By Jennifer Wegerer
Whether treating a child who stutters or teaching a stroke victim to talk again, speech-language pathologists dedicate their skills and their hearts to helping those considered different. "Being different doesn't mean being less," says Debra Hainisch, a graduate student in the online speech-language pathology program at Nova Southeastern University's Fischler School of Education and Human Services in North Miami Beach, Florida.
During college, she took a job in the home health care field and found her calling. Soon after, she obtained a bachelor's degree in speech-language pathology from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, and began working in the school system.
Careers in Speech-Language Pathology
"With a bachelor's degree, schools are the primary career option for a speech pathologist," she asserts. Hainisch works nine to ten hours each day to provide quality care, but she is ready for a change. "Every 30 minutes, a new group of children walks in the door. The challenge of working with so many children and having so little time with each child, as well as dealing with the amount of paperwork and assessment involved, is overwhelming." A master's degree will open up more career opportunities in the school system, as well as in the clinical and health environment.
In a clinical environment, Hainisch can choose to work one-on-one with a child or adult and have more time to plan therapy for each patient. Additionally, she can work and collaborate more with other speech pathologists. The most significant advantage she has found, however, is job availability. "There are opportunities for speech pathologists across the country and abroad," she asserts. "Anywhere I move there's a job."
Degree and Certification Requirements
To achieve her goal, Hainisch researched speech pathology graduate schools and enrolled in the online program at Nova Southeastern University, which allowed her to work and go to school at the same time. In a few weeks, she will complete Nova's two-and-a-half-year speech-language pathology program and graduate with a Master of Science degree.
Standard requirements for state licensing include a minimum number of hours of supervised clinical experience and nine months of postgraduate professional clinical experience. However, requirements vary from state to state. Additionally, speech-language pathologists can acquire the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) offered by the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). This certificate carries its own requirements (see www.asha.org for information about state licensing and ASHA certification).
After receiving her master's degree, Hainisch will proceed with a nine-month, full-time clinical fellowship year (CFY). Following that year, she will apply for the Certificate of Clinical Competence. She will need this certificate to work in facilities outside of the school system, such as hospitals, private clinics, rehabilitation centers or nursing homes.
The Online Learning Experience
Residing in Portland, Oregon, Hainisch chose a master's program that she could earn online because it offered her a number of advantages. For one, she had the chance to pursue a full-time education and continue to earn an income at her full-time job. "I'm married and own a home," Hainisch says. "It was important for me to be able to keep working." She was able to work during the day and take courses in the early evening.
When considering master's programs, Hainisch also found that few colleges in her area offered master's programs in speech-language pathology. Those that did had only a handful of spots available for prospective students. Facing such fierce competition, she needed to look outside her immediate area. "I wanted to stay in Portland," she says. "I saw Nova's program with the online option and found that I could be licensed when I finished." With that, she was sold on pursuing her master's degree online.
Hainisch finds online interaction with peers and professors in the program to be far greater than she anticipated. "Not only can you chat [using an instant messenger] during class, but you get familiar with people's personalities through their discussion board postings." What Hainisch loves most about online courses is that she has a chance to process the content before posting her replies. "I'm a person who needs time to process."
Blending Tradition with Innovation
Nova requires students taking online courses to attend an orientation during their first semester. Students room with one another and get to know colleagues enrolled for the same program. During orientation, students learn how to log in to classes, how to access email and where to find notes and discussion boards. "It's not super-high tech," Hainisch says, "but you get the training you need to complete the program."
Hainisch recognizes another benefit of Nova's program. "Rather than completing a project or thesis to get your master's degree, Nova requires you to create a final portfolio. Throughout the program, you collect evidence of the work you've done that falls into certain categories for licensure. You can present this portfolio to prospective employers to show your qualifications and how you have fulfilled the certification requirements of ASHA."
How to Succeed in Speech-Language Pathology
For those considering earning a master's degree online, Hainisch advises, "Come in with some experience in the field. Experience helps you integrate the class information pretty easily. During lessons, I had examples in mind with kids or adults who had certain issues that we were discussing."
Hainisch takes pride in having more options now. "There are opportunities for speech pathologists to sign up with private organizations that send you to different states or overseas. You can work in different jobs for a few months at a time to gain more diverse experience." For Hainisch, more experience means learning to provide more quality care, which, in turn, means making a greater difference.