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Clinics provide essential services to those with communication disorders

Teacher with student

Pacific's speech-language pathology clinics serve more than 175 clients annually.

University of the Pacific’s speech-language pathology clinics and programs have provided highly sought-after services for thousands of Stockton residents who have a wide range of communication disorders.

Moreover, Pacific is one of the few programs in the nation that offers direct clinical experience for students at the undergraduate level. The clinics have been a mainstay in the community for more than 30 years and serve more than 175 clients annually for impairments including articulation, language, voice, fluency, aphasia, motor speech, hearing loss, cognitive and dysphagia.

“We provide an extensive amount of services and our students gain hands-on, practical experience as they're applying what they have learned in their classes,” explained Jeannene Ward-Lonergan, professor and former department chair. “It's one of the highlights of the program that helps guide the student’s decision on the areas in which they want to practice in their career.”

Experiential learning gives students an advantage

Pacific's speech-language pathology clinics include the RiteCare Childhood Language Center of Stockton, the Pacific Speech, Hearing and Language Center, the Language-Literacy Center, the Pacific Aphasia Conversation Team, a Traumatic Brain Injury Support Group, a summer Augmentative-Alternative Communication Academy, and the SPEAK OUT! and LOUD Crowd program for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Students are supervised by nationally certified speech-language pathologists and audiologists as they help clients set goals, one conversation at a time.

“The hands-on experience I gained working in Pacific's clinics was unparalleled,” said Alexia Mazzone ’04, president of Pacific's Speech-Language Pathology Alumni Association. “That experience taught me how to be a professional and to think on my feet when working with a patient. It’s what gave me the confidence that I could be successful when I graduated.”

Speech-language pathology graduate students also complete an internship in a public school setting and an externship in a medical setting, private practice or an alternative placement.

“The fact that Pacific's classes and internship experiences are synchronized really allows students to implement what they are learning in the classroom into their work,” said Vanessa Wildie ’14, who now works as a speech-language pathologist in the Rocklin Unified School District. “For me, I did not understand what I should be doing until I was able to apply what I had learned in a setting with clients.”

One of the hallmarks of Pacific's speech-language pathology program is that all undergraduate juniors and seniors participate in on-campus clinical experiences as an integral part of their studies.

“Pacific stands above the rest in offering direct clinical experience at the undergraduate level,” explained Derek Isetti, associate professor and new department chair. “The experience gives our graduates an advantage when applying for graduate school.”

Providing transformative services

Trudy Pate's son Cody was born deaf and received a cochlear implant when he was two years old. Since 2017, he has worked with several Pacific speech-language pathology student clinicians. Pate has personally witnessed the difference it has made in her family's life.

"The passion the students have to help their clients is evident to the families," Pate said. "They are very well prepared and you wouldn't even think they were students. My son has come a long way since being here and his clarity of speech and writing have greatly improved."

Pacific’s speech/language assessment and treatment services are free. Patients are referred from several sources including physicians, health professionals, caregivers and community members. However, many clients seen in the clinics are individuals who did not qualify for publicly provided services because they did not meet certain eligibility requirements.

"Our clinics have done a tremendous job of serving the needs of our clients across their lifespan," said Ward-Lonergan. "We are able to fill the gaps of care and provide much-needed support that many clients would not otherwise be able to access.”

"These clinics are a gift to the Stockton community and a resource not many communities have," said Harriet Doyle ’73, retired speech-language pathologist from the Lodi Unified School District. "The individualized care and flexibility the clinics provide can be life-changing for many of the families."

Continuous care throughout the pandemic

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific's clinics adapted quickly to continue providing services to their clients. With the support of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the program transitioned to providing tele-practice appointments.

“We were very fortunate to be able to continue providing care to our clients and still be able to give our students the hands-on, experiential learning experience virtually,” said Isetti. “Our supervisors joined the Zoom appointments and were still able to provide our students with the same feedback and mentorship they would have gotten in the clinics.”

This summer, Pacific was able to re-open the clinics for in-person appointments. To maintain health and safety protocols, students and instructors wore masks with clear inserts so patients could see their lips moving and also utilized Plexiglas dividers.

“It was important for us to still provide a good experience for our clients while maintaining a safe and healthy environment,” said Ward-Lonergan.