Tending Your Professional Future: Creating a Strategic Plan for Continuing Education Our culture measures time in nano-seconds. Complex news stories are distilled to less than two minutes or two paragraphs, matching a seemingly endlessly shortening attention span. Society celebrates the transitory nature of the workplace and casts a suspicious eye on those opting for stability. Yet, careers in speech-language pathology, audiology, ... Features
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Features  |   August 01, 2004
Tending Your Professional Future: Creating a Strategic Plan for Continuing Education
Author Notes
  • Michael L. Kimbarow, ASHA’s vice president for Administration and Planning, is program director of Communication Disorders at New Mexico State University. Contact him at kimbarow@nmsu.edu
    Michael L. Kimbarow, ASHA’s vice president for Administration and Planning, is program director of Communication Disorders at New Mexico State University. Contact him at kimbarow@nmsu.edu×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2004
Tending Your Professional Future: Creating a Strategic Plan for Continuing Education
The ASHA Leader, August 2004, Vol. 9, 4-19. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.09142004.4
The ASHA Leader, August 2004, Vol. 9, 4-19. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.09142004.4
Our culture measures time in nano-seconds. Complex news stories are distilled to less than two minutes or two paragraphs, matching a seemingly endlessly shortening attention span. Society celebrates the transitory nature of the workplace and casts a suspicious eye on those opting for stability.
Yet, careers in speech-language pathology, audiology, and speech, language, and hearing science may span more than 40 years. The challenge is to sustain interest and excitement in our professional commitments over the long run.
The ASHA Code of Ethics has always required that individuals continue their professional development throughout their careers. Most readers are aware that new certification standards require all individuals who hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence to demonstrate the accumulation of 30 contact hours of professional development activities every three years to maintain the CCC-A and the CCC-SLP. This requirement has been in effect since 2003 for audiologists and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2005 for speech-language pathologists.
Some may respond to this new mandate with resistance. However, one need only look to the Certification Standards themselves to understand the value of this powerful shift: “Professional development is defined as any activity that relates to the science and contemporary practice of audiology, speech-language pathology, and speech/language/hearing sciences and results in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills or the enhancement of current knowledge and skills. Professional development activities should be planned in advance and based on an assessment of knowledge, skills, and competencies of the individual and/or an assessment of knowledge, skills, and competencies required for the independent practice of any area of the professions” (ASHA, 2004).
A commitment to acquiring new knowledge and skills is the cornerstone to achieving and maintaining a vibrant personally and professionally satisfying career. The element of advanced planning embodied in the standard will ensure that the activities are matched to the unique demands we face as we move through our career arcs. Each stage in our careers brings a unique set of concerns and challenges that may lead to different strategies to optimize professional growth.
Early Career Stage
The first five years of activity in the professions are a time of great challenge and excitement, mixed with a heavy dose of reality. Try as we might, nothing we experienced as students could completely prepare us for the realities and demands of the everyday workplace. Early career-stage professionals recognize the need to build on the knowledge and skills base acquired in graduate school and to refine their clinical expertise. The early career stage professional may be consumed with the desire to gain command over broad areas of practice (to keep job options fluid) or may opt to focus on professional development targeted to the specific demands of the workplace. In either case, the educational choices appear limitless. There is still so much to learn and so many opportunities-at the ASHA Convention, for example-to hear presentations on every conceivable topic in the professions that the challenge during this career stage is to ensure there is a focus to the professional development plan.
Mid-Career Stage
Mid-career professionals have a different challenge. Typically, they have achieved a measure of stability in the workplace and settled comfortably into a position with a clear and identifiable focus. The initial rush of excitement that came with being a new professional is replaced by a more refined sense of who we are and what our place is in the profession and the community. The initial desire to learn everything there is to learn about communication disorders is replaced by a need to ensure that one maintains currency in one’s practice. The challenge is to ward off the complacency that may set in when we become so knowledgeable about our job that test administration becomes routine and the range of treatment options in some ways may narrow as we rely on the goals and objectives that have served us well in the past.
Now the professional is faced with two options: embarking on a self-development journey that will lead to new levels of knowledge and skill within one’s area of clinical expertise; or mapping out a professional shift and planning the steps necessary to acquire new skills and knowledge. For example, during this career phase many individuals become supervisors because they believe they have the clinical skills and experience to pass on to others. However, accepting the role and responsibilities of clinical supervision without first acquiring knowledge about the science of supervision and the skills necessary to succeed in this critical activity will compromise one’s effectiveness. A professional development plan for becoming a supervisor will maximize success and minimize failure.
Late Career Stage
Settling into a pattern where we are less likely to make a major professional shift brings another set of unique issues. What was once new and exciting may now feel repetitive and derivative. Sessions at state and national conventions appear to be geared toward early career and mid-stage career professionals. Consequently, it’s hard to find presentations or topics that we haven’t heard before. We are at risk for developing professional “hardening of the categories,” an affliction that leads to the belief that nothing much will change in the near future and that our path is set. Professional boredom may set in as we opt for the familiar over the new.
The concept of life-long learning is never more valuable than when we approach the late stage of our careers. A career “arc” does not imply that at the end of our professional life we move on a downward trajectory in personal growth. A professional development plan can be crafted to counteract that hardening of the categories and reinvigorate one’s level of professional excitement and commitment. This is an ideal time to master skills that we didn’t have the chance to do previously. It’s a time to give back to the professions, perhaps by serving as a mentor to a new clinician or developing in-service presentations in your facility or delivering workshops at state or local professional meetings.
Each career stage brings the opportunity to create a strategic plan for continuing professional education that will develop skills, and lead to new and challenging paths. There is no preferred method of creating such a plan but using the general approach summarized below may be valuable in establishing the framework for success.
The Planning Process
When organizations engage in strategic or long-range planning they will often engage in a process called SWO analysis. SWO is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. This provides a framework for assessing where one is professionally and can be adapted to serve as the foundation for a development plan (See page 5).
Strengths: Taking inventory of one’s current skills and knowledge base is a powerful first step in planning. It may be helpful to create a list of those skills and knowledge sets that relate to a specific area of practice (e.g., skill and knowledge sets for assessment, treatment, and research in child language disorders) or to take a more global view of knowledge and skills across all practice domains. Determining our “strengths” is also valuable in targeting professional opportunities that are designed to build on those strengths.
Weaknesses: These are areas of practice in which, upon reflection, we determine the need and desire for additional professional growth and development. For example, recognizing that one has a “weakness” in administration and interpretation of modified barium swallow studies is the first step in designing a plan to shift knowledge and skill weaknesses to knowledge and skills strengths. If you are interested in becoming a supervisor, it’s important to assess your knowledge about the supervisory process. For example, do you know what the purpose of a supervisory conference is and how to conduct one? What do you know about supervision? If you are preparing for leadership in your organization, what skill sets do you need to ensure you are qualified to take a leap into management?
Opportunities: This is the place to assess the resources (personal, organizational, and financial) you have available to support your professional development plan. What are your strategies for continuing to build on your strengths, for confronting and eliminating knowledge and skill set deficits, and for acquiring the new knowledge that will position you to move into a new phase of your professional path? What opportunities exist to take workshops, engage in self-study, participate in research studies, present workshops, or focus your convention experiences to achieve your desired professional outcome?
Assessment of the Plan
A professional development plan is only as good as its execution, and success is predicated upon ongoing assessment of how well we adhere to it. A regular update of the personal SWO is an effective mechanism for continuous personal and professional improvement and is an important component to sustaining and maintaining your professional commitment over what could be 40-plus years of activity. Nothing could be more satisfying at the end of a career than to know that we actively crafted our professional life to be one of continuous discovery and renewal.
Developing a Plan

This is a brief introduction with samples for developing a professional SWO (strengths, weaknessess, and opportunities) analysis appropriate to each career stage. Note that professional development opportunities may not always lead immediately to a continuing education (CE) activity to fulfill the ASHA CE requirement but are important to ensuring long-term success of the plan.

A. Early career professional development plan for a school-based SLP whose goal is to become competent in assessing and treating students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Professional Strengths

Knowledge of test administration. I understand concepts of test validity and reliability as they apply to tests of receptive and expressive language in school-age children.

Test administration skills: I can administer and interpret the CELF, EOWVT, DTLA, and PPVT-III.

Knowledge of treatment principles: I can interpret results of receptive and expressive language tests to identify appropriate goals of treatment.

Treatment skills: I can establish appropriate school-year goals and contribute to the student’s IEP.

Professional Weaknesses

Knowledge of test administration: I am uncertain how to modify testing procedures to identify language disorders in children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds.

Test administration skills: I do not know how to perform dynamic assessment with students from CLD backgrounds.

  • Knowledge of treatment principles: I need additional information on how other cultures regard speech and language disorders and treatment.

  • Treatment skills: I am uncertain how to develop and implement a treatment plan for a student from a CLD background.

Professional Opportunities
  • Obtain and review ASHA’s document: Knowledge and Skills Needed by Speech-Language Pathologists to Provide Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services.

  • Attend Convention sessions devoted to assessing and treating school-age children from CLD backgrounds.

  • Read articles on assessing and treating school-age children from CLD backgrounds.

  • Obtain a self-study sponsor to establish a CE plan for developing knowledge and skills for working with students from CLD backgrounds.

  • Join ASHA Special Interest Divisions 1 and 14.

B. Professional development plan for a mid-career professional interested in becoming a clinical supervisor.
Professional Strengths
  • Knowledge of supervision: I know the ASHA guidelines for serving as a student practicum supervisor.

Professional Weaknesses
  • Knowledge of supervision: I don’t know how to differentiate supervision needs of beginning vs. experienced clinicians.

  • Supervision skills: I have no supervision experience. I don’t know how to conduct a supervisory meeting to obtain maximum benefit for a supervisee.

Professional Opportunities
  • Identify, obtain, and read existing textbooks on supervision.

  • Join ASHA Special Interest Division 11.

  • Attend state and national workshops on supervision.

  • Identify a supervision mentor and develop an individual professional growth plan.

  • Audit a supervision course.

C. Professional Development Plan for a late-stage professional interested in learning how to develop an in-service presentation for skilled nursing facility staff.
Strengths
  • Knowledge about communication and aging and communication issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Developed and implemented communication techniques for family caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.

Weaknesses
  • I have not used slide presentation software.

  • I have no public presentation experience.

Opportunities
  • Take a workshop on professional speaking.

  • Work with a mentor to learn how to prepare a PowerPoint presentation.

  • Work with the local Alzheimer’s Association to identify resources to distribute to staff and families.

ASHA Resources
  • See the Schools Web Page for information regarding school-based speech-language services.
  • See the ASHA Professional Development page for information regarding ASHA’s professional education offerings.
  • Order the Guide to Verifying Competencies in Speech-Language Pathology (call the Action Center at 800-498-2071 and ask for product #0111928).
  • See the ASHA Continuing Education page or call the Action Center or write to learn-earn@asha.org for information on Learn & Earn ASHA CEUs.
  • Go to the Special Interest Divisions page for a list of CE opportunities and to download an application to join a division.
  • For certification maintenance (Guidelines for Maintaining Certification in Audiology, product #0803070, and Guidelines for Maintaining Certification in Speech-Language Pathology, product #0803077) call the Action Center. Download from the Web the Record Keeping Form and Verification of Attendance Form, Guidelines for Maintaining Certification in Audiology, and Guidelines for Maintaining Certification in Speech-Language Pathology.
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August 2004
Volume 9, Issue 14