This post is in no way intended to demean the hard work that talented speech-language pathologists do in a private practice setting.
A long time ago, I was hired by a private practice, and worked difficult cases, drove to remote towns, worked in hospitals, and visited homes and day cares. It was tough, and at the time, it wasn't exactly lucrative (I was a CFY). I always worried about where the next payment was coming from. On the flip side, financially strapped parents and caregivers often didn't know where their next dollar was in order to pay me
. Anxiety and stress seemed to be the name of the game from both sides.
I walked away from that setting, and have little desire to return. I prefer public service, which is why I love working in schools. Billing parents or recruiting clients/contracts is not part of the equation.
During my years as a public school SLP, however, I run into a misperception CONSTANTLY. Sometimes it's implied subtly; while other times, it's blatant. For some reason, the word is out that public school speech pathologists are not as qualified as their private practice counterparts.
I've been referred to as the 'ordinary speech pathologist
', or the one who doesn't know much about (fill in the blank with the disorder
Although I'm the first to admit that I often don't know answers, I feel my clinical skills (and the skills of my public school speech friends) are on par with SLPs around the country. I'm in awe of my other public school colleagues, and I often go to them with my questions about children on my caseload.
I would like to eliminate any preconceived notions about the expertise of public school speech pathologists and here is why---
- In order to practice either in a school or private setting, all NC speech-language pathologists (and most other states) must have a Masters Degree, and have the Certification of Clinical Competence. The training for this is rigorous. In addition, speech-language pathologists must ALL continue their educations through professional development to maintain certification.
- Public school speech-language pathologists are often leaders in their field. Our lead SLP is a past- president of the NC Speech and Hearing Association. Our SLP group in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School system has formulated guidelines and protocols for assessment and peer review that SLPs across the state use.
- Public school speech-language pathologists independently and as a group read scholarly articles in order to stay current in their field. We often discuss these at our professional development meetings.
- Public school speech-language pathologists often publish in scholarly journals and national magazines.
- Public school speech-language pathologists must be well-versed in best practice for a variety of children from all walks of life, and who have various disorders. There is rarely an opportunity to
completely specialize, so a public school SLP, when given a new student, must research treatment techniques, attend conferences, or seek expert advice in order to write appropriate goals and objectives. This scenario happens frequently.
- Public school speech-language pathologists must also stay reasonably up-to-date with current technologies--both for record keeping and for assistive technology needs of the students.
- Public school speech-language pathologists must collaborate effectively with other educators. Every child is a part of a team of adults, and SLPs often work on many different teams to provide the most appropriate services for the child. This may not always be the traditional 'pull out' model--often the setting is collaborative; sometimes it involves co-teaching.
- Public school speech-language pathologists must be well-versed in evaluating and treating children who speak other languages.
- Public school speech-language pathologists must keep detailed records of treatment, and be well versed in special education law. They need to know how to write measurable goals and monitor progress.
- Public school speech-language pathologists need to know curriculum for all levels of children, including being well versed on the new Common Core (other other state standards).
Over the years, I've been involved in interviewing speech pathologists who would like to work for our school system. It's competitive! Typically for every job opening, 4 or 5 people were interviewed. Many applicants worked in a private setting at the time of the interview, and often didn't get the job. Others SLPs interviewed were those with public school experience and also often didn't get hired. There has never been a strong feeling that one group is any more qualified than the other. Prior work setting doesn't pre-determine clinical skills.
There are, of course, times where a referral to an outside agency for specialized treatment and consultation is necessary. For example, a child with a cochlear implant needs to be seen by people who really know a LOT about this, and then they can provide direction to the school and parents. A child with a cleft palate needs the services of a specialized multidisciplinary clinic.
Parents, of course, may take their children to whomever they choose, and the private SLP may be just the ticket for that child's continued success. There just is no rule-of-thumb that says that one group is more competent than the other.
So, why does the misperception still exist? Feel free to comment.