The pandemic has presented challenges for students and clients alike across Texas. Earlier this summer, the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) second inaugural cohort of Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) students led by Program Director Dr. Kathy Wheat, opened a pro bono virtual speech language pathology clinic to serve the community amongst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“USAHS is recognized for our commitment to social impact and measuring it, so providing the pro-bono treatments for the under-served communities across the state of Texas is a win for everyone – the students, our faculty and our clients in the community,” says Amber Lemmon, MA, CCC-SLP, Clinical Coordinator of the MS-SLP program in Dallas. “It also helps create relationships in-market for the students as they finish their coursework and graduate on-time during the pandemic, reinforcing the university’s unwavering commitment to our students’ education.”
The MS-SLP faculty was able to tap into their expanded network of Clinical Educators (CEs), who helped quickly identify about 50 clients from all over Texas who wanted to participate.
The pro bono virtual SLP clinic supports an underserved population of clients who live in rural areas across the state of Texas, have difficulty traveling, or lack insurance coverage for SLP treatments. Some clients don’t want to travel because they are at high risk for complications of COVID-19. The clients span a range of ages, from children to older adults. Many have articulation, intelligibility, and voice issues. Some are working on communication-related social skills, while others have post-stroke disorders, progressive diseases, and/or swallowing problems. One client communicates using an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. Students were able to earn the 375 clock hours of direct patient contact to graduate on time while serving the community.
Students are able to provide speech-language services to a wide variety of clients as a community service. Clinical educators (CEs) from the onsite settings mentor students alone or in pairs, guiding them as they work with each client over Zoom. As preparation, students have completed coursework related to each speech-language disorder they will see in the virtual clinic. Then, in coordination with the clients and their clinical educators, students develop goals and weekly lesson plans. They may leverage resources from organizations that offer evidence-based activities, such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and The Informed SLP. Or they may develop their own activities to do with the client. Telepractice sessions with the student(s), client, and CE are 45 minutes long. They are followed by a 15-minute debrief between the student and clinical educator about what worked and what didn’t. The student and CE also have a mentor session weekly. Faculty are there to support students when they need it.
The clinic launched on June 22 but will continue through the fall. The MS-SLP program hopes to continue the clinic even after life returns to normal. “Part of it will always be virtual because this improves client access so much,” Dr. Stacey Pavelko says. “It works well for the SLP program, which is a hybrid program. Our courses are virtual, and students travel to campus once per term for their residency week.” She says they would like to expand the clinic to include more adults who need virtual therapy because they are at high risk for COVID complications.
For more information about the virtual pro-bono SLP clinic and to inquiry about becoming a client, visit: https://www.usa.edu/.