Alex Johnson: 2006 ASHA President Alex Johnson’s been very busy. From speech-language pathologist to executive director of the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center to director of the Division of Speech-Language Sciences and Disorders at Henry Ford Hospital, to his current position of professor and chair at Wayne State University-he’s done it all. Now Johnson (BA ... President's Interview
President's Interview  |   January 01, 2006
Alex Johnson: 2006 ASHA President
Author Notes
  • Ellen Uffen, is the former managing editor, features, of The ASHA Leader.
    Ellen Uffen, is the former managing editor, features, of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / President's Interview
President's Interview   |   January 01, 2006
Alex Johnson: 2006 ASHA President
The ASHA Leader, January 2006, Vol. 11, 6-31. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.11012006.6
The ASHA Leader, January 2006, Vol. 11, 6-31. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.11012006.6
Alex Johnson’s been very busy. From speech-language pathologist to executive director of the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center to director of the Division of Speech-Language Sciences and Disorders at Henry Ford Hospital, to his current position of professor and chair at Wayne State University-he’s done it all. Now Johnson (BA and MA, Kent State University; PhD, Case Western Reserve University) is adding the title of 2006 ASHA President to his list of accomplishments.
And that list doesn’t even touch all his publications-in the areas of language disorders in adults, post-stroke aphasia, and child language and literacy-and all his teaching, mentoring, committee and community work. It barely scratches the surface.
One more thing: no mere list of accomplishments, no matter how impressive, can suggest the enthusiasm that Alex Johnson characteristically brings to his work. But certainly his words can.
Read on-this is a person who truly enjoys what he does.
You—ve contributed to ASHA in many capacities since 1985, when you were elected as Legislative Councilor. Most recently-from 2000 to 2003-you served on the Executive Board as Vice President for Professional Practices in Speech-Language Pathology. How did that experience contribute to your decision to run for president of ASHA?
Serving on the Executive Board (EB) provided a wonderful “internship” to prepare for the presidency. Of course, I learned firsthand about the needs and challenges of speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Beyond that, I had the chance to participate, as an EB member, in decisions affecting all aspects of the Association. Getting to know about the business of the Association, our relationships with other organizations, ASHA governance issues, governmental affairs, and so forth, provide an excellent backdrop as I move into this new leadership role. I think that three-year experience, along with my other roles as an ASHA volunteer over the years, allowed me to make the decision to run with a sense of confidence that I knew how ASHA works.
I believe that our members-clinicians, administrators, and academicians-are in the most wonderful and most important discipline. The work being done by our members changes people’s lives and improves communication and health for millions of people all over the world. Having the chance to serve those who carry out these vital functions in our society is a great opportunity for which I am most grateful.
And how did this previous ASHA experience contribute to your agenda for 2006?
Having had the chance to talk with hundreds of ASHA members over the past several years, I know that there is much to accomplish. Specifically, I know that the issues of personnel shortages in all areas, reimbursement, our scientific base, marketing our professions, governmental relationships, and success in advocacy are some of the “big ticket” items that we will continue to address. My experience in a variety of ASHA leadership roles and as a long-standing ASHA member has helped to bring these issues into focus for me. I hope that I can use the next year to bring them into clearer focus for the organization and for the membership.
Please detail your plans as president. On which issues do you plan to focus?
I look forward to working with our EB, Legislative Council (LC), and our members on the current initiative focusing on the personnel shortage issue in clinical and academic settings. We have to continue to do better at advocating for reimbursement, professional autonomy, and for continued consideration of our international role.
Three additional issues at the top of my list are vital to the success of all other issues. The first is communication with key audiences (consumers, other professions, decision makers) about the impact that audiologists, SLPs, and speech and hearing scientists have on health and education in our society. We have to keep pushing for recognition and “brand identity” at every level. Everyone should know that audiologists are the professionals to see for management of hearing loss, once medical issues are addressed. Everyone should know that SLPs are the professionals to see for disorders of speech, oral and written language, and swallowing.
The message is still not as crystal clear to consumers and decision makers as it must be. Every ASHA member should have the tools and resources to communicate effectively with others about the broad impact and effectiveness of our services, our academic and clinical preparation, and our role in education and health care. ASHA needs to be sure that the right tools are available for members to use for these education and marketing activities and our members need to understand that we all share the responsibility for this type of communication.
We need to communicate with our various audiences about the significant effects of communication and swallowing disorders on people’s lives and on our nation’s economic, health, and education systems. People also need to know about the valuable contributions being made by our researchers in advancing new treatments.
A second issue that we will address over the next year is assuring that we are developing a steady stream of new leaders for the Association. The “career path” for volunteers in all associations is changing. We need to understand the most effective ways to attract and develop promising new leaders for ASHA. We also need to identify any obstacles to involvement of these individuals. ASHA volunteerism provides wonderful opportunities for a variety of interesting experiences, leadership development, and networking advantages for members who participate. Helping people understand and appreciate these benefits is part of the message that we have to share with our members. Beyond these benefits, the opportunity to serve one’s profession is the best opportunity for ASHA volunteers and we must be as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
A third issue that is on my mind, one vital to the growth and health of the Association, is the involvement and engagement of students and young new professionals into the ASHA “family.” All of us need to identify opportunities for mentoring and to be sure when we are participating in our young members’ early clinical and employment experiences that we are assuring their best interest and helping to remove any obstacles to their successful entry into our professions.
We also need to recognize that in many ways the professional environment has changed significantly since many of us began our careers. There are more demanding requirements, more patients/clients/students to serve; complex models of certification and licensure, and the list goes on. We need to be equipped to support these important new members of our professions and to help guide them as they work through the challenges involved in entering our fields. As I begin this year, I am asking myself, asking students, and now asking you: What can we do to assure that the ASHA environment is inviting, inclusive, nurturing, and welcoming to our newest members?
Do you have a pet concern that you’d like to see on the table this year that you believe hasn’t yet received its just consideration?
Yes-I really don’t think that we have addressed the specific needs of clinicians who work in inner city and remote rural settings in our country. They have very specific recruiting challenges and they deal with many issues that are not considered in other geographic regions.
In these settings the caseloads can be extremely high and professional burnout is a concern. When the populations being served in these settings are impoverished, the demand for services is elevated, yet there are fewer professionals available to provide the services. In addition to an increased volume of cases, the complexity of the communication disorders exhibited by these patients is also increased. The paradox is that often it is these settings with a reduced number of available staff, high complexity, and high volume of cases where there are reduced resources available to support the services. I think that ASHA can do a better job of helping our members in inner city and remote rural settings advocate for resources, recruit staff, identify tools to improve efficiency and outcome, and to network with each other in problem-solving situations.
As a member of the Executive Board, You—ve done a lot of traveling and speaking to ASHA colleagues all over the country as well as abroad. What are you hearing? And how have these members’ comments affected your agenda for 2006?
Over the past year, I have had the chance to talk with ASHA members in many different states and in Canada. I also have spent time in Asia and had the chance to talk with colleagues there. For the past three years, I have spent several weeks a year teaching and consulting in the Speech and Hearing Sciences Department at the National Taipei College of Nursing in Taiwan. Living in a culture that is different from my own has taught me so much and I have even picked up a few words in Mandarin. I am in awe of the work of Professor Sheng Hwa Chen and Edward Yonge who have pioneered the development of this graduate program that offers MA degrees in both speech-language pathology and audiology. With limited resources they have developed a great program, opened a small clinic, initiated strong practicum experiences, and recruited wonderful students. They have used the CAA educational standards and ASHA’s certification standards to guide the development of their curriculum. It is really rewarding, exciting, and humbling to be part of this development in Taiwan.
The concerns that I hear members talking about are reimbursement trends; encroachment and competition issues with other professions; the shortage of personnel in both higher education and clinical practice settings (especially the schools); international issues; and continuing education needs, availability, and affordability.
There are a few “profession-specific” issues as well. SLPs are concerned with many of the changing trends in service delivery. Use of assistants and technologies to extend practice and improve efficiency is an issue of some concern. The expanding scope of practice in speech-language pathology is a challenge for graduate education programs, employers, practicing clinicians, and continuing education providers. I know that many SLPs have their eyes on the development of the clinical doctoral entry degree in audiology and some are questioning whether that trend should be expanded in speech-language pathology. While there are currently only a few clinical doctoral programs in speech-language pathology, there is a lot of discussion among medical SLPs about the feasibility of expanding educational options and increasing the availability of clinical doctoral study.
Audiologists also have their concerns. There is certainly a lot of discussion in higher educational circles about the required doctoral entry into audiology and the demand it is placing on training programs. The new clinical doctoral entry in audiology has created a shortage of audiologists in some areas of the country that has provided opportunity for use of non-audiologists to provide hearing assessment services. Additionally, reimbursement issues are frequently discussed by audiologists as an area that ASHA needs to continue to address.
In all aspects of the professions, personnel shortages abound. There is great demand for our services and there is need to prepare more people for what we do. There is a lot of concern among members of our field that if we cannot prepare a sufficient number of professionals, then employers will seek less qualified alternatives. This is probably one of the biggest continuing threats to our discipline.
My biggest frustration in talking with ASHA members is that they are not always aware of the services and resources available to support them. Frequently, someone will ask a question about a problem that he or she is having in a specific area (CE, reimbursement, caseload management, service coding, etc.). When I respond with “Have you seen ASHA’s document on…,” they are frequently amazed and appreciative that there is a resource to help them.We have to do a better and more efficient job of helping members find resources when they need them.
You’re a speech-language pathologist with a great deal of clinical experience. Now You’re a full-time academic. How has this background prepared you to address the concerns of all of ASHA’s varied constituencies? Audiologists? School-based members?
My very first experience in the schools in Ohio was valuable in helping me to appreciate the challenges faced by school clinicians and also to see the rewards of working in a setting where there was an opportunity to interface communication opportunities with classroom learning and the curriculum. At the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, I really learned about serving people in an urban environment and also had the opportunity to lead a large speech-language pathology program and an audiology program. During my time at Henry Ford Hospital I had the chance to start a big, new speech-language pathology program in the Neurology Department. It was a dream job. In my 11 years at Henry Ford, I learned so much about medical speech-language pathology from both a clinical and administrative perspective. I also learned a lot about the positive benefits of collaboration with physicians in education, research, and practice.
Finally, seven years ago I moved down the street to Wayne State University to chair the academic program in the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. Here I have the great opportunity to teach and do research, and also to administer a large, vital, and diverse department.
Let’s move beyond the present for a moment and play prophet. What are the concerns that will continue to affect ASHA members during the next several years? Where do you think-hope-the Association will be in, say, 10 years?
I think ASHA will continue to grow and will continue to be a vital player among the health professions. I think we will be concerned with our ability to address the critical personnel shortages in K-12 education and health settings and in higher education for a long time. I am particularly concerned that we continue to develop and support our scientific base and that members of our professions contribute significantly to the expanding knowledge about speech, language, and hearing.
Governmental support for funding and reimbursement will continue to be a challenge and we will need to be aggressive in assuring that our services and programs are always considered by decision makers. I believe that there will continue to be a great demand for both of our clinical professions for a number of reasons. Because what we do is time- and labor-intensive and requires considerable skill, I believe that we will continually be under great pressure to bring down costs and improve the efficiency of what we do. I am not sure that we have given this enough attention in recent years, and we really need to do so if we are to be successful in maintaining a strong professional position.
In 10 years, my hope is that speech-language pathology and audiology will be household words, commonly used by consumers. I hope that we will have worked out “turf” issues between various professional groups and will have found exciting and productive methods of collaboration. I hope that we will also be putting energy and resources into international collaborations, especially around areas of scientific concern and academic preparation. We also have much to learn from our colleagues in other countries and I believe that we can also offer much in return.
Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about yourself that will help members know you better? What about your life outside of work? Hobbies? Interests?
I have a great family who have always been interested and supportive of my work. My wife Linda and I live just outside of Detroit in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. We like to travel and spend time with our two sons, Jeff and David. We are all fond of films and enjoy going to the movies together when schedules allow. I like to read, do a little cooking, a little exercise, and a little volunteer activity in my community and my church. My favorite thing to do outside of family time is spend time with friends.
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January 2006
Volume 11, Issue 1