New speech-language pathology program to train clinicians, fill job shortages

The Medical University of South Carolina has launched a new degree program in the MUSC College of Health Professions – the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. The new program, the product of several years of planning, will help to meet the local, state and national need for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in the workforce.

SLPs are trained to evaluate, treat and teach patients who have difficulty communicating and/or swallowing. Historically, SLPs worked primarily in schools. Now, approximately 50% of SLPs work in a health care setting ranging from hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals and nursing homes to home health and private practices.

In an independent report by Wiley Education Services, more than one-third of the nation’s states have a high demand for SLPs – including South Carolina. Specifically, 35% of SLPs surveyed reported open jobs, and 26% had funded unfilled positions within their health care organizations. In South Carolina, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19% increase in jobs for SLPs between 2016 to 2026.

That gap caught the attention of leadership and educators at CHP.

For the college’s dean, Zoher Kapasi, PT, Ph.D., the addition of the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program signifies the completion of his plan for comprehensive rehabilitation services education at MUSC.

“Our college vision is to improve the health of populations, and this we can do by ensuring that we are training students in different health professions to provide care for the citizens of South Carolina and beyond,” said Kapasi. “The medical focus of our Speech-Language Pathology program fills a critical need that we at MUSC, being the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, can truly address.”

The program will have a medical emphasis and evidence-based education foundation in which students will learn by doing, according to Heather S. Bonilha, Ph.D., division director of Speech-Language Pathology. It will offer a wide range of clinical training experiences rarely offered in master’s degree programs of this kind. SLPs work with people of all ages – from birth to the elderly – and MUSC students will have many opportunities to work with the full breadth of patients: from those recovering from stroke or traumatic brain injuries to those living with swallowing disorders, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. The medically focused curriculum will include unique academic and clinical opportunities in areas such as head and neck cancer, pediatric dysphagia (e.g. care of newborns with swallowing issues), cranial facial anomalies and genetic disorders and tracheostomy and ventilator dependence.

Even for students who ultimately choose not to work in health care, the MUSC SLP curriculum provides important training and experience. All SLPs, Bonilha explained, need to understand the medical complexities of communication and swallowing disorders. “This is knowledge and clinical training that practitioners will need to know, especially if they plan to work in a medical care setting. But, it can also be important to students who chose to work in a school-based setting, as more children who attend school have complex medical conditions,” said Bonilha.

The courses will be taught in an interactive learning environment with very little classroom lecturing. A focal point of the program is that students will be practicing and demonstrating their learned clinical skills and knowledge through independent and group work, clinical experiences, patient interactions and simulations. From day one, in their first rotations, students will train in the hospital, beginning their practice as clinicians in training, according to Bonilha.

Currently in the Palmetto state, three graduate programs train and educate SLPs – the University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University and Francis Marion University. Each program provides specialized curriculums and clinical experiences within the field of speech-language pathology; however, CHP’s program will capitalize on its unique educational environment and MUSC’s status as the state’s only comprehensive academic medical center. One particular area of strength is the engagement of skilled clinicians to serve as affiliate clinical faculty in the program. Bonilha is excited to involve the more than 30 MUSC SLPs who will serve as clinical educators and leaders. Clinical SLPs will be integrated with CHP’s faculty to provide clinical insights, knowledge and skills in specialty areas and continuity between the didactic and clinical coursework.

“We have an amazing cohort of high-level, experienced clinicians. They are skilled experts with years of experience who have previously worked with students through educational experiences in their clinics. Others have didactic teaching experience and most participate in research. We have a wealth of people who are an untapped resource that we can engage to educate students,” Bonilha said.

Kapasi is also supportive of this. “The SLP program helps us to further integrate our college with MUSC Health, which we believe is critical in fulfilling our college’s vision to improve the health of our population,” he said.

Students will also be enriched by the many interdisciplinary experiences available, such as working with peer occupational therapy and physical therapy students, as well as other health professionals, at the student-run nonprofit CARES Therapy Clinic and in other educational experiences.

Applications for fall 2021 will open on July 15, 2020. For more information, visit


About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South, as well as the state’s only integrated, academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and 700 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The state’s leader in obtaining biomedical research funds, in fiscal year 2019, MUSC set a new high, bringing in more than $284 million. For information on academic programs, visit

As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2019, for the fifth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit

MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.