2009 ASHA President Sue T. Hale A Clinician, a Teacher, and a Leader President's Interview
President's Interview  |   January 01, 2009
2009 ASHA President Sue T. Hale
Author Notes
  • Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at mmoore@asha.org.
    Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at mmoore@asha.org.×
Article Information
ASHA News & Member Stories / President's Interview
President's Interview   |   January 01, 2009
2009 ASHA President Sue T. Hale
The ASHA Leader, January 2009, Vol. 14, 20-23. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.14012009.20
The ASHA Leader, January 2009, Vol. 14, 20-23. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.14012009.20
Sue T. Hale believes in the power of partnership—in “finding the gold,” as she says, in every relationship, no matter how challenging—and she has the energy to put her ideas into action. As she takes the helm as president this year, she will partner with all of ASHA—more than 130,000 committed professionals—including her colleagues on the Board of Directors. She brings to the job a wealth of expertise in professional standards, ethical practice, ASHA governance—and a great sense of humor.
What do you most look forward to in your presidential year?
I look forward to meeting with members this year and finding out more about the excellent work they are doing—and how ASHA can support that work most effectively. Another priority is the completion of ASHA’s transition to our new governance structure, which will make our organization more nimble and efficient. An important part of that transition is engaging individual members in discussions about how the organization can better meet their needs.
You spent part of your childhood on a farm in Mississippi. What impact did that early experience have on your life choices?
My early childhood was spent in the Chicago area, but we moved to a farm in Mississippi when I was 11 years old. We worked hard and the community shared each other’s burdens. When my father was injured, for example, all the men in the community came to bail and haul his hay. They left their own work to do his because of his injury. Farm life made me appreciate the importance of a caring community. My brother, who earned a PhD, showed me the path to higher education and the world beyond the farm. Another life lesson came from living in Mississippi in the 1960s and seeing firsthand the struggle of the civil rights movement to address racial injustice. That experience left me with a desire to serve others and improve the world in some way.
How did you become interested in communication sciences and disorders?
It was a lucky accident. As an undergraduate I majored in communications at a community college, and the department head wanted to expose us to every aspect of the field. We visited theatres and media outlets, and then she took us to the Bill Wilkerson Center at Vanderbilt University to see audiologists and speech-language pathologists delivering clinical services. When I saw the impact they were having on people’s lives, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
After completing my master’s degree at the University of Mississippi and my CF, I joined the faculty at my graduate program as a clinical supervisor. That position eventually evolved to director of the Speech and Hearing Center as well as teaching and supervision. The happy coincidence is that after 24 years at Ole Miss, I joined the faculty of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, where it all began. My professional life has come full circle.
You’ve served ASHA in many capacities. Why did you get involved?
My leadership involvement with ASHA began in the 1990s, when I was asked to serve on ASHA’s Clinical Certification Board. Later, I chaired that board and moved on to the Council on Professional Standards and other committees. In 2001 I was nominated for a vice presidential position.
Just before that election, I made my major career change and became the director of clinical education in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt. The ASHA service enhanced my ability to more knowledgeably do my job. After my term ended in 2004, I worked on the Committee on Honors, the Board of Ethics, and the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Restructure.
Even as the plan for overhauling governance evolved, I thought how interesting it would be to serve on the Board of Directors under the new plan. I was honored to be asked to do so, and my department has strongly supported my new role as ASHA president.
Involvement in our association does take time. But I would tell any member who is thinking about getting involved as a volunteer leader that the payoff is well worth the effort—not only in the satisfaction gained from moving our professions forward, but also in the leadership skills I gained that have been invaluable to my career.
You have focused so much of your ASHA service in the area of professional standards and ethics. Why do you consider those areas so important?
I believe our commitment to a strong standards program and to ethical behavior reflects our core identity as an association. As a result of this long-term commitment, the CCCs are extremely well-respected by consumers and other professionals. ASHA does a great deal of important work—advocacy, education, supporting scientific endeavors, describing best practices—but all of that work starts and ends with a commitment to standards and ethics.
As we begin 2009, the economy continues to weaken. In your view, how could that affect ASHA and its members?
The health of the U.S. economy and decisions of regulatory bodies influence how we practice and get paid for our services. I believe the economic uncertainty will continue to be a major challenge for us. We will need to adjust our advocacy efforts to the way Washington and Wall Street are working at any given time. But we have a strong advocacy program and ASHA’s voice is heard and respected on Capitol Hill.
How can ASHA best serve the audiology and speech-language pathology professions individually and build the discipline as a whole?
We work together best when we respect one another’s perspectives and identify issues that reflect both our interests and collaborate on them. We need better partnerships between the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology as well as between clinicians and scientists.
Throughout some difficult periods, we have found common goals in advocacy. We need to have better dialogues about the PhD shortage—it is affecting both professions, and surely we can find areas of agreement for collaboration. Both professions are strengthened when we focus on those we serve and not solely on professional self-interest. Expanding our common ground and identifying opportunities for individual collaboration are essential to building the single discipline of communication sciences and disorders.
Why was the governance change important? Are there other changes you see that we should consider?
Under the old governance system, ASHA’s response to issues through the resolution process was extremely slow. We were in need of an efficiency overhaul. The Legislative Council grasped the vision and made the critical vote to do business in a different way, even though it meant that the Council as it had been would no longer exist. we’re still having some growing pains—it’s hard to separate from the way work was accomplished in the past and do business differently, but the expanded Board of Directors and other key stakeholders such as the Advisory Councils are working hard to grasp the concept. At the end of 2009, the first year of full implementation, we’ll have a clearer picture of what’s working well and what needs improvement—so ask me again in December!
Regarding other changes, I would like to see the Board of Directors have a greater presence at state association meetings. If each board member attended four state meetings each year, then members at a state convention could talk with a board member about issues important to them. This would enhance the “member experience,” a pillar in ASHA’s strategic pathway to excellence.
Fast-forward now to December 2009. What would you like to have accomplished during your presidential year?
By then I hope members will feel like full partners with ASHA, that we made the new governance structure work effectively, and that we continued to do meaningful and evidence-based work with our patients. I also hope that we received appropriate reimbursement for our work and that we found effective ways to address personnel shortages.
Is that too much to ask?
Looking further into the future, how do you think the discipline will evolve in the next 10 years?
Technology will continue to have a huge—and unimaginable—impact on the way we provide services and the way that we educate CSD students. We will pay greater attention to global issues, and find ways to serve individuals regardless of where they live and the problems they present. We will deliver education across borders and continents.
We also have tremendous opportunities for improving the quality of life for those with communication challenges. We must increase our perceived value as providers in what is likely to be a reformed health care system. This effort will require nonstop advocacy for inclusion in those reformed programs. We also have to be prepared to deal with a slowing economy, which could result in cutbacks in educational programs and services. Our discipline has shown a remarkable resiliency to these types of pressures in the past, and we must continue to utilize that resiliency to take advantage of opportunities and overcome the challenges.
Beyond Vanderbilt and ASHA, what do you do for fun?
I’m an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction, and I’m an NCAA basketball fan. I like to watch a good competition on the court even when my favorite teams, Vandy and Ole Miss, aren’t playing. My family is the centerpiece of my life—and having our children turn into adults whom we truly enjoy is wonderful. My husband and I always have an ongoing refurbishing project at our home, which is 85 years old. I am energized by getting together with friends—we laugh a lot and have really lively political discussions.
Any final words?
I have always considered myself a clinician as well as a teacher. I have had the great honor to be involved in academia for almost my entire career—serving in positions that provided meaningful work—as a master’s-level professional. I am humbled to be only the third ASHA president who does not hold the doctoral degree.
I hope all members hear the message that the discipline needs all of us to be volunteer leaders and that there is no glass ceiling on leadership opportunities for any member who is willing to do the work of the association.
Board of Directors Welcomes Member Ideas and Input

Do you have a concern or an issue you’d like to raise with ASHA’s 2009 Board of Directors? ASHA’s online “In Touch” program offers a template for comments and an archive of Board actions, including resolutions, meeting reports, and annual reports from ASHA vice presidents. To raise an issue—or to pass on praise!—in 500 words or fewer, visit the ASHA Web site.

ASHA’s new governance structure is committed to open communication and sharing of information with members. ASHA leaders look forward to hearing from you.

Access the archive of Board resolutions and reports.

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January 2009
Volume 14, Issue 1