Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Internet images of the speech pathology profession

Nicole Byrne
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

School of Humanities and Social Science, Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle, GP2.28, General Purpose Building, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia. Email: Nicole.Byrne@newcastle.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH17033
Submitted: 22 July 2016  Accepted: 18 April 2017   Published online: 5 June 2017

Abstract

Objective The Internet provides the general public with information about speech pathology services, including client groups and service delivery models, as well as the professionals providing the services. Although this information assists the general public and other professionals to both access and understand speech pathology services, it also potentially provides information about speech pathology as a prospective career, including the types of people who are speech pathologists (i.e. demographics). The aim of the present study was to collect baseline data on how the speech pathology profession was presented via images on the Internet.

Methods A pilot prospective observational study using content analysis methodology was conducted to analyse publicly available Internet images related to the speech pathology profession. The terms ‘Speech Pathology’ and ‘speech pathologist’ to represent both the profession and the professional were used, resulting in the identification of 200 images. These images were considered across a range of areas, including who was in the image (e.g. professional, client, significant other), the technology used and the types of intervention.

Results The majority of images showed both a client and a professional (i.e. speech pathologist). While the professional was predominantly presented as female, the gender of the client was more evenly distributed. The clients were more likely to be preschool or school aged, however male speech pathologists were presented as providing therapy to selected age groups (i.e. school aged and younger adults). Images were predominantly of individual therapy and the few group images that were presented were all paediatric.

Conclusion Current images of speech pathology continue to portray narrow professional demographics and client groups (e.g. paediatrics). Promoting images of wider scope to fully represent the depth and breadth of speech pathology professional practice may assist in attracting a more diverse group of people into the profession in the future.

What is known about the topic? To date, research has not considered the promotional profile of allied health professionals on the Internet. There has been a lack of consideration of whether the way in which the professions are promoted may affect clients accessing allied health services or people entering careers.

What does this paper add? This paper raises awareness of the lack of promotion of a diverse workforce in speech pathology and considers how this may affect changing the professional demographics in the future. It also provides a starting point for documentation in the form of a baseline for tracking future changes. It allows consideration of the fact that when designing health promotional and educational materials, it is crucial that diversity is displayed in the professional role, the client role and the setting in order to provide information and education to the general public about the health services provided.

What are the implications for practitioners? The presentation of narrow demographics of both the professional and client may potentially affect people considering speech pathology as a future career. The appearance of narrow client demographics and diagnosis groups may also deter people from accessing services. For example, if the demonstrated images do not show older people accessing speech pathology services, then this may suggest that services are only for children. The results from the present case example are transferrable to other health professions with similar professional demographic profiles (e.g. occupational therapy). Consideration of the need to display a diverse client profile is relevant to all health and medical services, and demonstrates steps towards inclusiveness and increasing engagement of clients who may be currently less likely to access health services (including people who are Aboriginal or from a culturally and linguistically diverse background).

Additional keywords: allied health, career choice, content analysis, workforce.


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