Factors Influencing the Selection of Speech Pathology as a Career: A Qualitative Analysis Utilising the Systems Theory Framework

Article excerpt

Factors identified by 16 participants during in-depth interviews as influencing selection of speech pathology as a career were described using the Systems Theory Framework (STF, Patton & McMahon, 2006). Participants were highly likely to identify factors from the individual and social systems, but not the environmental-societal system, of the STF as influential in the decision to enter speech pathology. Previous exposure to speech pathology through therapy intervention or through knowing a speech pathologist emerged from the analysis as highly influential, which provides an example of interaction between factors from the individual and social systems within the framework. The STF was found to be a useful tool to classify influential factors in the selection of a career in speech pathology and this information can be used in the future by universities and the profession to assist in the recruitment of students to the speech pathology program.

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Previous research in relation to career choice in the speech pathology profession is sparse, and provides only general information regarding the factors that may influence career direction. In early questionnaire studies, for example, in response to the question How did you decide upon your career?', speech pathology students responded using the categories: a parent, close friend, or relative in the profession', a careers advisor', always wanted to', happened into without any deliberate thought' and other'. In two studies the speech pathology students were most likely to identify always wanted to' as their reason for entering the speech pathology program (Nordholm & Westbrook, 1981; Westbrook & Nordholm, 1979). In these early studies, serendipity also appeared to play a part, since 20% (Westbrook & Nordholm, 1979) and 21.2% (Nordholm & Westbrook, 1981) of the sample groups indicated they had happened into' the profession, but this statement was accompanied by little explanation. The second highest factor identified was the influence of a careers advisor'. More recent research suggests information from careers advisors, the media and college fairs is unimportant and not influential in the decision to enter speech pathology (Lass et al., 1995; Madill, Macnab, & Brintnell, 1989; Rockwood & Madison, 1992-1993; Stewart, Pool, & Winn, 2002). Additionally, like the general public (IER, 1995), careers advisors have a limited knowledge about speech pathology (McAllister & Neve, 2005).

Early research suggested speech pathology students were not influenced by someone who was a speech pathologist, however current research suggests otherwise. Recently nearly 69% of speech pathology students reported personal experience relating to knowing someone in the field (Adamson, Covic, Kench, & Lincoln, 2003). The study by Adamson and colleagues was the first in Australia to show career influence through knowing a speech pathologist. This may reflect a greater number of speech pathologists in the community, as there has been a 60% increase in the number of speech pathologists from 1991 to 2001 (Australian Health Workforce Advisory Committee, 2004). In the last 10 years, overseas research has extended the concept of exposure' to consider the influence of knowing someone with a communication disorder. In this research speech pathology students frequently reported experience related to either a communication disorder and/or intervention as an influential factor (Lass et al., 1995; Rockwood & Madison, 1992-1993; Stewart et al., 2002). These reports do not, however, provide details on the types of personal experiences that influence students, and therefore this paper aims to explore the issues that relate to exposure' in more depth and in the Australian context.

Theoretical Explanation

The speech pathology career choice literature has highlighted a number of possible factors relating to students' choice of speech pathology as a career, but this research has lacked any consistent or coherent theoretical framework. …