine, inpatient, outpatient, worked at our ALS clinic for many years. I provide outpatient services to patients who require home-assisted ventilation, to work on their speech, communication, swallowing. Again, I work closely with site managers at our core hospitals where I help staff those hospitals and maintain employee competencies as well, and help to develop new programs as well within the speech pathology program at Penn Medicine. And then I was fortunate enough to become adjunct faculty at Salus University when that program was developed, and have been helping out there ever since, which I really, really enjoy.
You still find time to give back to the program, and the profession, to not only teach but supervise graduate students. What interests you in that aspect of the field?
That's one of my greatest interests and that's why I'm so happy to have an affiliation with Salus University, because we are able to take students from Salus. Working at a large academic hospital afforded me the opportunity to interact with a lot of disciplines and also educate various departments. Over the years, we developed a pretty robust student externship program where we take students from any university across the country, but we do take a lot of Salus University students, usually at least one a semester. We also started a clinical fellowship program, where we'll take recent graduate students and provide them the opportunity to work with us for 12 months to complete their fellowship. And we were fortunate enough over the years to have two Salus students who have been able to complete our fellowship on top of our externship program.
I've been invited to speak at local regional and national conferences, and then taking clinical fellowships and graduate students helps to keep me current in the field. I help to teach some classes, but I'm not up in certain areas, so taking students and getting these fellows from universities really helps make sure not only myself but my other speech pathologists are up on the evidence-based practice that's being taught currently.
I think it's really important that we stay up on the research, and teaching forces us to be in the know. Our experiences with the Post-bacc program for the speech language pathology assistants has been one of those new venues that allows us to work with a different kind of student who wants to work in the field. What was it like for you to work in the Post-bacc program with our inaugural candidate?
I found it really enjoyable. I wasn't sure what type of student would be attending, and at least I learned that these students that have been able to participate in that program are very interested, very motivated, very vested in the field. I find they ask relevant, excellent questions. They have maybe more real-life experiences. Maybe they came from another profession, had other jobs and are doing a career switch, or just took a year off. And I find that they're just really, really, really vested students interested in the field.
I was fortunate to teach last year the anatomy and physiology course for the Post-bacc program, and I think most students stress over that class because there's a lot of memorization, a lot of learning. I always stress to the students, and I know it's a challenging course, that the effort you put forth in the coursework provides the student with the background for working with clients and patients with speech, language, voice, cognitive and hearing disorders. In that course, I like to give real case studies. We focus on the respiratory system, the inflammatory system, the articulatory resonatory system, nervous system, auditory system. And during that course, we stress obviously you have to know the anatomy and physiology, but how these systems interplay when you're evaluating and treating patients and clients with certain disorders.
You have a unique perspective, especially for prospective students, to really talk about what you think some of the advantages are of the Salus Post-bacc program. What are some of your insights?
Based on this program, I feel the students become really prepared for entering the field or the next level of study if they're going to go to grad school next. I think the great thing about the faculty at Salus is they have excellent teaching skills, but it seems like they're all clinicians as well, so they all can kind of relate, versus some other institutions where it might be more research-based. Which is nice, but I do a lot of accreditation visits for a lot of schools and programs and always find the students that go to a 100 percent research-based institution, the professor hasn't really been in the clinic for a while, those students seem to get lost a little bit and they say, "This professor really can't give real-life examples. Okay, they're teaching me about motor speech disorders, but yet they haven't treated a patient with motor speech disorders in 15 years."
I find the faculty at Salus, they're great teachers, educators, and excellent clinicians, importantly. I find the class size is really nice as well. The last class I taught was a small class, so I felt like I can spend a lot of time with the students. They feel more comfortable asking questions and just being more upfront if they're struggling and ask more questions, and I help provide more help as needed.
I think something that I really appreciate you pointing out too is the clinical relevance that all of our faculty, including you, bring to the classroom. Because I think that translation of what the research articles say, what the textbooks say, into our real-life application, how would you approach a patient or a student or a client that's working in this disorder area across the lifespan, is a really important aspect of our program. I think that's whether you're in the master's program or the Post-bacc program, or our PhD program, we always try to make it apply to the clinic, how does this impact patient care?
What kind of advice do you have for students that are seeking a career in speech pathology?
I think first, if they get accepted to the program, I feel like the University, the program itself and the faculty are invested in their success. It's really important for the student to know that they're being accepted into this program and we want the students to succeed. We want them to gain the knowledge, because they're the future. They're going to be the clinicians out there maybe treating me one day, so I want to make sure they're able to do a good job. I think speech pathology, and a lot of therapies, but specifically speech pathology is a rewarding career choice. There's plenty of opportunities within speech pathology. It's always been considered like a hot job. I feel like there's always a need for speech pathologists, especially with the growing population, the older population as well.
You can work with children, adults, schools, hospitals, rehabs, variety of settings. You can work as a team, which is a nice approach when you're treating a client or patient, where you're not by yourself. You might be working with physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), neuropsychology, audiology, to improve that patient's speech, language, cognitive, hearing abilities and functions. A nice aspect is counseling. There's a nice component to our field, we're a caring profession, where a lot of our sessions might have to be with counseling patients, family members, parents as well, providing education to other providers. And then the research aspect. We're still a growing field, there's still a lot to learn within the field, so you can be a clinician, but you could also be a researcher, and also obviously more importantly, mostly an advocate for your patient or client.