By Bridgette Alexandrou and Robin Neary
1. What is speech pathology?
Speech-language pathology is a career field that works with a wide range of communication and swallowing disorders affecting people of all ages. As speech-language pathologists, we use evidence-based science to implement strategies and rehabilitative techniques to help improve the quality of life for the patients we serve. A speech-language pathologist must receive a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, followed by a nine-month clinical fellowship. Some of the diagnoses speech-language pathologists work with include speech disorders (stuttering, dysarthria, articulation, etc.), language disorders (aphasia after a stroke or brain injury), cognitive-communication disorders (dementia, memory or problem-solving issues after brain injury) and swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia. Speech pathologists work in hospitals, rehab centers, home health, skilled nursing facilities, private practices and within the school system.
2. What kind of patients do speech pathologists work with?
Speech pathologists work with a multitude of patients, including adults and children. Here at Moffitt, we see a variety of patients, including those who have been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, those who may develop difficulty swallowing or problems communicating due to a variety of other cancers and their treatments, as well as patients who are having concerns about changes in their voice. We also work with patients who have been hospitalized at Moffitt. Prolonged hospitalizations or complications from their cancer can lead to unforeseen communication or swallowing disabilities. We help determine the safest and least restrictive diet for a patient to consume throughout the course of their hospitalization.
3. How does speech pathology benefit patients?
At Moffitt, our team of speech pathologists is highly trained and experienced in the evaluation and treatment of swallowing and communication disturbances that may arise from the effects of cancer. In many cases, cancer itself or the unavoidable side effects from cancer treatment can lead to problems with some of the most basic human functions that we take for granted: eating and speaking. Swallow safety and efficiency can be affected by a variety of medical conditions, resulting in pain with oral intake, difficulty chewing, difficulty swallowing food or liquid without choking, or inability to swallow important medications. The ability to communicate can become impaired due to medication side effects, brain disease or surgical alteration of the mouth, throat and respiratory anatomy. In other instances, communication must be restored after a person’s voice box is removed due to throat cancer. Our team is very passionate about helping each one of our patients maintain dignity and quality of life in the face of these challenges through the application of research-based scientific principles and techniques. When a patient can return to eating a favorite meal at a family gathering, regain the ability to say, “I love you” to a family member or return to creative pursuits such as reading and writing independently after a stroke or brain surgery, our team can be sure that we are contributing to Moffitt’s vision: “To transform cancer care through service, science and partnership.”
4. How do speech pathologists collaborate with physicians for patient care?
Our speech pathology team is fortunate to be able to work closely with our referring providers at Moffitt to facilitate patient-centered care. This becomes especially important for our critically ill inpatients. When an inpatient evaluation is completed, the speech pathologist can provide information in real time to the medical team regarding results and recommendations. The professional rapport that we have developed here with our providers enables us to contact them and discuss urgent results right away, including recommendations for safest diets or for communication needs. The collaborative relationship we share with the physicians and advanced practice providers at Moffitt is something we do not take for granted because we know that this is not the reality in many facilities. We work closely with the entire multidisciplinary medical team at Moffitt to make appropriate evaluation and treatment recommendations based on the “big picture” of the patient’s care.
5. How can a patient access Moffitt’s speech pathology services?
We require a referral from a Moffitt or outside physician or an advanced practice provider to schedule a patient for speech pathology services. If you have any questions about scheduling an appointment, please call 813-745-3609 and we will be happy to assist you.