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Bridging the Gap: SLU Speech Pathologist Advocates for Underrepresented Minorities in Rising Career Field

Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of speech-language pathologists to grow 19% from 2022 to 2032, a Saint Louis University speech pathologist says there aren’t enough students majoring in the profession, particularly from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

ST. LOUIS —Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to grow 19% from 2022 to 2032, a Saint Louis University speech pathologist says there aren’t enough students majoring in the profession, particularly from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. 

Often overshadowed by more well-known health fields such as nursing, Travis Threats, Ph.D., professor and chair of SLU’s Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, says there’s a lack of racial and ethnic diversity among students in SLP programs. Threats cites a lack of awareness about the role of SLPs and their impact on clientele.

Travis Threats, Ph.D., takes a photo outdoors.

Travis Threats, Ph.D. Photo by Sarah Conroy

“Less than 10% of those entering the profession are minorities,” he said. “If first-generation and minority students aren’t viewing SLP as a viable career field, that creates a pipeline and equity issue.”

In fact, 8.8% of ASHA members and affiliates certified in SLP self-identify as minorities and 3.7% as Black; 6.6% of ASHA members and affiliates self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to a 2022 Member & Affiliate Profile by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

“Because of the increasing diversity in our population, the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures is more important than ever before,” he said. “Research across education and health care fields has demonstrated better outcomes when the client and clinician share more cultural background characteristics.”

SLPs evaluate, diagnose and treat people with speech, language and/or swallowing difficulties. They work with many types of patients of all ages, including people with acquired disorders such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease and children with developmental disorders such as stuttering, autism, and speech or language delays. They also work with children and adults with developmental and acquired swallowing disorders, such as those secondary to cerebral palsy or head trauma.

SLPs work in various settings, including schools, hospitals, rehabilitation agencies, nursing homes, private practices and public clinics such as SLU's Paul C. Reinert, S.J., Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic.

Threats says that some of the projected growth in the field is due to medical advances improving the survival rate of children with complex medical conditions, like those born prematurely who are more likely to develop disabilities and an aging baby-boom population. Ensuring that they have hands-on experience with patients in the clinic is a critical step in preparing students to work in this growing field. 

“Students gain experience in their discipline while providing health care services to the community,” he said. “SLU’s clinic operates as a no-fee clinic and serves a clientele who may otherwise not have the resources to afford assessment or treatment. Our students have the opportunity to make a difference in our patients’ lives from day one.” 

Threats notes that learning to provide culturally competent care is a priority for every student who earns a degree in SLU’s program. 

“Through academic and clinical education, we aim to prepare future professionals to provide accessible, effective, and compassionate services informed by a multicultural perspective,” he said. “SLU provides person-centered and culturally competent care that includes all who seek assistance and conducts state-of-the-art research to improve the life participation of individuals with communication and swallowing difficulties.”

About Paul C. Reinert, S.J., Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic 

Saint Louis University's Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic is a no-fee clinic that has been serving the St. Louis community for more than 50 years. It provides clinical services to people with speech, language, swallowing, or hearing problems.

About Doisy College of Health Sciences

The Doisy College of Health Sciences has provided students with the tools and education to become well-prepared health care professionals since 1929. Doisy College offers hands-on experience through accredited clinical education programs in a variety of areas, including athletic training, communication sciences and disorders, health information management, magnetic resonance imaging, medical laboratory science, nuclear medicine technology, nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant, and radiation therapy.

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 13,500 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

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