Sandage researches factors of voice disorders

Photo of Dr. Mary Sandage

Dr. Mary Sandage is an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts Department of Communication Disorders, and is also the only clinical and basic researcher in the state of Alabama who specializes in the rehabilitation of injured singers. While her current research is focused on environmental influences on voice function, hormonal influences on voice function, and applying exercise principles to occupational voice users, her scope of practice has also focused on the treatment of chronic cough and occupational voice disorders. Occupational voice users are those who use their voice all day, such as teachers, telemarketers, music ministers, etc. 

At this point in her career, she has the opportunity to educate others on the topic to which she has dedicated her life, while also treating patients from around the country.

As an undergraduate at Iowa State, Sandage studied English and Linguistics with the goal of becoming a lawyer but, as so many students do, she became uncertain if she was truly passionate about it. That uncertainty led her to take a career interest test with the University’s Counseling Services. Upon receiving the results, she discovered that one of the professions she matched best with was Speech-Language Pathology. Not knowing much about the field, but having previously studied singing in both high school and college, Sandage was elated to learn that the University of Iowa not only boasted a wonderful Speech-Language Pathology program but that it also provided a course curriculum track focused on voice. It seemed to be a perfect fit for Sandage, and her career has flourished since she was accepted. Sandage worked first for an outpatient clinic and later moved on to a nursing home before finally accepting her dream job at the University of Wisconsin where she started their professional voice rehab program. She continued this work for ten years before moving to Auburn after her husband accepted a position at Auburn University.

Sandage has spent a significant portion of her career focusing on the treatment of chronic cough. This condition might seem minor at first glance, but it becomes more glaring when you realize just how much can it affect a person’s life. Sandage explains, “These people don’t feel comfortable going out to the movies or to church anymore because people think they are contagious.” She has personally written or been involved with many publications on the topic and has presented her findings at several different conventions.

While the importance of Speech-Language Pathology cannot be understated, the field itself may seem foreign to those not closely related to it. Sandage describes Speech-Language Pathology as "a field that addresses both developing and rehabilitating the skills of speech, language, swallowing, voice, fluency, and cognition." While that may seem broad, Sandage's work is beginning to focus more and more on the specific needs of each individual. "Every client or patient you see is their own individual puzzle and it requires a great deal of problem-solving,” says Sandage. “For prospective students, I like to say, ‘If you like CSI or investigating to find out how things have come to be the way they are, that's part of what we do.'" 

Sandage has been fortunate enough to touch many people's lives with her work. One such instance she recalls was the case of a 4-month old infant living with the assistance of a tracheostomy tube. "When you have a tracheostomy tube and you're breathing through your neck, you can't make voice, but one way you can facilitate speech is with a speaking valve that allows air to travel through the mouth so that making voice is possible." With the use of the speaking valve, the parents of the 4-month old infant were able to hear their baby coo for the first time. "I can’t think of a single Speech-Language Pathologist who goes home and doesn’t think, ‘Wow, I made a difference today,’” says Sandage.

Written by Dillan Wright, a sophomore majoring in Professional and Public Writing and minoring in both Creative Writing and Philosophy and Religion.


Last Updated: June 15, 2018