THE INGREDIENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL graduate-level communication disorders program include stellar faculty, talented students, and a support staff and university administration committed to supporting long-term growth. In addition, the clinical training sites monitor changes in the job market so new clinicians gain the skills and experience they need.
ADVANCE spoke to the administrators of several top-rated programs in the nation, as identified in an exclusive ranking by U.S. News & World Report, (see "First-Time Rankings" on page 9), about the components of their programs that add up to success.
A "critical mass of highly productive faculty and first-rate students" characterizes the master's program in audiology and speech-language pathology at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, said Richard Hurtig, PhD, chair of the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology in the College of Liberal Arts.
Admissions are highly competitive, and the majority of students have undergraduate training in speech-language pathology and audiology.
"We don't simply try to teach the minimum standard," Dr. Hurtig observed. "We focus on giving students the best possible training."
The department maintains a strong affiliation with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Faculty have joint appointments with the College of Medicine and regularly collaborate with the departments of otolaryngology, neurology and psychiatry.
Clinical and research opportunities for students abound, and the school enjoys a high degree of institutional support to keep its physical facility current.
The department is home to two national research centers supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Center for Voice and Speech, directed by Ingo Titze, PhD, and the Child Language Research Center, directed by Bruce Tomblin, PhD.
The university claims a number of faculty with national and international standing in their research areas, including Paul Abbas, PhD, and Carolyn Brown, PhD, in cochlear implants; Chris Turner, PhD, in speech perception in people with hearing impairment; and Ruth Bentler, PhD, in hearing aid research.
"Part of the strength of the department is its focus on both research and teaching," Dr. Hurtig said. "Our curriculum continues to evolve in terms of didactic and clinical components."
The program maintains ties with surrounding public schools, he noted. "Since a lot of speech-language pathologists and some audiologists work in the school system, you cannot have a strong clinical program without a healthy relationship to education programs."
The curriculum has been geared to train students in the kinds of services they will be providing when they graduate. Emphasis increasingly is being placed on "making university clinics function more like real-world clinics, not ivory tower clinics," Dr. Hurtig said.
Instructors in the Depart-ment of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University, in Evanston, IL, make a conscious effort to prepare students to function efficiently in a managed care environment and to be accountable for their services, said Dean Garstecki, PhD, CCC-A/SLP, professor and department chair.
"We want to make sure students are being prepared to function in a health care arena that is somewhat different than it was years ago," he said. "They need to be accountable for tasks they employ in diagnostic procedures and the design of their treatment plans to be most efficient."
The university offers programs in audiology and hearing sciences, learning disorders and speech-language pathology.
The employment outlook for new graduates continues to be strong in audiology and speech-language pathology, Dr. Garstecki said. "Our graduates continue to have options when they leave here."
The rate of undergraduate applications remains high, he added. The program is considering maintaining current class sizes so graduates can be better accommodated by the market.
"We're undergoing a program review, and these things will be addressed in time," he stated.
University officials have shown "tremendous support" for keeping the 30-year-old physical facility current, according to Dr. Garstecki.
Half of the 44-member faculty hold PhDs. Key faculty members and their primary areas of investigation are Jeri Logemann, PhD, oral cancer and dysphagia; Peter Dallos, PhD, neurobiology and molecular genetics of hearing; and Nina Kraus, PhD, cortical evoked potentials in cochlear implant users.
In Seattle the University of Washington continues to provide students with a broad-based background in experiences to prepare them for a variety of employment settings.
Although nursing homes and hospitals in the state are employing fewer clinicians, as they are across the country, the public schools have a number of openings, reported Lesley Olswang, PhD, CCC-SLP, professor and associate chair in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. "That is a prime opportunity for our graduates. We have had excellent job placement."
Approximately 200 applicants annually vie for a limited number of openings in the graduate program.
The faculty blends basic and applied science in various areas of investigations, such as infant development. Active in the basic science area of this field are Patricia Kuhl, PhD, infant speech perception; Chris Moore, PhD, infant physiology; and Carol Stoel-Gammon, PhD, speech development. In the applied science realm are Richard Fulsom, PhD, pediatric audiology, and Dr. Olswang, treatment efficacy among infants and toddlers with communication disorders.
Other areas of faculty research are neurogenic disorders in adults, communication disorders in school-aged children, and aural rehabilitation.
The central administration of the university has supported the communication disorders program in a number of ways, such as providing financial support for a new student computer center.
Recently, the administration created "Tools for Transformation," a large funding source for all departments.
The Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences has proposed setting up an applied research partnership with the community to enable faculty to conduct field research on treatment efficacy, Dr. Olswang said. "This also will allow for more experiential learning for our students."
The Department of Communicative Disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison consistently draws a national representation of students.
Changes in Medicare have transformed the allied health fields, and the employment situation is different than it was even a year ago, acknowledged Gary Weismer, PhD, professor and department chair. However, "our students seem to be having success getting jobs, and most of them accomplish this without a placement service, although the university does have one."
Leading authorities on faculty include Ray Kent, PhD, in speech science; Larry Shriberg, PhD, in developmental phonological disorders in children; and Diane Bless, PhD, in voice pathology. Fifteen full-time and about a dozen clinical instructors supervise in the clinic.
Ten of the senior faculty members hold research grants from the NIH in areas such as auditory processing deficits in specific language impairment, articulatory kinematics in motor-speech disorders, intelligibility assessment and dysarthria, and genetic bases of phonological disorders.
"We take a lot of pride in our research accomplishments and the way that is translated into class with our master's students," Dr. Weismer said. "The fact that most of our faculty are heavily involved in cutting-edge research translates well into instruction in academic classes that train people to be good speech-language pathologists and audiologists."
Two clinical instructors well versed in managed care are teaching a new graduate course on obtaining reimbursement.
School administrators have taken notice of the high rankings of the department by educational experts and continue to provide support in terms of equipment and aggressive recruitment of new faculty, he said. "We're not satisfied with being a top-ranked program; we're fully committed to making sure it stays that way."
The Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, TN, is housed within the Vanderbilt Medical Center.
A diverse mix of students from all over the country brings a variety of experiences, ideas and philosophies to the graduate program, said Fred H. Bess, PhD, CCC-A, director of the Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences.
Students acquire practicum experiences and gain exposure to managed care issues. They observe how professionals handle these issues and participate in real-life experiences on a daily basis in their clinical courses.
The Bill Wilkerson Center is the sole provider of audiology and speech-language pathology services at the medical center, noted Dr. Bess. "We do close to 100,000 patient visits a year."
He added, "We're quite different than most traditional training programs." Students don't just learn about a new challenge in reimbursement or service delivery, "they see it and experience it. We have to deal with it in our clinic."
Vanderbilt offers a course on professional issues, which addresses managed care, Dr. Bess said. "We bring in members of government, attorneys and hospital administrators--who deal with these issues from a somewhat different perspective--and have them share their experience with students."
Among the program highlights are classes in pediatric and medical audiology, psychoacoustics, fluency, neurogenics and child language.
Vanderbilt boasts one of the largest faculties and staffs in the country, numbering over 100, including 15 doctoral-level instructors. Many are internationally known in their respective fields of research and attract a considerable amount of extramural funding from the NIH.
Researchers at the university work in such areas as auditory characteristics of children with autism, minimal pediatric hearing loss, and localization of young infants to sound. Steve Camarata, PhD, recently received a $5.5 million NIH grant to study the efficacy of intervention techniques in childhood language.
"The greatest thing about our faculty is that they are caring people who do not look at themselves as being special, which makes them special," Dr. Bess pointed out "They are there to help students and deal with problems in terms of communication disorders."
School administrators are planning the construction of an upgraded, $35 million facility to house the Bill Wilkerson Center.
For More Information
Fred H. Bess, PhD, Vanderbilt University, Bill Wilkerson Center, 1114 19th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212; (615) 340-8292
Dean Garstecki, PhD, Northwestern University, Frances Searle Bldg., 2299 N. Campus Dr., Evanston, IL 60208-3540; (847) 491-3066
Richard Hurtig, PhD, Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, College of Liberal Arts, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242; (319) 335-8730
Lesley Olswang, PhD, Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Washington, 1417 NE 42nd St., Seattle, WA 98105-6246; (206) 543-7974
Gary Weismer, PhD, Department of Communicative Disorders, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1975 Willow Dr., Madison, WI 53706; (608) 262-6472
Marc Iskowitz is associate editor of ADVANCE.