Hear, hear: Thanks to a new certificate program at Castleton University, students will be able to take courses to qualify for a master’s degree in speech and language pathology.

A master’s degree is required for speech pathologists to practice, according to Kelly Parker, director of rehabilitative services for Rutland Regional Medical Center, and the population demographic of Vermont is creating a demand for aid.

“We have an aging population,” Parker said. “The need for medical-based speech pathologies, extended-care facilities, home health care. ... The need is going to continue to grow.”

Castleton’s program is set to launch this fall with two new courses: Introduction to Phonetics, and Introduction to Communication Sciences and Disorders, with other courses, like Speech and Hearing Science, Anatomy and Physiology of Speech and Hearing Mechanisms, Language Development, Aural Rehabilitation and Introduction to Audiology, to be added later.

“We felt there was no reason we couldn’t have a set of courses offered here at Castleton,” said Program Coordinator Megan Blossom, who herself has a doctoral degree in children’s speech and language. “We also have an online program just in case there was a shift in careers and students wanted to take those courses.”

Though Castleton University does not currently offer a master’s degree in speech pathology, the State University of New York and University of Vermont both offer programs, and Parker said RRMC has benefited directly from their graduates.

The new programs are also open and available to undergraduates who may have considered a career in speech pathology and want to test out the beginner courses to see if completing the certification and continuing on to post-graduate studies is something they want to invest in.

Castleton is currently accepting enrollment for the courses, and the program has already attracted around 10 students.

“We’re hoping to get a few more before the classes start in the fall,” Blossom said.

If the launch of the new program is successful, Blossom said, Castleton might consider expanding the initiative to potentially offer audiology assistant programs, which would require students to acquire some observation and clinical hours throughout their course of study, and potentially open new avenues for collaboration with hospitals and schools.

“Speech pathologists have to know a lot about speech and how children develop language,” Blossom said. “Speech pathologists can specialize in anything from strokes and brain damage, traumatic brain injuries, to expertise in feeding and swallowing. ... there’s a huge range of possibilities.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the demand for speech-language pathologists will most likely grow — by about 18% — in the next 10 years, and cited a current shortage of credentialed employees in schools and health facilities across the board.

And more are coming: With advancements in the behavioral sciences, Parker said more diagnoses of speech language challenges are being discovered earlier — pre-school aged and sometimes younger — providing a hungry field in education-based speech-language pathology with graduates working alongside children in classrooms.

“There’s several positions open in the state of Vermont right now,” Parker said. “The majority of those are school-based.”

katelyn.barcellos @rutlandherald.com

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