Putting the Scope Back Into Your Practice

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Have you ever found yourself doing tasks or odd jobs as part of your speech-language pathology role and then think to yourself, “‘I don’t think that was in my job description?”

Are you feeling a little burnt out? Stuck in a rut? A little unenthused at the prospect of attending more meetings, completing endless IEPs and filling out more paperwork than clients you see? I have felt like this and I know other SLPs have cycled through the same dilemma so I sought my own solution …

As the sole speech-language pathologist working in a special needs school in Samoa, some of the questionable roles and responsibilities I undertook included:

  • Toenail clipper
  • Inventor of new dance moves for health class
  • Instructor of brushing teeth
  • Shaver of beards and trimmer of moustaches
  • Wound management officer

It would be an understatement if I said that I felt a little under-utilized or that my skills were not being put to best practice. Proud of my qualifications, I wanted to yell “I’m a speech-language pathologist! This is NOT what I do”’ but I didn’t. I just sunk a little lower, burnt out that extra bit more until one day I decided to do something productive with my new duties. I thought of ways that I could put speech-language pathology into these roles because I can tell you this much; no one could invent new dance moves like me!

Hence, the Scope of Practice Challenge was born.

The first and only time you looked at the ASHA Scope of Practice document may have been for a college assignment and then you tucked that hefty piece away. Out of sight, out of mind. But I assure you, the Scope of Practice wasn’t created for a one-time essay. I believe it was written to inspire forlorn, burnt out or plain ambitious SLPs! I challenged myself to apply one new scope each month and see if it improved my job satisfaction because, like you, I just wanted to make the biggest difference possible. It might not have been what I thought I would be doing but, like the cunning therapist I was trained to be, I made things speech-language pathology related without people even realizing!

I reluctantly took a side step from assessments and therapy and did things that were in my scope that I never would have thought of doing. I helped to create a policies and procedures manual, gave phonologic awareness input toward a basic language-arts curriculum, taught social skills and made locally appropriate social stories, provided in-service training, did team teaching and had local special education students work shadow me to learn more about speech-language pathology. To be honest, it was a liberating experience because it showed me that there was so much more to being a speech-language pathologist than simply providing therapy. It also made realize that I could strive to be better and do more.

So why should you take up the Scope of Practice Challenge? It will broaden your skills and make you into a more rounded therapist. It can help provide new direction and inspire your work if it has become a little predictable lately. Or it could be a creative means to get more out of bus and lunchroom duty!

Here are some sample roles outlined in ASHA’s document to get you thinking about how simple it can be to initiate your own Scope of Practice Challenge:

  • Fostering public awareness of communication and swallowing disorders and their treatment: Why not create some cool informational resources with your students to send home? Make speech-language posters and hang them around your school. Get active with Better Speech & Hearing Month in your local community and have a quiz night or set up a little booth at the local markets for Q&A with some colleagues.
  • Educating and providing in-service training to families, caregivers, and other professionals: Offer in-service informational sessions to parents about how to complete therapy in the home environment or on speech sound development. Present to your team on language stimulation techniques. Do a quick five-minute vocal hygiene session with peers during cold and flu season.
  • Recruiting potential speech-language pathologists into the profession: Get in touch with your local high school, college or university and do a talk with students on how awesome it is to be an SLP!

So instead of saying “this is not part of my job,” think about your scope of practice and how you can make it part of your job.

Rebecca Visintin is an Australian-trained speech-language pathologist. She is currently working in elementary and middle schools in Washington state after experience in the Australian outback and as the sole speech-language pathologist in Samoa. She provides information for SLPs working abroad and free therapy resources on her site Adventures in Speech Pathology.