Interview With Dr. Patrick Walden of St. John’s University

Dr. Walden is an Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at St. John’s University. He received a B.A. in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology from the Florida State University (1999), an M.A. in Education with a specialization in Communication Disorders (emphasis in Bilingual Speech-Language Pathology) from the New Mexico State University (2001), and an Ed.S. (2006) in addition to the Ph.D. (2008) in Educational Leadership: Adult and Community Education at the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. He is a nationally certified Speech-Language Pathologist with research interests in leadership and administration in the professions, scholarship of teaching and learning, and disorders of voice and speech in adults.

He joined St. John’s University in New York City in 2008. His professional experience has centered on acquired communication and swallowing disorders, but Dr. Walden has assessed and treated individuals from pediatrics to geriatrics in over 16 years of clinical practice in Speech-Language Pathology in four U.S. States. In addition, Dr. Walden has served extensive roles in leadership, management and human resource development in healthcare. Dr. Walden has completed research focused on Speech-Language Pathologists’ informal learning in medical environments as well as pedagogical/andragologic approaches to education in acoustics and clinical supervision. Currently, Dr. Walden’s research is funded by the Voice Foundation’s Advancing Scientific Voice Research.

Note: You should consult with your doctor or speech pathologist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Walden and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

How did you become interested in graduate student supervision?

I became interested in student supervision because I have always been interested in learning theory, especially theories and models of learning through experience. Clinical practice is very much a “you have to do it to learn it” sort of thing. So, I have always wondered if we are doing the best we can to make learning by doing more effective and efficient for both the learner and the clinical educator.

What are some of the challenges to providing graduate speech pathology students with the clinical experience that they need to be properly prepared professionals? Are there certain areas of practice that graduate students are typically underexposed to?

A major challenge, even in urban areas, is finding enough quality externship sites to provide the necessary breadth of knowledge to gain a minimum of competence for graduation and to begin the clinical fellowship experience. Supervising graduate students can be time-consuming and, thankfully, there are practitioners in the field who are willing to give back to the profession and put in that extra time to supervise and teach. That sort of service is required to keep the professions moving forward and to ensure quality of care for those we serve.

On a related note, those aspects of our field which are more “specialty,” such as working with professional voice users who have developed vocal issues, are especially difficult for students to gain hands-on practice. Experiencing the work of an interdisciplinary craniofacial team is another example of an area that can be more niche and harder to gain access to for students. Luckily, the rise of simulations in clinical education is helping to provide at least a base of experience in these areas.

Another challenge, in my eyes, is to adequately tie a competency-based clinical curriculum (which is really what we have) to measurable behavioral outcomes. To fully understand how students benefit from clinical education, we have to look at the entire process through multiple lenses. That means we need valid and reliable ways to tackle these issues from the students’, clinical educators’, patients’ and third-party observers’ perspectives. For example, how do we behaviorally show that a student clinician “communicates effectively, recognizing the needs, values, preferred mode of communication, and cultural/linguistic background of the individual(s) receiving services, family, caregivers, and relevant others?” Experienced clinical educators can make a fair judgement of this skill but how do you measure progress in this area using behavioral observations? Did the client also find that the student clinician was successful in an interaction? Would a third party have also recognized this? If so, how? Is it really a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing or are there observable (and teachable!) aspects to these sorts of skills? These are all considerations (and areas of needed research) that can be challenging in training pre-service clinicians. It is truly challenging to make these types of extremely important clinical skills operationalized. As I stated, an experienced clinical educator may recognize success in this area in a student clinician but how do we best TEACH it to those who are having issues achieving the requisite skill level? We just don’t know yet.

How can we better train supervisors to ensure optimal clinical experiences for students?

If I knew how to best train supervisors to adequately ensure optimal clinical experiences for students, I could disseminate this knowledge, charge for it, and retire early. I do not think we know quite yet how to best achieve this goal. There is so much research that needs to be done. I have always been interested in professional development (which is how I discovered theories/models of learning through experience). I hope the communicative sciences and disorders (CSD) professions broaden our research interests to include how to best provide meaningful and effective professional development. It requires another skill set outside of CSD and, in my opinion, has not been recognized as a needed area of research in the professions.

What do students need to do to get the most out of clinical supervision?

Being a student clinician is nerve-racking. All clinical educators have been in that exact situation and understand just how anxiety-provoking it can be to have an unfamiliar person in front of you asking for help. I try to tell all my students that they are not expected to know everything at this point- that is what they are in school for. It is okay to not know what to do. Students should, however, attempt to be proactive and do some independent research and then (always) talk to the clinical educator when they are unsure of what to do. Trying to figure things out for oneself first is exactly what experienced clinicians do. It is good practice for the “real world.”

What aspect of your research are you most proud of?

This is a hard question for me. I think I am most proud of my early work on speech-language pathologists (SLPs’) clinical learning behaviors. As I stated earlier, this is really my first love. I am intrigued by how we learn to do what we do. I have met some clinicians that are so quick on their feet that it puts me to shame—and they are not always SLPs. I learned so much from other professionals (physical therapists/occupational therapists/Nurses) that it made me question what it is we are doing to become so darned competent.

More recently, I have been working on a project focused on auditory-perceptual evaluation of voice. I am extremely proud to have found the support and wisdom from some true giants in the field to extend my research and clinical interests in this direction.

Do you have any advice for current SLP graduate students?

Always remember that there is not always one answer or any answer at all. That is why we are both an art and a science. Therefore, it is okay to be uncertain. We all are. Sometimes it is one time a week and sometimes it is multiple times a day. Uncertainty and the disorientation that comes from that is how we grow. It is the impetus for learning. Without that, we will always be what we currently are versus all that we can be.

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