Long waiting lists for speech-language pathologists in Alberta

A shortage of speech-language pathologists in Alberta has put some families on a two-year waiting list.

A shortage of speech-language pathologists in Alberta has put some families on a two-year waiting list.

"You know the shortage is severe and I try very hard to recruit speech pathologists," said Nausheen Khan, who runs a private clinic for speech pathology in Edmonton.  Khan has 12 speech pathologists and 750 clients and new referrals are waiting 12 to 18 months for an appointment. 

Many specialists who came during the boom between 2005 and 2007 have now left for jobs in other provinces, according to Anne Assaly, CEO and registrar of the Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. 

While the University of Alberta has increased enrolment in its program to help ease the shortage, Assaly said her association is doing what it can right now by contacting people who are already trained. 

"We do have people that have been off for 10 years at home raising families … and we look at anything that we can do to help them back into practice," she said.

Speech pathologists tend to be female and Assaly has found that while the numbers are supplemented each year by new graduates, they may lose just as many professionals to maternity leaves and as many as half the positions in the province are part time.  However, there is a gradual increase in numbers, she said.

The long waiting lists have forced parents to come up with their own solutions.

Tammy Alger has twin daughters with special needs. One of her daughters is non-verbal and has been through seven pathologists in two years. Alger has tired of having to explain her speech issues each time she works with someone new.

"It's frustrating and exhausting because we just want someone to work with her and to stay with her," Alger said.

Alger is a neonatal nurse but has now given up her job to stay at home and help her children.

"I pretty much had to give up my career to stay home and be a speech therapist to my own child," she said.

The shortage of pathologists isn't just limited to Alberta. There's a worldwide shortage, which makes it even harder to hire experienced workers because they can work anywhere, Khan said.

There needs to be more mentorship programs to help new pathologists, she said.