Why the Scarcity of Male SLPs—and What Can Be Done

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One could easily see the lack of males in our profession by walking into any elementary school, or even attending an ASHA conference. It’s no secret that males are a rarity in speech-language pathology, but the topic of conversation has now shifted to what we can do about this trend. The fact that I was a minority in our field was apparent to me immediately after attending my first articulation disorders course.

Unfortunately, efforts to attract more males to our profession have been generally unsuccessful. Not only that, but according to data presented in the article on this topic by Kellie Rowden-Racette in the August ASHA Leader, the number of males in our field, and related fields (for example, psychology), have actually declined.

At this time, we have to use the information gathered by ASHA about why males are not choosing speech-language pathology, and develop concrete solutions on how to address the dearth of males in this profession.

The Frederick Schnieiders Research study conducted in 1997 revealed three common reasons males were less likely to pursue speech-language pathology compared with women: concerns about adequate income, concerns about advancement, and fears of limited opportunities for growth. Perry Flynn, an ASHA board member who blogged on this topic for ASHAsphere last week, shared an additional reason in the ASHA Leader article—lack of awareness:

“Men seem to have awareness and knowledge of many other related services—physical therapy, psychology, even occupational therapy, and certainly nursing—but no inkling of what a speech-language pathologist might do,” says Flynn, also associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Flynn’s insight holds true for me, as I knew very little about the scope of our profession before entering my junior year of undergraduate courses. However, as illustrated in the Leader article, there are issues beyond “awareness.”

Another explanation given of why men aren’t in the profession was that men are still unfairly viewed as less nurturing than women. I agree with Michael Maykish, an SLP in an elementary school in North Carolina, when he says, “You can’t generalize the notion that men aren’t nurturing.” Maykish goes on to say, “Successful SLPs are inherently nurturing, male or female. If you aren’t, you’re not going to enjoy being an SLP and probably shouldn’t be in this career.” We, as males, have an opportunity to promote our gender by directly showing we, too, can be nurturing.

Bringing awareness of CSD opportunities to the male population before they enter college will hopefully have a multi-pronged effect. This should give some insight and knowledge about the profession to some males who previously wouldn’t have considered going into our field, and possibly spark some interest. The male students who are now interested in CSD will act as a conduit, since, as history has shown, males influence other males regarding college major.

It is important that men in our field act as ambassadors, and take time to share the benefits of being in this profession with high school juniors and seniors. Word of mouth, coming directly from the source is a powerful tool.

Earning an adequate salary is obviously a concern for everyone, but, traditionally, it’s an even bigger one for males. Given the large numbers of SLPs employed in schools, developing ways to address this financial concern from a school-based perspective may be the best way to see the biggest return of male therapists. If we want to see the median income rise, I believe it is imperative we continue our efforts to separate ourselves, males and females, from teacher-related fields through continuing education and specialization. It is dispiriting to hear that SLPs are being offered entry level pay. We are highly qualified professionals who are in high demand. Consequently, negotiating a salary above entry level should always be an option, including when working with a school district.

Adding courses to your resume or becoming specialized in a particular area will only help school-based SLPs become more marketable and should result in higher incomes, which hopefully will attract more males to the profession. Providing treatment after school hours or during the summer are other ways to supplement a school salary, making the profession more appealing to salary-driven males.

I hope some of my suggestions are valid enough to spur even a small increase in the amount of males choosing CSD, as it is a remarkable field. A large section of my response focused on the financial aspect of our profession. I must admit the financial issue was not really relevant to me when I was considering the field. I guess I always felt if you work in a “helping” profession, you make some financial sacrifices. That said, I always felt my salary was fair, and if it wasn’t, it was my responsibility to change something.

Also, I realize much of this blog has been a testosterone-fueled rant, but I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t thank all the wonderful female SLPs. When the demand of speech-language pathologists is still so high that I’m trying to convince more people to commit, regardless of gender, well, then the gender that has composed approximately 96 percent of our field for so long must be doing something right.

Kevin Maier II, MS, CCC-SLP, is an SLP in the Wyomissing Area School District in Pennsylvania.

What Does a Fulbright Specialist Do?

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The Fulbright Specialist Program links U.S. academics and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions overseas. Qualified academics receive grants to engage in collaborative two- to six-week projects at host institutions in over 100 countries. International travel costs and a stipend are funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating host institutions cover grantee in-country expenses or provide in-kind services.

Communication sciences and disorders professionals are among those who participate in the program. In this post, I (Robert Goldfarb) and my colleague Florence Ling Myers recount our experiences in it.

Florence was a specialist in education and worked at the University of Hong Kong in 2011 for two weeks. She received approval for the five-year placement on the specialist roster. I was a specialist in applied linguistics/TEFL at Universidad Pedigogica Nacional in Bogotá, Colombia for six weeks, with the latter half of the commitment completed online after returning to the United States.

Our experiences were different enough to provide a sense of what a prospective Fulbrighter can expect.

Florence’s experience: Fluency disorders and returning to my roots

My mission in going to HKU was to reinforce the importance of fluency disorders in the family of speech-language pathologies. I gave workshops to students and professionals on cluttering, cluttering/stuttering, and stuttering. I met with academic and clinical faculty and reviewed curricula. Of particular interest was learning the problem-based learning paradigm used by faculty. The pedagogical philosophy is that students need to acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to pose clinical hypotheses based on independent library research and come up with evidence-based therapy approaches for various case studies.

I had the pleasure of co-mentoring a senior thesis in stuttering. The student was bright, responsive and competent. HKU is definitely a high-power university, with great expectations for faculty and graduate students to publish in premier journals.

I also had a personal mission: to return to my roots and give back to my motherland. I escaped to Hong Kong as a refugee from mainland China in 1949 with literally nothing but the reassuring hands of my mother. I took not so much a “slow boat from China,” but a creaky leaky junk under the blackened nocturnal skies from Canton. I now wonder if I had been an illegal child alien. My dad was already in the United States to earn his doctorate in physics from the University of Missouri. Much has changed in Hong Kong since the 1940s, yet there is still this undefinable yet undeniable human spirit—to survive and thrive—among the people there.

Having been in the United States for nearly 60 years, I, too, have changed, though there is still very much a Chinese core in me. Whether or not one is from the East or West, the common bond that motivated me to return to my homeland as a Fulbright Specialist was a passion for cluttering and stuttering, and to instill this passion in the next generation of speech-language pathologists in China.

Robert’s experience: Helping with research methods/professional writing

I committed to teach two intensive graduate courses in research methods and in academic writing to advanced students working on thesis projects. In preparation for the visit, I arranged for my publisher to send some relevant books I had authored, and added others I thought might be useful. In addition, I prepared course packs in English and Spanish (with the help of a graduate student from South America) regarding local idioms. I learned, for example, that people in Colombia expressed something very positive as “the last Coca-Cola in the desert.”

Students also received feedback on their research projects in various stages, from proposals to data collection. Another commitment was a keynote address, called the Foro Fulbright, to local universities and other Fulbright scholars in the country. The students and young faculty were all bright, hard-working and dedicated, but their exposure to research design and international perspectives was provincial. Most students and faculty were open and eager to learn what the global academic community had to offer.

Not all experiences were positive. I was given Thursdays off, because it was known as “riot day,” when vigilantes stormed local universities. Sure enough, on the first Thursday of my visit and the Wednesday of the second week, I was ordered out of the office I shared with colleagues as vigilantes bombed the institution for hours. These events were followed by riot police storming the university. The tear gas they discharged lingered in the air for days.

Finally, on the Sunday before I left for home, I was robbed by a policeman while walking to the supermarket. The executive director of Fulbright Colombia called it a perfect storm of crime and civil unrest, and approved my decision to teach the remainder of my courses online.

Ongoing ties

Our students continue to keep in touch. I have helped several students write master’s theses of which they could be justifiably proud, and the thesis that Florence co-mentored was published the following year in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Working as Fulbright Specialists allowed us to interact with colleagues and students abroad, while serving our country as ambassadors of scholarship. While there were some unwelcome experiences for me, we have many positive memories. We encourage you to apply to be on the roster, but note that you will need a bodyguard in some countries.

 
Robert Goldfarb, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor of communication sciences and disorders at Adelphi University. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, and 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders.

Florence Ling Myers, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor of communication sciences and disorders at Adelphi University. She is an affiliate of ASHA SIG 4.