Vol. 15 •Issue 30 • Page 6
Men in Speech-Language Pathology
The rewards, the challenges, & ideas for adding to the ranks
The severe lack of men in speech-language pathology is daunting, and it doesn't appear to be getting any better. For years, the number of male constituents of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has been in a state of decline. According to ASHA, males comprised 8.3 percent of its membership in 1997, dropping to 6.5 percent by the end of 2004. Currently, 4.5 percent of speech-language pathologists are men.1
Like nursing, speech-language pathology continues to be a female-dominated profession. The issues surrounding the shortage are many, but a number of suggested strategies may help improve the situation.
The first issue that needs to be addressed is how the field is presented to the general public. For example, the general perception is that most speech-language pathologists work in a school setting.
"Every time I encounter someone and tell them what I do, the first question is 'What school do you work in?'" Chip Hahn, MS, CCC-SLP/A, HIS, assistant director of rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill of Northern Kentucky, in Florence, told ADVANCE. "We need to provide education that shows we don't just work in schools. I'm not downing that aspect, but the public has a real misperception about what we can do."
Largely due to society's portrayal of gender roles, speech-language pathologists are seen as caregivers, which may turn men away from the profession, speculated Robert C. Thompson, PhD, who provides consultative services to Children's Medical Center and the U.S. Indian Health Service, in Tulsa, OH, and several school districts. "It's society looking at what men and women should do. Even though we've seen changes in professional roles in the last few decades, such as more women going into medicine, there are still some areas viewed [by men] as being something that women do."
"Males need to know that speech-language pathology is a rewarding and viable career for them," stated Hahn.
"When I started out in this field, there was a preponderance of men in leadership positions-male professors and male authors," Dr. Thompson said. "Ninety percent of my professors were men, while clinical supervisors were master's-level females. When I earned the master's and doctorate, most of my fellow students were men. It's all changed now, of course. If there's a male on the faculty, he'll probably be retiring in the next five years."
The best way to recruit more men into the profession is to have male clinicians talk to and work with prospective students, he said.
Craig Selinger, MS, CCC-SLP, of Children's Home Intervention Program (CHIP), in New York, NY, suggested starting with an audience of young men interested in teaching, such as high school seniors who have experience working with children at a summer camp. He recalled his own experience of shadowing professionals at a local hospital while in high school.
The role of speech-language pathologists and their impact on society is not understood by young adults, especially males, noted Matt McKeon, MS, CCC-SLP, of Broomall Rehab and Nursing in Broomall, PA. "When young adults are looking into careers, they associate speech therapy with teaching children how to speak, which tends to draw more females."
"Like all forms of early childhood education, females tend to prefer that line of work," said Alex Burnham, MS, CCC-SLP, of RehabWorks in Boston, MA. If the public was made aware of the various treatment areas and settings within the profession, "people might learn about the spectrum of the field," including health care and academia.
The profession often does not place enough emphasis on this area in its recruiting efforts, according to Mark Witkind, SLPD, CCC-SLP, BRSFD, a clinical associate professor at Florida International University in Miami. Candidates interested in the hard sciences, such as engineering, chemistry, biology and biochemistry, should be aware of the career opportunities they can pursue in speech-language pathology.
However, due to an often overwhelming lack of college funding, recruitment can be challenging because of the expenses involved in bringing people to campuses and hospitals. When speech-language pathology departments are not included in colleges of health or medicine, which often have more money, they don't get the benefit of such funding, he said.
By their very nature, speech-language pathology programs are expensive because the student-faculty ratio must be small for training and certification purposes.
"When you've got a training ratio of less than eight students to one faculty member, it becomes expensive," said Dr. Witkind, who is also a mentor for working speech-language pathologists interested in receiving post-master's specialization. "University departments have to use their money for faculty resources and clinical training, quite often turning recruitment into a secondary issue."
Similarly, student teaching and research positions often fall by the wayside. When well-qualified candidates begin seeking out a profession, they may look to other professions that are better funded.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't take them long to choose something else," he said.
However, awareness of the field is increasing because of specialty recognition in areas such as dysphagia, fluency, adult and child language, and bilingualism, Dr. Witkind stated. "As we continue to become specialized, we'll have additional opportunities."
In addition, a clinical doctorate enables professionals to expand their knowledge base and compete for better salaries, he added.
He believes the lack of males in speech-language pathology strongly impacts the profession, especially in how it is perceived by other fields.
"No matter how well trained we are, a lot of other professionals look at speech-language pathology as though it were a part-time endeavor," said Dr. Witkind. "Of course, that's very unfair because anyone who is certified and has a master's degree is very well qualified."
If the field continues to be viewed as a part-time profession, legislators won't expect it to advocate for better benefits, salary increases, schedule flexibility, or time off for specialty training.
With the exception of administrative and academic positions, the profession has not actively pursued males, he said. Furthermore, some do not consider the average salary range as one that allows for comfortable living.
"Men may look at the profession as being at the middle level in terms of salary range," he said.
While he has contemplated whether more pay would attract more males, Dr. Thompson doesn't believe it would. "You just have to enjoy doing this type of work, even if the money isn't so fantastic."
Working with children is the most rewarding aspect of his job.
"All my patients are under age 5, and here I am, a 160-pound adult male sitting on the floor with kids and working with them," he said. "I don't think it's unmanly. In fact, it's truly hard work sometimes."
The best advocates for attracting strong speech-language pathology candidates are the clients.
"When clients deal with speech-language pathologists, the experience typically is very positive," said Dr. Witkind. "Parents are overwhelmed by their children's growth in communication skills, and the speech-language pathologist is a key player for individuals who have suffered strokes and other neurological problems."
An advantage of being a male speech-language pathologist is that some clients prefer to work with men, according to Hahn. It's important that patients have a choice.
"Many clients prefer to work with male clinicians due to their religious and/or personal beliefs," said Dan Toker, MA, CFY-SLP, of Omni Rehab, in Brooklyn, NY, where there is a high demand for male therapists who speak Hebrew or Yiddish.
The reason so few males enter the field, he believes, is because they're intimidated by the idea of working with younger children.
"The medical aspect of speech-language pathology is booming now," he said. Marketing that area may be effective in enticing more men.
The only male in his graduating class, Toker formed a collaborative alliance with his female classmates. "They appreciated hearing different ideas from a male perspective as far as therapy goals and activities," he said.
Increasing the number of men in both speech-language pathology and regular education would provide more role models for school-age males, said David Puckett, MEd, CCC-SLP, who works in schools on military bases for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS). Currently, he works on a base in Germany.
"I think it helps them to have a male adult pat them on the back and give them support," he said.
Younger children also may pick up on the differences between male and female clinicians, said Selinger. "It depends on their personality, but I think I have certain bonds with some children just because I'm a male. My colleagues can vouch for that."
When he began his undergraduate studies, "it was the first time in my life that I was part of the minority," he recalled. "It was a bit intimidating, but I got used to it. The professors know who you are, and the females realize you're in the minority. It seems like they want to help you fit in."
The distinction helps during the job search as well. "When employers see a resume with a male name, they call right away," Selinger said. "Even in job interviews, the first thing someone usually says to me is, 'We need more males in our field.'"
The shortage of males in the profession apparently extends overseas.
"I was traveling abroad and met an Australian speech-language pathologist who asked me what I did. When I told her I was a speech-language pathologist, she didn't believe me," he recounted. He found himself being quizzed on the field. "After I gave her the answers, she said, 'Wow, I can't believe you're a male speech-language pathologist!'"
1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2005). Highlights and trends: ASHA counts for 2004. Rockville, MD.
For More Information
• Mark Witkind, 305-772-4054, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Alex Burnham, e-mail: email@example.com
• Chip Hahn, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Sharon Hantman, e-mail: SHantman@asha.org, online: www.asha.org
• Jeremy Legaspi, e-mail: email@example.com
• Kevin McElfresh, e-mail: Kevin.McElfresh@cchmc.org
• Matt McKeon, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
• David Puckett, e-mail: email@example.com
• Craig Selinger, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Robert Thompson, e-mail: email@example.com
• Dan Toker, e-mail: Tayo143@aol.com
Jason Mosheim is an Assistant Editor at ADVANCE. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recruiting at the High School Level
Earlier this year, high school students in a careers class in the Loveland City School District, in Cincinnati, OH, were introduced to the field of speech-language pathology. The presentation offered an overview of speech, information on the schooling required to become a speech-language pathologist, reviews of case histories, and a look inside the typical day of a clinician.
While the main reason behind the campaign, titled "Don't Miss the Bus," was to encourage students to become school speech-language pathologists, presenters Kevin McElfresh, MA, CFY-SLP, then a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, and Candace Santose, MA, CCC-SLP, on staff in the school district, also talked about working in hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient facilities.
They also mentioned that military personnel are finding gainful employment in the allied health sciences, which helps to alleviate the stereotype that nursing, counseling or social worker are "female jobs," said McElfresh. "Speech pathology is included in that realm, and the fact that men are now taking on these roles is shifting the view that men don't do that kind of work. Now positions like a speech pathologist or counselor are becoming more appealing to men."
Although the class had boys and girls, part of the presentation was focused on recruiting men into the profession.
"People typically assume that positions like a nurse, teacher or speech-language pathologist are female roles. We're trying to eliminate that stereotype," said McElfresh, now a speech-language pathologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC).
When he gives the presentation next year, he plans to make a few changes.
"I'd like to pull males out of other classes and have the principal, who is very receptive to the idea, talk to them about coming to the presentation," he said.
For McElfresh, recruitment doesn't stop there. As a student associate at CCHMC, he often brings in college and high school students and volunteers from the community to learn about the field.
"They get some exposure and learn a little bit while they're here," he said. "It helps [the field] get some recognition."
Reflection of a Broader Bias
The issue of gender discrepancy in the speech-language pathology profession reflects a societal bias, according to Sharon Hantman, director of membership for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
"Because there is a high degree of interpersonal, face-to-face contact, especially in the areas of young children and the elderly, the profession is defined as being 'female,'" she said.
In reviewing ASHA literature on men in the allied health professions, Hantman found a larger gender discrepancy in speech-language pathology compared to that of nursing, special education, occupational therapy, audiology, physician's assistant, physical therapy, optometry and pharmacy.
"No other profession in the data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics had this level of gender discrepancy," she stated.
The nursing profession, which also is typically associated with women, recently launched a $50 million recruitment campaign funded by the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, which has provided approximately $450 million in consumer research. The campaign includes literature and television ads depicting male nurses.
Although this type of funding is not currently available, ASHA has begun addressing the shortage of males in the professions in several significant ways, such as implementing gender-neutral messages in all of its recruitment materials to put men on equal ground with women.
"We're also trying to effect change at lower grade levels by getting the profession in front of boys at the middle and high school levels before these issues become too hardened by societal choices," she said.
Additionally, ASHA is working to recruit a cadre of volunteers to take the materials to middle school career fairs and health days and make guidance counselors aware of the profession so they can present it as a career choice for both boys and girls.
"We would like to have the profession be as representative of the population as possible and as populated by men as it is women," Hantman said.