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Arnold School of Public Health


COMD attracts and prepares future speech-language pathologists through exceptional clinical placement program

January 13, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Earning a spot in the highly competitive speech-language pathology program in the Arnold School’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is just the beginning for the outstanding students who enter the program. Benefits include a 100 percent employment rate for most graduating classes, learning from the best in the field, and opportunities to participate in groundbreaking scientific research.

The department’s clinical placement program is another major draw for prospective students. COMD offers two paths to becoming a speech-language pathologist: a full-time, on-campus option (Master of Speech Pathology (MSP)) and a part-time, distance education route (Master of Communication Disorders (MCD)). Both programs include comprehensive coursework and research engagement. They also include a practical component—experience gained through clinical placements that culminates with a full-time internship that is meant to serve as a capstone experience or mini clinical fellowship.

“The amount, quality, variety, and advanced nature of the practicum rotations our students have the opportunity to experience is a point of pride for us,” says Director for External Practicum Juliana Miller. “Many programs offer only three rotations: a university clinic, school, and an adult-medical site whereas our students complete many more practicum experiences at a wider variety of sites.”

The amount, quality, variety, and advanced nature of the practicum rotations our students have the opportunity to experience is a point of pride for us.

-Juliana Miller, Director of External Clinical Practicum

These placements include rotations at the department’s in-house USC Speech and Hearing Research Center as well as over 600 external sites. Miller and Assistant Director Dianne Dixon contact supervisors and administrators at potential sites, negotiate memorandums of agreement, and navigate the site’s selection and onboarding process. In addition, many sites require students to apply for placement, submitting resumes, letters of interest, transcripts, and/or interviews. They document the clinical training (e.g., ages of patients seen, number of hours earned, types of experience, student feedback) in a web-based program that can be sorted by site and supervisor—facilitating both evaluation and future placements.

“When arranging placements, we consider each student’s learning style and progress toward graduation requirements,” says Miller. “As you can imagine, clinical placement is a complex process involving much communication between clinical administrators, students, and external supervisors and site administrators.”

The resulting network of clinical placement opportunities enables customized matching for each student. The process ensures students are exceptionally prepared for careers as speech-language pathologists. The program’s track record and capabilities also serve as a powerful recruiting tool for students who would like to benefit from the comprehensive array of in-depth clinical opportunities it provides.

When arranging placements, we consider each student’s learning style and progress toward graduation requirements.

-Juliana Miller, Director of External Clinical Practicum

“Our students routinely earn well over the requirements for certification through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, teacher certification, and state licensure,” says Miller. “When they begin their clinical fellowship experience, they are ready to hit the ground running.”

The USC Speech and Hearing Research Center, where MSP students always have at least one client throughout their program, also plays a critical role in contributing to this preparation. “I cannot stress enough how valuable our university clinic is in the training of our students,” says Miller. “The Center serves clients with low-incidence disorders, and the supervisors are very skilled clinical teachers. Their instruction has a meaningful impact upon students’ performance at external practicum sites, and input from supervisors at the Center is invaluable when we consider the best supervisor-supervisee match at an external practicum site.”

Graduates from our program have built a resume which makes them desirable to potential employers.

-Juliana Miller, Director of External Clinical Practicum

COMD’s dedication to providing optimal placements for students translates into other perks as well. They often lead to job offers. For example, placements frequently result in positions for COMD students if available. Though that direct connection is helpful, it’s not required. The department’s clinical placement program is so well respected that employers are eager to hire COMD graduates. It is is designed to build on students' skills and experiences with each rotation—giving graduates the best chance of obtaining a job in their preferred setting and geographic location.

“Graduates from our program have built a resume which makes them desirable to potential employers,” says Miller. “I often tell students that all the academic knowledge in the world is not going to help their patients if they cannot apply that knowledge in a clinical situation. Practicum experience provides students with the opportunity to learn how to do so under the guidance of a seasoned professional.”