mary sandage, ph.d., CCC-SLP


Published on September 7, 2016

Pleased to post an interview with Mary Sandage, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, voice pathologist, educator, and singing voice specialist.

#fellowshipofthelarynx #exercisephysiology #voicerehab #musclesaremyjam #vocalathlete


TVF: Where do you currently practice and teach?

MS: I currently practice through the student training clinic at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, where I am currently a tenure-track professor. I also see singing students privately.


TVF: Where did you complete your medical training?

MS: I earned my M.A. in speech pathology at The University of Iowa and I earned my Ph.D. in Exercise Science at Auburn University.


TVF: How did you come to choose Speech-Language Pathology?

MS: I chose to be a SLP after taking a career interest test my junior year of undergrad. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and the interest test indicated that my personality might be well-suited for speech pathology. When I found out that assessing and treating voice disorders was part of the job, I was hooked.


TVF: What comes to your mind as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary voice disorders?

MS: The most pressing issue from my perspective is access to care. If you work at a world-class voice center, this may not seem as apparent. I have worked in primarily rural states my whole career and I am continually amazed at how difficult it can be for occupational voice users to get to the right care provider.


TVF: Is it an international issue or specific to your country?

MS: This is definitely an international issue.


TVF: What is/are your research interest(s)? Would you tell us in layman’s term, what your research is about?

MS: I am interested in applying principles of exercise science and performance assessment to the voice to create truly functional assessments of voice ability. I am also interested in how environmental perturbations, such as HVAC systems, affect voice function given how commonly it is described as a trigger for upper airway or voice difficulty.


TVF: How do you hope your research will be applied in the clinical field?

MS: I would like to work toward a body of occupational voice literature than leads to the development of work-place standards for protecting the voice from phonotrauma and the development of pathology or disorder.


TVF: In your opinion, what poses the greatest challenge in care of voice disorders?

MS: The greatest challenge I see is the relative lack of value most employers place on vocal health and investment in voice habilitation and rehabilitation. There is an assumption that teachers can walk into the classroom without any prior voice training and just do the job.


TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the most important advances made in the field of laryngology and voice rehabilitation in the recent years?

MS: The ability to treat vocal pathology in a less invasive manner is probably the biggest advance in medical care of voice. With regard to voice rehabilitation, the recent interest in quantifying the vocal dose to characterize the voice work required for occupation-specific voice work has been a big contribution to our understanding of voice function. This is foundational work that will really guide our understanding of voice training and recovery.


TVF: What is your vocal pet peeve and why?

MS: I would really like to see the term “abuse” used more judiciously when describing phonotraumatic voice use.


TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?

MS: The evidence is now there to support the myth that caffeine is dehydrating. The evidence has been there in exercise science but it is a hard myth to put down in the voice realm.


TVF: Your most memorable voice case?

MS: The client I had who had a severe chronic cough for over 20 years who fixed herself in one week with the cough avoidance strategies that I shared. Totally inspiring.


TVF: As a SLP/voice scientist, what keeps you on your toes?

MS: My graduate students keep me on my toes. I ask them to question me and make me accountable and they do it. Every time I am asked to explain myself, this work of voice science and physiology becomes clearer or more complicated depending on the questions asked.


TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of laryngology and voice rehabilitation?

MS: Now that we have a corpus of evidence and basic science on many discrete components of the larynx, i.e., epithelial transport, ECM function, cover biomechanics, etc. I would like to see the field put it all together into a functional whole.


TVF: Who have been your most influential mentors?

MS: Kittie Verdolini Abbott, Diane Bless, Nadine Connor, Janet Alcorn, David Pascoe


TVF: What is your advice in mentoring future laryngologists and voice specialists?

MS: I would advise to pursue the field out of love of the instrument but don’t forget the person using the instrument. Each individual client is a unique puzzle to solve. We never have all the answers and if you ever think you have learned it all, you might need to retire.


TVF: What advice would you like to give to the general populace about voice care? How about to the professional voice users?

MS: The voice is an instrument that can be trained, can get out of shape, and can be retrained. It is adaptable when the conditions are right. Seek out a specialist to care for your voice.


TVF: Who are your favorite singers?

MS: Aretha Franklin, Jessye Norman, Rhiannon Giddens, Prince, it changes over time but these are some enduring voices for me.


TVF: What sparks “joy” for you as a person?

MS: Seeing anyone of any age succeed at something new.