The Recruitment and Retention of Speech and Language Therapists: What Do University Students Find Important?

Article excerpt

Education of health professionals is costly to the general community and more specifically the educational sector. The increasing need for speech and language therapy (SLT) services, coupled with poor employment retention rates, poses serious cost-benefit considerations. The poor job retention rates among speech and language therapists are associated with high levels of job dissatisfaction. One factor known to influence job satisfaction is the congruence between one's career motivation and actual career experience. The current study sought to explore (1) why students choose to embark on an SLT degree, (2) what factors are important to maintain their long-term employment in SLT, and (3) how long they predicted they would remain in the workforce practicing in SLT. Students from two tertiary SLT courses, one in Australia (n = 67) and one in the United Kingdom (n = 84), completed an online questionnaire targeting these issues. Students' responses were consistent across cohorts, so they were combined into one data set. Three categories of responses emerged, relating to altruism (i.e., helping others), intellectual interest (i.e., interested in disease and disability), and professional issues (e.g., salary, desire for a professional career). There was good agreement in responses to questions focusing on why participants chose to study SLT and what they foresaw as important for their future career. Students who were motivated to enter SLT for professional reasons tended to report that they would remain in the profession for a shorter time than those students who chose the career with a primarily humanistic or intellectual motivation. The implications of these findings for educators and professional bodies are discussed. J Allied Health 2007; 36:131-136.

MORE THAN THREE DECADES AGO, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists published a report estimating that the average speech and language therapist spent only 3 to 5 yrs as a practitioner.1 This report was the first, to highlight the trend impacting on the speech and language therapy (SLT) profession, that is, the difficulty retaining trained and experienced clinicians within the profession. The reduction of SLT expertise leads to a corresponding loss of economic resources within the allied health community,2 which can have a detrimental influence on service provision. The future of the profession relies on an established professional cohort that is responsible for mentoring new graduates, creating a research culture, and consolidating the position of the profession in the community to ensure that critical services are available to those who need them. Unsurprisingly, the SLT profession has shown a growing interest in determining the reason(s) why clinicians abandon an SLT career so soon after entry and how this problem can be addressed.

Canvassing the views of people who trained as a speech and language therapist but have since left the profession is one method through which researchers have sought to explain the poor retention levels of trained therapists. A significant percentage of these individuals (ranging from 30% to 60%) indicate that they were dissatisfied with their jobs.2"5 In particular, ex-clinicians emphasize professional dissatisfaction stemming from poor pay,4 lack of career progression,2,4 and high levels of work-related stress.3 In a large-scale survey of speech and language therapists, Lass et al.6 found that more than half of the respondents would have chosen a different profession if faced with a career choice again. Furthermore, the elevated risk of professional burnout among speech and language therapists7,8 indicates that there is a substantial proportion of practicing speech and language therapists who are not satisfied with their jobs.

Job dissatisfaction among speech and language therapists has been attributed to a number of sources, including low pay, lack of respect from colleagues, and increasing bureaucracy.9 One factor that is known to be related to levels of job satisfaction but has received considerably less attention is the relationship between employment experience and career motivation. …