Huff Hall

Q&A with Pamela Hadley, department head

SHS E-News October 2023

Pam Hadley

What better way to wrap up our year-long celebration of the Department of Speech and Hearing Science’s 50 years at the University of Illinois than to gather its current leader’s thoughts on the past—and the discipline’s very bright future?

Dr. Pamela Hadley joined the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in AHS in 2007, and has been department head since 2021. She received us in her office for an animated interview on a sunny September afternoon, and our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: This year's deeper dives into the history of the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois have been fascinating. Was there anything in any of these explorations that surprised you, even in your role as the department’s head?

PAMELA HADLEY: Oh, absolutely. For example, I didn’t know how instrumental faculty at the University of Illinois had been in the development of the ASHA [American Speech-Language-Hearing Association] journals. The field continues to grapple, even today, with how to disseminate scientific findings. There also are many discussions about opening up access to science, especially those things that are federally funded by taxpayer dollars. The internet and social media have fundamentally changed the number of options for sharing scientific findings and clinical resources with the public. That's something that, looking forward, we will continue to grapple with. With regard to the SHS at 50 stories, it was really important for me to appreciate the role that Illinois faculty had in the development of those early journals at the very beginning.

Q: What are some topics you would have liked to explore for this series if we’d had more time?

A: Something we talked about early on was exploring paradigm shifts in the field. There are individuals from Illinois who were responsible for changing the way in which our field approached clinical practice. Some of those researchers include Dean Emerita Tanya Gallagher and Dr. Carol Prutting, who were mentored by Dr. Tom Shriner, Jr. in the 1970s. Together, they were responsible for bringing the pragmatics revolution into the field of speech-language pathology and establishing the subfield of clinical pragmatics, focused on how language is used in conversational interactions. 

Another example: Dr. Elaine Paden and Ph.D. student Barbara Hodson contributed to a paradigm shift in how we treat young children's speech-sound disorders. They were instrumental in shifting the field toward treating classes of sounds to improve the intelligibility of young children's speech more efficiently. That was a huge paradigm shift.

Professor Emerita Adrienne Perlman was an advocate for expanding the speech-language pathology (SLP) scope of practice to include dysphagia, or swallowing disorders. When I was a clinical student, swallowing wasn't part of our scope of practice yet! Now it’s such a fundamental aspect of medical SLPs’ role in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, in particular.

Finally, it would have been wonderful to highlight major research projects throughout the history of the department, such as the Illinois International Stuttering Research Project that was led by Professor Emeritus Ehud Yairi.

Q: What’s impressed you the most about the department’s growth and development since you joined the faculty?

A: I’m so impressed with my faculty colleagues. We have such a great group of remarkable scientists who are really committed to rigor in their research. They hold themselves and their students to high standards, and, at the same time, they’re just truly wonderful people who’ve been so committed to delivering high-quality instruction through some really unprecedented times. I admire their resilience. I enjoy their company. In short, I’m just really proud to lead this department.

Q: What are some new areas in this field that recent graduates, current students, and students who will join you in the next few years have, or will have, the expertise to address as they move into their careers?

A: Telehealth is a professional area that has really expanded rapidly in the last three years. Prior to COVID-19, students weren’t trained to assess or treat via telehealth at all. It was considered to be an advanced clinical skill and not something that students would be expected to learn until they had years of clinical practice under their belt.

During the stay-at-home mandates, telehealth became a lifeline, and it caused our professional bodies to reconsider whether this was an essential skill that all our students in training needed to have. That means that our students today are going out with a lot more clinical preparation in that area, and they have a lot of experience that people who came before them didn't have. About a third of our clients at the clinic have chosen to continue their services through telehealth, so now we can expand the kinds of services that we offer. We also have plans underway to develop telehealth options in audiology: conducting rural health screenings for those who are in outlying counties, bringing them in for comprehensive evaluations, and then doing follow-up hearing aid adjustments through telehealth. 

We also had many research projects that were required to pivot to remote data collection. Students today are far more advanced in their knowledge and skills in this area, and they are better prepared to conduct research and deliver clinical services remotely than prior graduates.

Q: Let’s talk a bit more about the department’s Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Clinic. You’ve referred to it as the “crown jewel” of the department’s community outreach efforts. How would you like to see the clinic evolve?

A: This summer we had a public meeting as part of a follow-up in-person site visit from our accreditation body, and a number of individuals who received services from our clinic and their family members attended the meeting. They just raved to the site visitors about the services that they were receiving and the impact of those services on their well-being and quality of life. To hear that kind of feedback from the families that we serve just means everything—it’s so essential to what we're trying to accomplish in terms of our public engagement and outreach, and it's testimony to how critically important communication skills are to participation in everyday activities. That encapsulates why I’ve referred to the clinic as a “crown jewel.”  

I’d really like to see the clinic expand its sphere of influence beyond the Champaign-Urbana community. My dream for the clinic would be for it to be a center of excellence, particularly for families in rural communities that may not have access to state-of-the-science resources in their local communities. Also, it would be my hope that we could bring individuals here for comprehensive assessments and develop the types of support those families might need for ongoing care, and then maintain that contact through telehealth with educators or health care providers in their local communities. I think that that could be really powerful.

Q: We've established through these stories that the SHS faculty at Illinois have been pioneers in the research, and they've been leaders in their profession since the beginning. Will these stories serve as inspiration for future activities? Where do you think this department can lead your disciplines in the future?

A: I think these stories helped us bring history alive and explored some topics in a more conversational way than reading a review of the history of the department. What I most hope, though, is that these stories provide our students and faculty with a strong sense of where they come from and, really, a deeper appreciation of the fact they're standing on the shoulders of giants—pioneers who really established the profession and were influential from the beginning. I hope the students and faculty appreciate that they have a proud legacy to honor and to uphold as they go out into the world and carry on the work.

Where do I think SHS will lead the discipline in the future? I envision SHS faculty and students contributing to innovations in health technology, including the use of that technology to improve treatment options, and evaluating how different design features might promote people's use of those technologies and what new technologies are desired. Those health technologies could include how we are designing and developing hearing aids, which treatments best fit an individual’s cognitive profiles and communication needs, how we interact with augmentative and alternative communication devices, how we use speech recognition devices, or how we use different kinds of technologies to age in place successfully. 

I see all of that as part of what SHS faculty will do in the future. Technology has moved really quickly just in the last year. So the next 50 years? It's hard to imagine where we'll be!