Date on Honors Thesis

Fall 12-2023


Communication Disorders

Examining Committee Member

Becky Jones, Advisor

Examining Committee Member

Alison Brown, Committee Member

Examining Committee Member

Kelly Vaughan, Committee Member


The purpose of this thesis was to determine the progressive roles of speech-language pathologists (SLP) in performing feeding and swallowing interventions in preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and evaluate the education SLPs receive regarding this topic, as well as how this can affect their work in the NICU and what changes in curriculum and experience should be made for SLPs to best serve this fragile population. SLPs have not always been the primary providers in this field, so it is crucial to understand these established roles and how they have changed and will continue to change. As these roles have grown, it has become increasingly important to understand the educational needs of SLPs for these roles and to determine if the education and experiences provided to students aligns with these roles. This research was conducted by completing a literature review related to the evolving roles in the treatment of dysphagia in preterm infants. This included a study of the diagnoses related to feeding and swallowing found in premature infants in the NICU as well as the proper interventions to put into place. The extensive qualifications required of SLPs in the NICU were discussed along with their specific aspects, which included the extent of the educational background on dysphagia and the potential for field experience for ongoing education. Inter-collaborative care across disciplines, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, and nurses, is a crucial part of the success of feeding and swallowing in preterm infants. The cooperation of these disciplines and their overlapping skills were explored as well. Among the most significant points established were the understanding of how the roles of SLPs in the NICU have evolved, the need for shifting educational requirements to align with these changes, the importance of family-centered care in this setting, and the necessity of collaborating with various other healthcare professionals in order to provide the best care and result in the best outcomes.