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October 2007

October 2007 Volume 4 Issue 2

Speech-Language Pathology Students Learn about Professionalism
By Susan Rvachew, Anne Porter, and Marianne Paul

Large numbers of Canadians require speech therapy services for the treatment of a wide variety of disorders that involve difficulties with speech, language, reading, fluency, voice or swallowing. These individuals and their families can be assured of obtaining a high standard of care from speech-language pathologists (SLPs), the professionals who are licensed to provide assessment and treatment services for individuals with these kinds of communication deficits. The acquisition of the competence, compassion, and integrity that are the hallmarks of professionalism does not begin with the licensing of the speech-language pathologist however. The process of becoming a professional begins with the onset of the speech-language pathologists training in graduate school. The teaching of the required specialized knowledge and skills is a primary goal for faculty. However, it is also recognized that professionalism itself must be taught (Cruess & Cruess, 1997) and thus explicit and implicit attention to this ‘subject’ is consciously included as part of the school’s curriculum.

In the fall of 2006 our students had the opportunity to learn about professionalism in a unique inter-professional workshop that was sponsored by the McGill Educational Initiative on Interprofessional Collaboration: Partnerships for Patient and Family-Centred Practice. This half-day workshop brought students together from all of the schools in the Faculty of Medicine to reflect on the meaning and application of professionalism in health care. The afternoon began with a lecture from Dr. Sylvia Cruess and Dr. Richard Cruess. This lecture emphasized the social contract that underlies the professional status of health care professionals, inlcuding speech-language pathologists: professionals are granted a great deal of autonomy that is exercised collectively in the self-regulatory powers of our licensing bodies and individually in our clinical decisions about the care of our patients and clients; in turn, society expects that professionals will use their autonomy and professional status for the good of individuals in need of our services and for the benefit of society as a whole (Cruess & Cruess, 2000). The professional obligations that arise from this social contract are reflected in the principles of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists. These principles are Integrity, Professionalism, Caring and Respect, and High Standards and Competency.

This workshop was intended for the students but was also beneficial for faculty because it stimulated a reflection on the means by which the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders strives to ensure that its graduates will achieve the standard of professional excellence that is expected by the public. What are the ways in which our students demonstrate professionalism even before they become professionals?

The first expectation of any professional is integrity. Recent research found that health care practitioners who were sanctioned for unethical conduct engaged in unprofessional behavior as students (Papadakis & et al., 2005). Therefore, the exercise of academic integrity by students is an important component of pre-graduation professionalism. McGill’s enforcement of this code of conduct is an important mechanism for maintaining the public’s trust in our graduates.

SLPs understand they have responsibilities that go beyond their commitment to their own clients or patients. The principal of professionalism, as defined by CASLPA’s code of ethics, stresses our collective responsibility to work on behalf of individuals with communication disorders through advocacy and public education. Our students pursue the advocacy role through their involvement with national and international professional associations including the Ordre des Orthophonistes et Audiologistes du Quebec, the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, and the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association. Our students are also known for their enthusiastic participation in interprofessional student groups such as Mitabi and the National Health Sciences Student Association. The work of the committee that is responsible for this newsletter is a wonderful example of the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm that our students bring to the task of public education.

Speech-language pathology students are required to participate in supervised clinical practice experiences for the purpose of developing clinical competency. These experiences are equally valuable as opportunities to learn caring and respect for patients, peers, mentors and other health care professionals. Clinical educators play an important role by modeling professional attributes. Although student supervision is a professional obligation required of every SLP, it must also be recognized as a highly altruistic act, undertaken for the welfare of the community of individuals with communication deficits as a whole. It is hoped that students learn these important values as well as acquiring technical skills during their clinical practice placements.

As to the principle of High Standards, McGill students in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders have achieved the highest standards of academic excellence prior to their admission to our school and they continue to maintain this standard as students in our program. Our program is designed to teach them the skills they need to provide high quality, evidence-based services throughout their careers.

McGill's Speech-Language Pathology students come to our program with the desire to help people with communication difficulties. Incorporating professional roles and activities into their student experience provides them with a richer experience that sets the foundation for realizing their professional aspirations.

References

Cruess, S. R., & Cruess, R. L. (1997). Professionalism must be taught. BMJ, 315, 1674-1677.

Cruess, S. R., & Cruess, R. L. (2000). Professionalism: a contract between medicine and society. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 162, 668-669. [French]

Papadakis, M. A., & et al. (2005). Disciplinary action by medical boards and prior behavior in medical school. New England Journal of Medicine, 353, 2673-2682.