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Demand for speech pathologists rising, JU dean tells Downtown Rotary
From left, Christine Sapienza, associate dean of the Jacksonville University College of Health Sciences, and JU Chancellor Emeritus Frances B. Kinne.
From left, Fred Woolverton and Quinn R. Barton Jr. represent more than 100 years of membership in Downtown Rotary. Barton joined the club in 1956, Woolverton in 1962.
The Rotary Club of Jacksonville, also known as Downtown Rotary, continued its tradition of staying abreast of developments in the health and education fields Monday when Christine Sapienza, associate dean of the Jacksonville University College of Health Sciences, explained JU’s latest advances in those fields.

She also is program director of JU’s new Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Sapienza came to JU in July from the University of Florida in Gainesville where she was a professor and chair of the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences.

Construction of a new 29,800-square-foot expansion of JU’s College of Health Sciences began in June.

JU President Tim Cost said the expansion is expected to increase the university’s nursing program enrollment to as many as 2,400 students by 2016. Adding the new speech-language pathology undergraduate and graduate degree programs will complement JU’s School of Orthodontics, which Cost said is the largest in the nation.

“Our College of Health Sciences is experiencing explosive growth,” Cost said.

Future health care education expansion at the private university by 2016 includes a master’s degree program in health information management, a master’s in health executive leadership and a master’s in occupational therapy.

“We are rocking and rolling at JU,” said Sapienza.

She said speech pathology is “one of the most important arms of rehabilitation” and there are opportunities in the field from pediatrics to geriatrics.

Sapienza said the need for qualified speech pathologists is expected to continue to grow. JU’s expansion of its health care curriculum is a response to the projected increased need for qualified professionals.

“There is a shortage of speech pathologists in the country, in the region and in this county,” she said.

JU plans to graduate its first class of 60 speech pathologists with master’s degrees in 2016. As many as 400 undergraduate students are expected to enroll in the program. Sapienza said based on projections, including health care changes that will come from the Affordable Care Act, the need for qualified graduate-level speech pathologist, will continue to rise through at least 2020.

“We expect they all will be employed when they graduate,” she said.

Entry-level salary for a speech pathologist with a master’s degree is about $70,000 and that has led to a shift in the demographic profile of the prospective student.

Traditionally, 90 percent of speech pathology students were female because it has been a low-paying field. Now, more men are enrolling in the program, said Sapienza.

Sapienza has been getting to know the community since she came to Jacksonville and is developing relationships with local health care providers and corporate partners. JU’s master’s program speech pathology students will be gaining clinical experience at Mayo Clinic, Brooks Rehabilitation, St. Vincent’s HealthCare, Nemours Children’s Clinic, Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Duval County Public Schools, she said.

“Our long-term goal is to make sure our program is running efficiently and (producing) graduates who can impact change when they walk out our door,” she said.

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