Behind the Scenes at the Speech-Language Institute
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Behind the Scenes at the Speech-Language Institute

In this podcast, we'll be discussing all things clinical for the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program at Salus University with Taylor Evans, office manager for the Speech-Language Institute (SLI), Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, chair and program director of the SLP department, and Kara Maharay, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, director of clinical education for the SLP department. 

Evans: Hi everyone. Thanks for listening to our update on all things clinical for the SLP program at Salus University. I'm the office manager for SLI, the on-campus clinic for our first-year graduate students. I've been with the program since the clinic opened in July of 2015.

Maharay: My role is to oversee SLI, and I also teach the clinical practicum classes for first-year graduate students where the clinical classroom experience goes along with their experience in the SLI.

Bob sitting in the SLI control roomSerianni: My role is to not only oversee the department clinic, the post-baccalaureate program as well as the master's program, but I also have the pleasure of teaching a few of the classes. Every once in a while I pop my head in and I'll supervise in the clinic. My joy is that I get to work with folks like Taylor and Kara every day who do a great job of making sure the mission and vision of the department come to life.

Evans: This past semester we've been busy. Over in SLI, we saw over 700 individual therapy appointments for our first-year graduate students. They start seeing clients during the first week of the semester and begin to pick up clients throughout and work with them on a weekly basis. At the end of the semester, we polled our clients and we have maintained a 99% satisfaction rating since the clinic has opened. Not only are our students gaining great experiences in the clinic, but they’re doing a great service to our clients in the community. In addition to our individual appointments, we offer group appointments in the clinic and offsite opportunities for group therapy in the community. 

Maharay: We have a bunch of opportunities both on campus and off campus as your first year experience in the Speech-Language Institute. We've started some new groups over the last two semesters, which have been great. We've started an early Explorers group, which is for preschool children, it is a neurodiverse affirming friends group for children that are diagnosed with autism. This past semester we started a new exciting group at an adult day program, and this group focuses on both improving cognition as well as implementing a dysphagia program that has been established by a licensed SLP. Our students have the opportunity to feed residents as well as follow through with established strategies and guidelines given by a speech pathologist working with the client. Our students are able to assist the residents in oral care after their meals. They've also been able to work with the staff at the day program to provide education on dysphagia safe swallow strategies and aspiration precautions. This has been a new and different off-campus opportunity for our students.

Evans: We support numerous off-campus events during the semester as well. Last semester, our students participated in the Walk for Apraxia held by Apraxia Kids, All Abilities Ramble by the Philly Goat Project and the Aphasia Resource Conference.

AAC deviceMaharay: We've been lucky enough to receive the Eagles Autism Grant this year, and that has been really exciting because we have been able to attend a lot of their events to spread the word about our clinic within the community. We were also able to obtain a new fleet of iPads for speech therapy in the clinic. We have been able to purchase additional apps for the use of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication), and we've also been able to gift families in need of an AAC device. This grant has allowed us to support families with devices at home, which has been really great.

Serianni: I was excited to see our Aphasia Support Group branch out to do things like a book club, as well as poetry, over the last few semesters. Our clients are not only getting the therapy and support that they need to continue making gains in their communication, but students get to see speech therapy exist outside of the traditional intervention space. Working with the groups allows them to see the dynamic and various communication strategies and difficulties at the same time. It allows them to connect better with the course material as they're learning the different disorder areas in classroom spaces.

Evans: Speaking of materials, we have different materials for our students and clinical educators to utilize while they're in the clinic here. Bob, would you like to describe some of the materials that we have?

Serianni: We do have, what we thought, was a large space when we built the clinic out of 2,000 square feet. But when you begin to collect all of the necessary things that you need to be successful in providing intervention and assessment opportunities for students, that space gets small really fast.

SLP students sitting in classWe've been fortunate through grant work like with the Eagles Autism Foundation. As well as internal purchases that the University supports, to expand some of the technologies and materials that we have. We are currently waiting for a new mobile fees unit. That fee is the endoscopic swallowing assessment that speech pathologists do to inform their dysphasia care. We hope that technology is easier for us to move around campus, outside of the speech voice lab, as well as off campus and potentially using it in the mobile health unit.

We've been the recipient of ultrasound equipment that we'll be using for both swallowing and speech services. My favorite purchase was the feeding chair that we got and not necessarily the chair itself, but it came disassembled. I got to put on my Home Depot hat and build the seating system that we use with our infants and toddlers that come in for feeding and swallowing services. And that's on top of the sensory materials that we're putting together to outfit one of our clinic rooms, to be more sensory friendly for our individuals that have autism. In addition to expanding our assessment materials, including some new Spanish-focused SLP assessments. These tools are not only state of the art, so that our students are using the latest and greatest, but it's also helping the community. While making sure that we're able to appropriately provide care to individuals that may not have the opportunity to have speech pathology services because of cost or location.

Evans: I love when we bring externship supervisors through the clinic or speech pathologists in the area and they see our assessment closet and go, “whoa, that is amazing.” We have everything for our students to get their hands on and learn, and we get to stay on the forefront of care.

SLP student working with a pediatric client in SLIMaharay: We've talked about the great materials we have, but materials don't mean much if you don't have great students and great clinical educators to use them. One of the nice things about the SLI is we have close to 20 different clinical educators of a wide variety of expertise. Whether the expertise is AAC or dysphagia and swallowing or childhood apraxia of speech or brain injury. We have this great pool of clinical educators and faculty that have expertise in every area. So, we're able to treat a wide variety of clients and give our students an incredible experience as well.

Serianni: Taylor, you touched on it in the beginning of your talk, we expose our students from the start of their program with clinical care. I think it's important to point out that Salus is different from other programs that start didactically and then begin to introduce clinical rotations later in programs. We are assertive with getting our students in the clinic and in front of clients so that they can see lectures that the guest speakers are presenting and watch it come to life. That early clinical exposure takes the theory right into practice. And, that's probably my favorite thing about this program is that we get the students involved in clinical care so quickly so that they get to learn the craft of speech pathology.

Maharay: I've enjoyed the opportunity to teach the clinical practicum classes and help [students] to bridge that gap between didactic learning and clinical learning. You can have the opportunity to implement them in a clinic, whether that is conducting a pediatric or adult speech and language or cognitive screen, a hearing screening, or completing an oral motor exam. We've been able to implement assignments in class that then students have the opportunity to carry over in the clinic.

Evans: Touching upon that, it also works in the opposite way. We have a video system in our clinic where all of our client sessions are recorded. Our faculty are able to go in and take snippets of the therapy and evaluation sessions and show them as part of their lectures in class. So it's a great real life example of what they're learning in class as well. 

SLP student reading to a pediatric patientSerianni: We’ve started a post-baccalaureate program. As part of that, the students in the program who choose the SLPA path, the practitioner speech-language pathology assistant, we've begun to train SLPAs right here on campus. The master's students have the clinic for the majority of the week. But during those downtimes, the SLPA students are in the clinic learning how they can support speech-language pathologists as they become practitioners themselves. One of the things that I have enjoyed as part of growing the department is, moving the students to different areas to learn about the profession of speech pathology. We do that here as part of the program where we have students both on and off campus providing care. We took it to the next level and have partnered with a company called Therapy Abroad. Every year we design an international trip so that students can provide care in an area of the world that doesn't have access to speech pathology services.

We've gone to places like Turks and Caicos and Belize. We've had trips to the Dominican Republic, and our next one, which is slated in August, will be to the Dominican. It's a small Caribbean island that does not have any current speech pathology services available. We also like to bring the globe to us. We've had students who are learning to become speech pathologists, from a small medical university in Taiwan, join us each summer for the last two summers. We do expect our students from CMSU to join us again this coming summer. They’re engaged in both clinical learning and classroom learning for about a month here on campus and get to engage with the faculty and the staff. During that time, the students exchange ideas about what care looks like in other parts of the world.

Maharay: One of the things I enjoy most about working here is the opportunity to grow our program. Almost every semester we're adding new programming and we take a lot of feedback from students and we've learned that students are really more interested in pediatric feeding and they'd like more opportunities with that. We are looking to bring on more clients in the clinic for pediatric feeding. We're also looking at different places we can partner with that. We could offer some feeding groups to preschool students, maybe introducing them to different foods in a social environment and manner. One other thing we've started recently that we're hoping to continue, is providing our clinical educators with ongoing clinical education in the area. We’re invested in keeping our clinical educators up to date on supervision practices, but also helping them to continue to grow in the area of clinical supervision. 

SLP student working in SLIEvans: I love seeing the students become professionals throughout the program as they start in their first semester and they're just learning their skills. You can tell they're a little bit nervous sometimes, but by the summer semester they've got it and we are so proud of them. Every class is so rewarding for me by the summertime, seeing them become proficient and ready to go out on their externships. That’s one of my favorite times of the year, at the end of the summer semester, when everyone is ready to go.

Maharay: That reminds me of one assignment I added in my clinical practicum class. I always enjoy this part. I enjoy reading it and learning, but at the end of their first year in the Speech-Language Institute, I have them write a letter to a new graduate student. When our new cohort starts, they can share a letter with a new student, giving them all of their best advice they've learned. I always enjoy reading it because it gives me good insight as to all of the personal and clinical growth that has happened for them within this short amount of time. They are excited to pay it forward to the next cohort that's going to be starting in the fall. I also love watching the students in the fall receive those letters, really excited and sharing all of the information they learn with their cohort colleagues as well.

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