USAHS associate professor Meghan Savage, CCC-SLP, PhD, believes that communication is one of the most important skills we have, which makes her career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) incredibly rewarding.
“Communication and being able to carry on a conversation with somebody are what make us uniquely human and how we connect to other people,” Dr. Savage said.
She explained that SLPs work with individuals from birth to end of life to help them communicate and swallow. Skills that SLPs teach and rehabilitate include talking, reading, writing, thinking (cognition), social communication, feeding, and swallowing.
While pursuing her undergraduate degree in psychology, Dr. Savage became fascinated with language development and entered a master’s-level SLP program following graduation. She was originally interested in working with children but wrote her master’s thesis on adults with aphasia, which exposed her to a new set of patients.
She continued in school to get her PhD so she could teach and have a research focus. Her research during her PhD was on conversation therapy for aphasia, which she continues to research today.
“I had a mentor one time tell me, ‘You can go be a clinician and help 30 people a year, or you can be a teacher and a researcher and potentially reach more people. As a teacher you teach 30 clinicians a year who in turn help 30 people a year. And you can be a researcher and your research can impact numerous people,’” Dr. Savage said. “It really resonated with me that I could have more of an impact.”
She has taken this perspective with her throughout her teaching career and has become a driving force behind USAHS’ Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program on the Austin campus since its early stages of development. (The program is now offered on the Dallas campus as well.) She was drawn to the university because of the unique opportunity to create a learning environment that blends online coursework plus five required in-person immersions.
She also fell in love with USAHS’s commitment to interprofessional learning. Dr. Savage explained that occupational therapists, physical therapists, and SLPs are the three disciplines that share the same patients.
“We all work together,” Dr. Savage said. “And to be able to work alongside these colleagues and teach our students how we overlap really sets our program apart.”
USAHS SLP students learn while in school what these other disciplines do and how everyone on the healthcare team can help each other. Learning this in graduate school puts USAHS students ahead when out in the workplace because they’re able to implement these interprofessional experiences immediately.
In her own experience as a clinician, Dr. Savage remembers times when OTs and PTs would pull her aside and say, “I can’t communicate with my patient—can you please help me?” or “I can’t get the child to talk to me, and they aren’t following directions, and I can’t get them to do their exercises.” SLPs play an integral role in helping other disciplines communicate with their patients.
“Because the whole goal is to improve patient outcomes and we’re all seeing the same patient, if we work together the patient outcomes improve,” Dr. Savage said.
She has developed clinical simulations with PT, OT, and SLPs students that drive the interprofessional experience for SLP students. These simulations, which take place in our on-campus Centers for Innovative Clinical Practice, have students act out scenarios on how to work with different populations while working with each other.
Given that the SLP program is a blended program, Dr. Savage has had to adjust the way she teaches in order to keep students engaged with online coursework. Her efforts do not go unnoticed, as she’s received high student praise for being communicative and available for their learning needs.
“Developing that relationship with them that this is a collaborative approach to their education and that I’m here to support them through whatever ways they want to communicate has made my online teaching successful,” she said. “It’s been really exciting and challenging to learn how to teach in a different way and engage students online.”