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Merertu Kitila, Lena G. Caesar, Ed.D., Ph.D.

SLPs’ Perceptions of Their Graduate-Level Preparation for Providing Dysphagia Services

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Background: The speech-language pathology scope of practice includes at least eight different service delivery areas, one of which is the provision of swallowing evaluation and treatment.  Swallowing is a complex mechanism involving the integration of neural controls across a variety of voluntary and reflexive actions. Disordered swallowing, known as dysphagia, is experienced by 1 in 25 adults each year, and can result from a variety of conditions which cause changes in the functions and/or structures involved in swallowing.  Dysphagia is associated with health risks such as malnutrition and dehydration, aspiration pneumonia, and even mortality. In healthcare settings, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are considered the experts on dysphagia management.  Given the unique risks involved in the management of dysphagia, it is crucial that SLPs receive adequate academic preparation in this service delivery area.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to investigate SLPs’ perceptions of their graduate-level preparation for providing dysphagia services.

Method: An online survey was used to collect data from certified, U.S.-based SLPs who provide dysphagia services.  A cross-sectional study design was employed to analyze the survey data collected from SLPs (N = 359). 

Results: Findings from the survey indicated that, following graduation, many responding SLPs felt unprepared to provide services in core clinical areas within the service delivery area of swallowing.

Conclusions: The extent and quality of academic and clinical graduate-level training in swallowing should be increased to better prepare SLPs for the provision of dysphagia services following graduation.

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