Undergraduate and leveling students everywhere are trying to obtain their observation hours. ASHA requires 25 observation hours (Standard V-C). (AOTA and APTA also require observation hours.) While I was completing my leveling work, I was encouraged to complete observation hours in the clinic on campus. Observing in the clinic will help prepare you for treating clients in the graduate school clinic, but I have found those cases to be very different from anything I did during my internships or employment.
I recommend SLP students complete many of their observation hours outside of the graduate school clinic. This recommendation may not be popular, because it does complicate the documenting process. (The clinic supervisor had to approve each off-site observation in my case.) So if you wanted to simplify things you could always do more than 25 hours (which is a good idea anyway) and spent the bulk of your documented hours in the graduate school clinic.
Who should you observe?
First of all, variety is important. I have heard of some students doing all of their observation hours with one therapist or in one setting. I believe these students would benefit more if they varied the clinicians and the settings where they completed their observation hours. I recommend students observe across the scope of practice.
How to find observation sites
As a student it can be difficult to understand the scope of practice (which is why I want you to observe it), so how do you identify the scope?
- Go the website of a graduate program you are interested in. Let’s look at Texas State University – San Marcos, where I completed my graduate program.
- Find the list of courses required for the graduate program. Example here.
- Usually the courses are divided into parts of the clinician’s scope of practice. So from the courses in the example provided, we may determine that the scope consists of:
- Stuttering/fluency in adults and children
- Child language development(pre-elementary AND post-elementary)
- Articulation disorders in children
- Motor speech disorders in adults
- Voice therapy in children and adults
- Cognitive rehabilitation
Each university will have slightly different course offerings, but this should give you an idea.
- Now use your undergraduate background or a little web research to determine what types of disorders, settings, and populations fall into each category. For example, motor speech disorders in adults may include ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, CVA, etc. People receive treatment on an inpatient, outpatient, skilled nursing facility, and home health basis for these disorders.
- Use the information you gleaned to complete web searches to find SLPs in your area to observe. For example, you may search for “Boulder”+”stroke”+”Speech Therapy” and find Boulder Community Hospital has nationally certified stroke care.
- Then email or call and ask to observe. I would recommend calling over emailing as people in our field do not spend time at a computer. (I check my work email 1-2x a week.)
- Say something like this. Hi, my name is ______. I am a student at ________. My goal is to understand the scope of practice better, so I would like to visit your office/clinic/hospital to observe the care you provide to ___________ (diagnosis, population, etc.).
Say thank you
At the end of your observation time, verbally say thank you to the therapist you observed. You might even want to add an “I had no idea…” or “It was neat to see…” statement. Therapists who love their profession want to know that you were actually learning rather than racking up hours. Also ask, do you mind if I contact you later if I have additional questions (and get their preferred contact information).
Then (within a few days) contact them via email/card to say thank you again.
Why is observing across the scope of practice important for students?
I found my observations across the scope of practice immensely helpful. When I was sitting in class learning about a specific disorder, I was able to visualize it due to my observation experiences. As someone who is highly visual and learned by experience, this was invaluable to me.
And you never know what you’ll discover. I thought I would focus my career on autism or AAC. I observed an autism clinic (where ABA, OT, and SLP were used together) and it was a really great experience. I observed an SLP that specialized in AAC and child language and that was fascinating. But when I observed adult cognitive rehabilitation at a day program at the local rehab hospital, I knew I had found my calling.
Please share your tips for finding observation sites and your experiences with observation sites below. We can learn together.
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