How to recruit—and retain—the next generation of school clinicians

Once considered a temporary or emergency solution, a growing number of school and district leaders are utilizing teletherapists in addition to on-site staff.
Lynne Inabnitt
Lynne Inabnitt
Lynne Inabnitt is the senior vice president of clinical success at Presence, a solution for preK–12 remote evaluation and teletherapy services.

Over the last decade, a steady and concerning trend has emerged for district leaders: There’s been an increase in the number of students requiring special education and mental health services, and there aren’t enough school clinicians equipped to provide those services.

Recent estimates say it would take 77,000 more school counselors, 63,000 more school psychologists and likely tens of thousands of school social workers to reach levels recommended by professional groups.

And the need is only growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, estimates a 19% growth in demand for speech language pathologists and a 12% growth in demand for occupational therapists in the coming years.

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To fill these critical roles, school leaders must think differently when it comes to hiring qualified clinicians, particularly those belonging to the demographic Gen Z.

Leaders must embrace new approaches that will allow them to recruit—and retain—this next generation of committed and talented clinicians who are eager to serve students but who seek more flexibility in how they do so.

Turning to teletherapy

Career flexibility is paramount for Gen Z. According to job site Monster’s 2023 State of the Graduate report, 73% of college graduates said they would be more likely to apply for a job if the position allowed them to work remotely from anywhere, and 49% say a flexible work schedule is the most important aspect of a job.

Forward-thinking leaders are turning to teletherapy as a solution that both meets student needs and offers flexibility. Teletherapy, or the online delivery of therapy services, ensures flexibility for clinicians, shortened evaluation and service backlogs for schools and districts, and access to qualified professionals and services for all students who need them—regardless of their location.

Though once considered a temporary or emergency solution, a growing number of school and district leaders are utilizing teletherapists in addition to on-site staff. This hybrid approach ensures there are adequate staff to support growing caseload sizes and gives on-site staff the time to focus on more in-depth student needs or provide”push-in” classroom supports.

Furthermore, it allows for the natural ebb and flow of caseloads more equitably; provides immediate solutions for the conflicting demands of multiple locations and schedules; and allows school districts to holistically meet students’ needs—all without a highly-pressured work environment that often can lead to turnover, and worse, burnout.

Clinicians, too, are embracing this form of service delivery. According to a survey by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the majority of practitioners say they are “somewhat to extremely comfortable with telepractice.”

Focusing on themselves and their work

I’ve observed this comfort first-hand at Presence, one of the largest providers of teletherapy services to schools. I oversee clinical success, partnering with our districts for integrated solutions while supporting our diverse network of clinicians. In the past year, we have received over 5,000 applications from clinicians seeking to work in teletherapy, each bringing unique reasons for a more flexible professional pathway.

One of those applications was submitted by a young therapist with an autoimmune condition who was facing a large caseload of students with complex needs, a backlog of student evaluations, and additional responsibilities at work, and in turn, feeling burnt out. Only one year into her career, she was at an impasse: take care of her students or take care of herself. She turned to teletherapy as an option to do both.

Today, from the comfort of her own home and calendar, she’s able to prioritize her personal needs while still serving students remotely. In some ways, she told me, it feels like she is even able to give a higher level of care to students because she has more time for student needs without conflicting priorities. Her workload is manageable and she still feels like a valued member of her work team.

That’s just one example of many. Flexibility means many different things to different individuals. But there’s a case to be made for following the lead of the Gen Z workforce and prioritizing balance.

After all, the pursuit of a career that meets personal and professional needs doesn’t mean lowered expectations. When clinicians can focus on themselves and their work, the effects ripple to the places they work, and more importantly, to the students they serve.

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