Advocacy and Research

On May 9th, 2014 at the annual conference of Speech-Language and Audiology Canada I was immensely honoured to receive the Eve Kassirer Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement. At the time I understood that I had two minutes to make some remarks and then we were asked to reduce to one minute so I improvised to what I recall was pretty much babble so I have decided to expand upon those remarks in my blog with cross-posting to the SAC site. I do recall that I had enough presence of mind to thank the award committee and my nominees Françoise Brosseau-Lapré and Susan Rafaat to whom I am extremely grateful.

Judy Meintzer, President of SAC, made a lovely introduction that focused on some of my administrative accomplishments, many having to do with student education, and therefore it is perhaps not surprising that my most accomplished student Françoise, now an Assistant Professor at Purdue University, nominated me for this award. In my own mind however my career has been primarily marked by my efforts to conduct research that will have direct implications for clinical practice or health care policy and to subsequently communicate those implications to clinicians and policy makers. Over the course of my career I have been gratified by the recognition that these efforts have received. My doctoral dissertation on infant babble for example was not such a large thing but subsequent efforts to highlight early vocal development as an important stage of language development were recognized with CASLPA’s media award in 2000. Similarly my contribution to research on the topic of maximum performance tasks is tiny but my efforts to teach SLPs to apply this assessment technique accurately and to promote its use even with young patients was recognized with a CASLPA Editor’s award in 2007. My work in the area of phonological awareness and speech sound disorders is well known but it was my communication of the implications of this work to pediatricians that was recognized with the Dr. Noni McDonald award, also in 2007. The international recognition that I received with ASHA Fellowship in 2012 reflected in part the clinical nature and reach of my research. I think that it is no accident that I received the Eve Kassirer award now when I am fully immersed in the Wait Times Benchmark project – this is a Pan Canadian Alliance initiative coordinated by Susan Rafaat that I will write more about in a forthcoming blog.  Again, my focus is not just on ensuring that the wait times recommendations are evidence-based but on developing an effective and well-branded communication strategy for promoting the use of those benchmarks.

So now I get to the points that I was trying to make somewhat inarticulately on the evening of May 9th. I had spent much of the conference talking to conference attendees about the Wait Times Benchmark for Speech Sound Disorders while handing out the cards announcing the new recommendation. I had many interesting conversations about the challenges of reducing wait times in different jurisdictions across Canada. I know that individual SLPs often feel powerless to effect change or make a contribution to solving a problem that big. The solutions however lie simultaneously in advocacy and research. This is where membership in your national association, in the Canadian context, SAC, is so critical. SAC has proven itself to be absolutely superb at advocacy and the power of SAC’s voice is completely dependent upon the size of its membership. Effective advocacy is also reliant upon good information – reliable and relevant to the practices and policies we are promoting. SAC has used survey research very effectively to communicate about interprovincial variation in the achievement of national standards for infant hearing screening for example and their chart showing SLP and audiologist numbers per capita is stunning. Just as important is the need for more clinical research to help clinicians deliver services more effectively and efficiently if we are going to meet benchmarks for timely and effective provision of care. It is a matter of great concern to me that Canada has no research funding body equivalent to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and therefore it is very difficult to get funding in Canada for applied research in speech-language pathology or audiology. The SAC Clinical Research Grants program is a miniscule first step however that must be encouraged and expanded.

To recap, if we are going to ensure that children and adults with hearing, communication and swallowing difficulties get the services that they need when they need them, the most important action that we can make as individuals is to join SAC, encourage our colleagues to join SAC, and promote SAC’s efforts to fund clinical research.

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