Campus News

Master of Speech-Language Pathology Provides New Opportunities for Students

Michelle Meyers March 23, 2023
USC MS-SLP faculty Jennifer Shubin and student Anabel Martinez.
Jennifer Shubin, Ph.D., and Anabel Martinez. Photo Credit: Michelle Martinez

MS-SLP students at USC serve the Los Angeles community and engage in cutting-edge research while getting their degrees

Anabel Martinez didn’t always know that she wanted to become a speech-language pathologist. “I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology and counseling and initially I was thinking more about the counseling route,” the soon-to-be graduate of the University of Southern California’s Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program acknowledged. Soon thereafter, however, Martinez realized that she didn’t actually want to go into counseling. Several years later, Martinez had the good fortune of meeting someone who was working in a private clinic serving children with a focus on speech and language, and after volunteering with the clinic and completing a post-baccalaureate program in Communication Disorders from Cal State LA, Martinez was thrilled to discover that a new MS-SLP program had recently been created at USC.

MS-SLP's inaugural cohort posed in front of Tommy Trojan.
MS-SLP’s inaugural cohort posed in front of Tommy Trojan. Photo Credit: Marlene Mendoza

USC’s Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program, which was launched in Fall 2021, serves as a perfect complement to all that has already been accomplished by the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology at Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Jennifer Shubin, PhD, CCC-SLP, and Clinical Education Director of USC’s MS-SLP Program, describes how creating the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology supports the Department of Otolaryngology’s work with cochlear implants and audiology: “First and foremost, it’s a helping profession. So we see and serve people from birth through adulthood. Speech-language pathologists address language disorders, such as issues with reading and fluency; aphasia in the adult population that might result from a stroke or traumatic brain injury; social communication and awareness; voice disorders; stuttering and fluency; and feeding and swallowing disorders.” Both Martinez and Shubin point out that one of the benefits of becoming a speech-language pathologist is that you’re never “stuck” doing one thing–for example, you can work in a school or educational setting, at a private clinic, or in a healthcare setting, and speech-language pathologists serve all sorts of different demographics of people. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for speech-language pathologists is expected to grow by 21% over the next 10 years, much faster than most other professions, and speech-language pathologists in California can make over six figures.

Because USC’s MS-SLP program is in the heart of Los Angeles, students are uniquely situated to take advantage of the opportunities present in one of the nation’s largest and most diverse metropolitan cities. In addition, given that the MS-SLP Program is relatively new, it offers greater innovation and flexibility compared to more traditional programs. Dr. Shubin, who is in charge of clinical placements for all students in the program, notes that some of the vast array of clinical opportunities available include internships and clinical training with local school districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Alhambra Unified School District, and the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera; with hospital systems like USC Keck; and with non-profit organizations like the John Tracy Clinic for the deaf and hard of hearing, The Brain Rehabilitation and Injury Network (B.R.A.I.N), and the Nurture Collective, which provides early-childhood interventions for feeding and swallowing. Unlike in some other programs, where students may only work in a university clinic for their first year, students in USC’s MS-SLP program go out into the local community to do their clinical work from Day 1. In instances where there are cultural or language differences, speech-language pathologists work together with interpreters and translators to accommodate, though as Dr. Shubin notes, it’s essential to always treat individuals as individuals and to not let language barriers break down what needs to be done for the service that is involved.

Martinez says that she was especially excited to attend USC’s Speech-Language Pathology program in part because she grew up just down the street from USC. “For me, it was very important that I go to a school that is in my community, serving my community…being someone who looks like the people in my community, who speaks the same language as the people in my community. It’s important for me to be that person that they feel comfortable with,” Martinez explains. Historically speaking, speech-language pathologists have been primarily white and monolingual. Martinez and Shubin are hoping that USC’s MS-SLP program can change that, however. Martinez details how she was, in fact, discouraged from applying to graduate school–“My grades were not high enough. I think my GRE score was not the best. So what I really liked and appreciated about USC was that their interview and application process was more holistic.” Dr. Shubin echoes this sentiment–“What makes a good clinician sometimes is not the straight-A students…but the people who have excellent bedside rapport and are great at working with kids and families.”

The relative newness of USC’s MS-SLP program means that it has been able to adopt a forward-thinking mindset, with an eye toward where the field of speech-language pathology will be going in the next five to ten years. Three areas of particular interest include gender-affirming care and voice care, helping transgender individuals find their authentic voices in a safe and sustainable way; alternative/augmented communication (AAC) using both high-tech and low-tech interventions; and the inclusion of more neurodiverse individuals in the field of speech-language pathology by breaking down barriers for people who identify as disabled. Martinez explains that one of her favorite experiences thus far has been working with the USC Voice Center, where Dr. Michael Johns III, MD, and his team not only provide care for voice, swallowing, and airway problems, like voice lesions and head and neck cancers, but also for gender-affirming voice care. Dr. Johns previously founded one of the first interdisciplinary voice centers in the United States at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and has conducted some of the most cutting-edge research in the past few years on gender-affirming voice care and AI-assisted treatment for the transgender population.

If you’re potentially interested in applying to a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program in the future, Martinez has the following advice: “Really consider what the programs are going to offer you…I have had so many opportunities to connect with different doctors, different clinical educators–I’ve had all these opportunities because I’m at USC.” Ultimately, Dr. Shubin has these words of wisdom for future speech-language pathologists coming into the field: “You have to love disability and see it as beautiful.”