The Many Hats of an SLP: A Letter to My Graduate School Self

It was 2015 and I was a brand new Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) fresh out of my clinical in a pediatric unit at a well-known hospital system in Virginia. I felt so fortunate that my clinical placement at this hospital lead to the opportunity for my first full time job as a Speech Language Pathologist. As a student, I was able to observe and work under some amazing SLPs. To this day, I can still call them for advice and to learn from as I grow within my profession and have new work experiences. I was able to work with families of very medically fragile children and my passion grew day by day to service these families. If I had known then what I know now about how versatile my career path would be I feel like I would have explored more while in graduate school.

I went to James Madison University for both undergraduate and graduate school and boy did I learn a lot while I was there. I was very focused on being a “medically based” Speech Language Pathologist that I honestly didn’t even explore other options. I did my clinicals at all medical placements; an amazing nursing home in Charlottesville, VA and then at the hospital system in Northern Virginia. It was at these two placements that I formed a passion for dysphagia, oral motor skills, articulation, language, voice; etc.

My first year at this hospital threw a lot of challenges. I averaged about 3 evaluations a day, new diagnoses that I had never heard of before, and worked with OT’s and PT’s that had over 30 years or more experience. To say I was self-conscious would be an understatement. I pushed myself that first year, not only to become more knowledgeable about the population I serviced but to also become more integrated and make a name for myself, as I was a part of this amazing interdisciplinary team. I didn’t realize at the time how much I could learn from not only the SLP’s at the hospital, but also how to really take advantage of the co-treat’s I was so fortunate to have with seasoned PT’s and OT’s. I was learning something new every day. It was an amazing experience.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2016, I was looking for a job here in Connecticut and I heard about KidSense Therapy Group from a patient of mine’s parent who was familiar with the area and had heard amazing things about this small private practice in Milford, CT. I looked up their website and saw all the smiling faces and decided to email them to see if I could at least get an interview.

To my surprise I was able to schedule an interview with Jenn & Amanda for a Thursday in September of 2016. I remember my interview vividly as well as touring the clinic and meeting all the staff. I immediately felt like this is the place I needed to be. It’s a feeling that is hard to explain. KidSense was the opposite of my medical experience, the layout was different, the approach was different, but somehow I knew that this was the next step in my career. I wanted to challenge myself and immerse myself out of my comfort zone to explore the private practice realm of this amazing profession; and boy am I so glad I did!

I was soon offered a job as two of our amazing SLP’s were going on maternity leave and I was taking over some of their caseload. I had never treated at a school setting, nor even looked at an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) before (or even knew what IEP stood for) so I had a lot of learning to do. I felt so incredibly supported by my team at KidSense that this scary transition to a school didn’t seem so scary anymore. Goal writing is different, evaluation writing is different, and even treatment plans are different. I had to learn all about navigating IEP’s; the lingo to use, how to create educationally based goals and objectives, and begin working with a new type of interdisciplinary team consisting of teachers, administration, social workers, school psychologists, and paras. To be completely honest, I was terrified. I had students on my caseload that had needs I had never treated before so I learned quickly that I needed to become more resourceful; not only with my KidSense team but also with all the amazing resources and continuing education courses out there. Bottom line, it is OKAY to ask questions, to be curious about how to target a specific skill within the school environment, and to go back to those textbooks you never thought you’d look at again from your years and years of studying to educate yourself once again on areas you’ve never had the experience to work on.

But the one thing that any SLP will tell you remains the same across all settings, is the fact that you are able to become a part of a child or adult’s life in such an amazing way. You are part of a support system whether it be for 6 months, a year, 3 years, etc where you are a crucial part of a family’s life for whatever it is you are targeting. Somewhere along my schooling I always viewed school-based services as just working on language or articulation. I wish I could go back and open up my eyes to what school-based services are really about. I am able to target functional social communication, feeding skills, help a student navigate new environments through strategies targeting executive functioning, work so closely with Occupational Therapists to help pair language to regulation strategies, the list goes on and on. I was always the SLP “on the other side” wondering how my patient was in school, and now I get the best of both worlds.

The diversity and variety of demographics that we are able to treat as SLP’s is something I feel so fortunate to be a part of. When I started at a school, I thought that I would lose some of my medical knowledge but this basis of knowledge helped me more than I thought. I was still able to treat a variety of needs at the clinic, but now my knowledge has expanded to helping students navigate their school environment, both socially and academically.

KidSense Therapy Group has opened up opportunities to work in an outplacement school, a public school setting, a clinic setting, and even the home setting of certain clients. We as Speech Language Pathologists are able to shift our treatments based on the environment we are in, which takes time, takes experiences, and takes learning.

So, to the Michelle in graduate school who wanted to “just” be a medically-based SLP, go explore all the amazing settings of Speech Language Pathologists. You’ll realize that over the years of treating and exploring all your options, you can become an SLP with many hats, and many passions, and you’ll be able to explore those day by day or even hour by hour!

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