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October 31, 2013

Speechie Evie Updates

So.... I've been absent from my blog for quite some time, but let me tell you... I've been quite productive in my small absence from my internet presence.  The great news is:


My career search began in mid-August, as my graduate school transcripts were processed and my degree was mailed.  To be honest, I wasn't quite sure where I was going to end up.  Ironically, the TN/Northern AL valley is kind of full of SLPs, probably due to the fact that a local university has a communication disorders program and routinely pumps out graduates to the region.  A saturated job market, coupled with employers hesitant to take on new CF clinicians made me quite nervous and frustrated.  About a month of solid job searching yielded only a few bites, but no concrete interviews, until I got wind of a position opening up within a local district.  I immediately applied, interviewed, and was offered the absolute job of my dreams.  Seriously.  It's as if my true purpose and calling finally found me. 

What's the gig? I am the new speech-language pathologist, CF-SLP, at a local intermediate school (4th, 5th, and 6th graders) and I am in heaven. It's only the one school, so I have minimal traveling... which I know is a luxury since I was used to traveling as an SLP-A from school to school to school and lugging therapy materials back and forth got seriously annoying.  My speech room is spacious and organized.  Here's what it looked like on my first day of getting settled in:

It's a start, right?

Cute, yes?  I added the lights on either side to soften some of the fluorescent, overhead lighting.  The room is so cozy and spacious! I have sinks! Can someone say... scripted/structured cooking and craft activities?!  My first few days at my new school were spent organizing, reviewing files and IEPs, and inventorying supplies.  Unfortunately, my new digs were light on Tx materials, but luckily I'd amassed quite a collection of things, either bought or made, during graduate school, so I had a good start for basic articulation, fluency, or language materials.

I packed my car to the hilt, drove to work on my second day, and.... it died. Right in front of the school in the child 'drop off' lane.  Embarrassing! I was so mortified, but luckily as it died, I was able to crank the wheel to the side and get my car to coast over to the side so people could get around me and still drop off their children.  The saddest part was that it would cost more to fix my car than it was worth... so... I did the next best thing:

I bought a new 2013 Toyota Camry. Right? New career, new life, new car! We had actually been thinking about upgrading my 2002 Ford Focus for awhile since she was dying a slow death, so we were ready to make the splurge on a new car for me.

After the new car issue was settled, I got to work in setting up and decorating my new speech room, and this is what I have so far:

What do you guys think?!  It's not finished yet but it is a start. I added curtains, a small rug under my work desk, a new comfy chair at my therapy table, fiesta papel picado banners, a bird theme with matching posters, and my colorful lamps. My students really seem to enjoy the space and so far my therapy, IEP's, and school events have gone quite smoothly in the month that I've been employed there.

Stay tuned for lots more to be shared about my new CF experience and setting up a new classroom! How do YOU set up a new classroom? Any tips or tricks for us newbies?  I'd like to compile a list of tips and tricks I thought of as I set up MY classroom, and I hope to start a 3-part series on new CF basics very soon.

July 25, 2013

Time To Celebrate

Time to celebrate!  It is hard to believe it... but today marked my very LAST day to be with my third and final externship.  Put a fork in me, I am D.O.N.E!  A lot of people have asked me lately what it feels like to be done, and a huge part of me wants to laugh (and cry) and respond "Done? I've only just begun!"  I once heard someone mention to me that once graduate school ends, the real learning begins, and I am growing to see that more and more, this is so true.

It's a scary thing to be done and not know what my next step will be.  I do know that my hands are tied for the immediate future in terms of job interviews, because it will take about a month for my degree to post to my transcript and I can't apply for licensure until that happens, so I am kind of in this weird, purgatory, SLP-CF holding pattern until the nitty gritty paperwork gets processed.  This is frustrating in a way, because I really want to start seeing what's out there, but I can't really get my wheels turning to do that until I am more closer to being able to say that my license is being processed.

This post goes out as sort of a 'thank you' to all those who helped make this dream a reality for me.  I remember four long years ago when I thought this moment might never come... and it finally has.  It has been marked with joy, sorrow, laughter, tears, determination, bitterness, excitement, frustration, and everything in-between.  Thank you to everyone, from the bottom of my heart, for standing beside me while I climbed this mountain of an academic adventure.  I've finally made it to the top!

June 30, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: The Future

So, what now?

This is the last question posed to me for my final graduate class in my communication disorders program. What now?  That's such a difficult question! The short answer is that I don't immediately know for sure what the future holds for me.  I do know that I am currently wrapping up my third and last externship with a private practice and I have extremely enjoyed the experience and things learned during my time there.  I've had some prospective job "leads" for a potential CF placement, but nothing concrete has been offered or solidified so I am kind of just in a waiting pattern at this point to see if anything pans out, and, if not, to continue the search for a job as soon as I graduate.  The very real truth is that graduate school is expensive and I need to start paying off some items and produce some income very soon.

Additionally, no matter if I'm offered a job or not, I've fallen into this weird, 'purgatory' holding pattern so that once I graduate, I cannot begin to work my CF position until my official transcript posts.  I'm not certain if this is something that I should have always known and just didn't discover it until very recently, but it is a very frustrating thing to graduate in August but yet wait until sometime in September for my official transcript to post.  On top of it posting, I must also apply for my license and wait for that transcript to make its way to the state licensing board (in my case, for Alabama, is ABESPA) so I must also wait on the mailing and processing logistics of that process!  In short, I don't know exactly when I can officially say I can start working, and that has made the interview process a very tricky one indeed! I do know that some classmates have been able to circumvent this process due to different state laws and regulations where they live. Additionally, f they are choosing to work in a school system, where emergency teaching licenses can be more easily procured, then the hiring process can be expedited more easily.

All those logistics aside, I am very excited to be one step closer to the final end of this journey! It has been filled with ups and downs, excitements and disappointments, but ultimately the path to becoming a speech-languge pathologist is something I would never reconsider. In the meantime, I will continue to raid yard sales, thrift stores, and any other means to collect items for therapy.  I will enjoy the process of becoming a CF clinician with patience, knowing that things always seem to work out the way they need to.

Online vs. Traditional Communication Disorders Graduate Programs

As I have progressed through my online communication disorders masters program with WKU, I often get asked why I chose the e-format for a program rather than go the traditional route. I wanted to take an opportunity to discuss my personal story about why I chose one format over another, and what that decision meant for me as I approach my official graduation date.  I hope that this reflection will serve as guidance to others out there who may face similar decisions to enter into the field of speech pathology.

To begin, I wasn't always on a path to become a speech-language pathologist.  As I graduated high school, I was heavily involved in the world of dance and thought that it would make an interesting career choice-- it certainly did!  I earned a bachelor's of fine arts (B.F.A.) from Western Kentucky University in dance and went on to choreograph and teach yoga.  Finding these elements satisfying yet financially limited, I entered the world of retail management and successfully worked for a mall chain retail store for many years.  My time spent managing a multi-million dollar store was one of the best times in my life; however, I always felt that there was something more out there for me that would make me feel like I was making a bigger difference in the world.  I found myself leaving retail, relocated to my hometown, and decided to weigh my options for a total change in gears to find something, anything, that would give me the personal satisfaction I was searching for.

Serendipitously, I was offered a position in a local elementary school as an SLP-A (speech-language pathology assistant) and was immediately impressed with the entire scope of the field.  I had never previously even heard of such a career-- I was hooked from day one and never looked back!  Within 6 months of working, I had made the decision to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

Here's the thing... I was working in the field (as an assistant) and didn't want to give up the position I was working in-- such good, tangible experience was being learned on the job... but I didn't live anywhere near a communication disorders program.  It would be at least an hour's worth of a drive to and from the nearest program to where I was living at the time. Add to that the fact that my previous degree was not in communication disorders, I had some catching up to do, which would have taken longer for me to complete. I began to assess my options, and was speechless to learn that there were online programs out there to enable others like myself to complete an accredited SLP masters degree 'from home.'  There were a lot of things to consider, such as (but not limited to):

Elements to consider when choosing a program:
Online or traditional
Length: 2 years or 3
Opportunities, such as research or assistantships
Reputation of the program
Is the program CAA accredited?
SLP graduate school is competitive, online programs add more options!

So what does it mean if a program is CAA accreditation? CAA stands for the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology and it is the entity within ASHA authorized to accredit graduate educational programs.

Student Perspectives on Distance Learning:
Below is a .jpg of the poster presentation that myself and a group of fellow classmates presented during our 2012 National ASHA Convention Poster presentation on the subject of distance learning:

Source: WKU ASHA CD Poster Contributors W. Wilson, J. Goble, E. Welte, and H. Hetler

Once I began to study online, I found that other peoples' perceptions of what online learning actually is can vary in many ways.  Some people think that online learning consists of "buying" your diploma, but it can't be further from the truth.  I also discovered that even those within the profession--other SLPs, even-- had various opinions and misgivings about online education.  I had the amazing opportunity at the 2012 Atlanta ASHA national convention to collaborate on a poster presentation to educate fellow professionals and dispel any myths about online learning. Here's a small sample of some of the 'myths' we attempted to squash during our presentation:

Myths about online programs:
Below is a .jpg of a handout that myself and a group of fellow classmates distributed during our 2012 National ASHA Convention Poster presentation on the subject of distance learning:
Source: WKU ASHA CD Poster Contributors W. Wilson, J. Goble, E. Welte, and H. Hetler

I'll save the bulk of this story for another post, but the first time I originally applied to a communication disorders graduate program, I was not accepted (remember, I said programs are competitive!) and so the following year I decided that applying to numerous online programs (I applied to 8 programs, 7 online and 1 within 50 miles of my location) would greatly increase my chances of completing my education.  This decision led me to do a lot of research on various national online SLP programs, so here is a list for your consideration:

Online CD Graduate Programs, any state resident
Western Kentucky University
Idaho State University
University of Northern Colorado
Nova Southeast University
University of Wyoming *some states excluded
California State University Northridge
East Carolina University
Longwood University
James Madison University

Online CD Graduate Programs, limited to in-state residents only
Texas Woman's University
Florida State University
University of Cincinnati (residents in OH, northern KY, and southeast IN)

Online CD Bachelors Programs
University of Wisconsin
Utah State University
Western Kentucky University (prerequisites only, no degree awarded)

ASHA used to utilize a web tool named EdFind, that allowed one to search all programs either online or campus-based, but they have changed the format, making this process a bit more challenging. The above list is by no means comprehensive, as I am quite certain that there are additional online/distance programs out there that I did not come across.  I hope to add to this list as programs become known to me.  I hope this is helpful information to anyone else who might be thinking of this type of exciting educational opportunity!

June 23, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Other Professions

Think about your medical externship(s) and the personnel with whom you interacted while you were there. Besides your supervisor, from which profession do you feel you learned the most and why (and how)?  What, if anything, did you learn about our profession while you were there and most importantly, what did you learn about yourself?  

I had the great fortune to complete my medical rotation as a student clinician with Kindred Big Springs Transitional Facility (and Rehabcare) in Huntsville, AL.  What an experience it was! I felt that I was learning something new every day I was there--from my supervisor to the related staff, my education was growing with every interaction! I was very nervous to begin this externship, but once I got the opportunity to jump in and get my feet wet, it was one of the more pleasurable externships that I've encountered.

While I was involved with Kindred, I had the great opportunity to interact and shadow various physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs).  There were several instances where the speech-langugae services would co-treat with others, such as PT or OT and those moments felt like magic!  It was so informative to see each professional bring to the table their knowledge and collaborate on how best to serve the needs of the patient they were co-treating at the time.  To keep things confidential, my interaction with a certain OT I will name "P" were some of the most informative moments of my externship! Even though my scope of practice involved other methods and focuses, watching P work her magic on a client to better position them for easier feeding or similar was something that I found to be really informative.  She patiently and skillfully described what she was doing, why she was doing, and what she was looking for, in terms of an end result--what an educational format for shared learning!

I feel that I equally learned the same amounts of information from both the OT and PT team since our weekly meetings were focused on sharing resources and knowledge with one another--something I found to be incredibly helpful to me as a student clinician.  I really marveled at skilled professionals who were able to take a step back from the bigger picture and admit "Hey, I am not quite sure what to make of this..." or "I'm not quite sure of what direction to head for my next session," and that really made an impression on me.  Not only does the learning continue well after formal education ends, but sometimes even a skilled and knowledgable clinician can admit to him/herself and the team that they need aid in finding the right future direction without worrying about ego.  This type of open-learning and sharing format was something that I felt made this facility a successful team.

I like to think that someday I will be in a position where I am comfortable and able to take on a new student clinician, like someone who is in my shoes currently, and offer them the same learning opportunities like I was given at Kindred.  I will definitely remember the format of sharing the how's, why's, and what's of how I am approaching clinical practices, since those key elements are what make up the core content for how things are done a certain way.  In this way, I hope to facilitate the education of future clinicians for our profession, just as I have been nurtured in my own experiences!

June 22, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Bootcamp

Our Web 10 students are coming to Bootcamp next week.  Think back to that time for you.  How did it or didn't it shape you?  Residential or campus students don't have an intensive training period like that. Is that good? Are there some aspects to intense clinical training that are better?  Do you think that you might have learned as much or more throughout the process had you been a traditional student?

My education has consisted of very specific elements: coursework (classes), an internship, and three externships. The communication disorders masters program at Western Kentucky University requires the attendance of all distance learning students at a program affectionately called "bootcamp."  This internship/bootcamp experience allows the faculty the ability to monitor and assess the clinical performances of their online students, and is specifically required before the registration of any home-based clinical externships.  Essentially, students are asked to relocate (temporarily) to the Bowling Green, KY area for approximately 6-8 weeks (depending on how much time the student prefers to 'settle in' to their home away from home). The actual clinic timeframe lasts approximately 5 weeks. Each student is given a mini-caseload (usually 2-3 clients, or more--depending on cohort size) and they must provide a summer's worth of treatment/therapy under the direct supervision of a CD WKU SLP. In short, it provides ample opportunity for students and faculty alike the experience of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the budding student clinician, with the focus on feedback and specific improvement in areas that need tweaking. For some, perhaps many students, this may be their first clinical experience, ever.

More information about the CD SLP WKU Bootcamp experience can be found here.

Best cohort, ever! WKU Web Cohort 9

My personal experience:
Every student creates an experience that is best for them and, if applicable, their families that have traveled to KY with them.  For example, some students who traveled with their family chose to live in an extended-stay housing unit. Some students sub-leased apartments. Since I was traveling alone, I decided (jointly, with fellow close students that I had previously befriended early in the program) that the cheapest and most economical decision would be to live in the campus dorms for approximately 7 weeks during bootcamp. Since a few of us opted to utilize the dorm, we made sure that our travel plans were coordinated so that we could arrive at the same time and procure rooms that were at least near each other so we could have the privacy of our rooms but be in close proximity in case we wanted to study or socialize together (can you say summer episodes of The Bachelorette?!)  This decision was made for a few reasons:  the dorms are close to the clinic and being on campus allowed me to be closer to events, I'd earned a previous on-campus degree (B.F.A. in performing arts) so I was very familiar with campus anyway--something that heavily influenced my decision to live on campus, and I'd just celebrated my very recent Disney World wedding a few weeks prior, so keeping things as frugal as possible was very important to me.   Also, since I lived very relatively close to Bowling Green (an easy three hour drive away), I had the luxury of bringing my car for all transportation needs--something fellow classmates who flew in were without, unless they utilized a car rental company.

Okay... dorm, check. Car, check. What else...? Another thing that was a positive for me was that since I'd once lived in Bowling Green, I'd made some very awesome life-long friends who still lived in the area, so the ability to reconnect and hang out with them over the summer was a treat!  It definitely made the sting of being away from home for so long much, much easier to manage. I also knew of the local tourist attractions, such as Mammoth Cave, and was able to take great advantage of such close proximity, so I got to make frequent visits to experience various tours offered.

An example of a therapy room at the WKU CEC Clinic

So, all that being said, the Bootcamp experience overall was one of many emotions.  Imagine people coming together from all parts of the world (...Yes, world! Another reason I love distance learning!) and then introducing them to a very stressful and unknown environment, while thrusting an insane amount of new procedures, policies, and paperwork upon them as they attempt to acclimate in some way without creating vast sense of dread and panic. Yeah, that's pretty much how Bootcamp operated, in a nutshell.  That's not to say that the experience was entirely negative--on the contrary, there were many elements to it that I found exhilarating and energizing! Here's a brief rundown of the good, the bad, and the neutral...

1. "Practice makes perfect." Bootcamp is a safe environment in which to place new, green clinicians in a controlled environment to practice the skills they've learned from textbook learning and transfer them into real, tangible practice.  I can't think of anything better to offer after a year of graduate curriculum. 

2. Classmates.  Since distance learning students don't have the luxury of seeing one another on a personal basis--unlike on-campus students--bootcamp was the perfect experience for us to finally meet one another. I think this experience is something I will reflect upon for the rest of my life with great positivity and enthusiasm!

3. Materials.  The CEC clinic was stocked with a multitude of therapy tools--more so than I had ever seen in my life (or probably ever will!).  I took advantage and spent several days pouring over the various materials that were housed in the therapy materials room.  It was magical and I felt like it was Christmas every time I opened a cabinet. It allowed me to "test" materials for free that I might one day want to purchase for myself during my own practices.  

1. Costs. Bootcamp is expensive.  Understandably so, anything that involves a temporary relocation can expect one to incur expenses.  I didn't place the cost in the 'cons' section because I don't believe it rightfully belongs there.  I expected Bootcamp to cost me--I just wished it wasn't as expensive as it was, but knew to prepare for it financially, nonetheless.  

2. Stress and anxiety.  Bootcamp is incredibly stressful!! We were given, essentially, one week to learn the basics of clinic paperwork and processes. I didn't place this in the 'con' section because I knew that bootcamp would be very stressful.  As it was with the cost/expenses mindset, I didn't place the anxiety/stress of Bootcamp in the 'cons' section because I fully expected it to be just that!

3. "Mine!!"  I mentioned above in the 'pros' section that the plethora of materials at hand was numerous, but there was one downside: not all the materials were complete, as several components to some games or card decks were missing essential pieces for whatever reason, in addition, it always seemed that some of the best games or materials were always coveted and even hidden away for future use by other clinicians (actually, there were only a very few that did this sneaky trick, so it really wasn't that big of a deal), making some tools very difficult to get your hands on!  I didn't list this in the 'cons' section because I always made do and found other means by which to complete my session, so most of the time it was just an "oh well" attitude if something I wanted was missing or already being used.  It mostly came down to how lucky your session timing was.  I discovered that earlier sessions in the morning = a better chance of snagging the item you wanted to use in therapy.

1. The hide 'n seek supervisor game.  While this is to be expected, since our supervisors were required to oversee so many of us--I totally get it--it was sometimes amusing to have to try to find them on particular days when it seemed like they would vanish from thin air.  I always tried to be respectful and only briefly take up my supervisors time by researching my question ahead of time, and offering a very succinct overview of the problem.  In all honesty, I confess that there were very limited moments in which I was unable to successfully find and with consult my supervisor.  I'd say the worst moments were in the final days of clinic, when everyone is scrambling to get their final evaluations and paperwork completed, but that is to be expected!

2. Low caseload numbers. All clinic numbers seem to dip lower in the summer months, due to families who travel or go on vacation, and this was no exception.  It meant that for myself and most of my classmates (there were a few exceptions), our caseloads were around 2-3 students.  At the time I felt that any more than that would make me go insane, but now I wish that I had had more clients, more time to practice, and more time to experiment and become familiar with conditions that were new to me, and higher caseload amounts would have helped with that.  I know the CEC clinic did the best they could, but I still left bootcamp wishing that I'd had more experiences.  More experience = more hours in the long run, equalling less to accrue in my following externships.

3. Class.  We were required to take one class over the summer semester: aphasia.  Luckily, it was only just the one class, but I really wished at the time that that class had been bumped back or shifted to another semester to allow for a total focus on Bootcamp over that summer.  Taking that class at the same time during bootcamp meant that we were required to come back to clinic on Monday evenings, which was nice to have a traditional on-campus class for once, but was really exhausting on top of everything else going on.  It also meant that I had to lug my class textbook and additional resources with me to KY. For me, that wasn't a big deal since I drove, but I could see it being even more annoying to those who flew and had limited bag space.  It just would have been easier to take an extra class in my last summer of the cohort (August 2013) rather than during bootcamp summer.

4. Football team.  The benefit of living in the dorms during bootcamp is that it is one of the cheapest options.  The con is that few dorms are open during the summer, meaning that those of us in the dorms had to share it with the WKU football team, which made for some very interesting moments. I definitely didn't enjoy that kind of loud and frantic living lifestyle at the age of 32!

5. High Hat.  During our bootcamp experience, we were also required to attend a local elementary school for a day of preschool interaction in the form of delivering a phonological awareness program called 'High Hat.'  We were broken up into small groups and were required to divvy up responsibilities to ensure that the curriculum of High Hat was offered to different groups of preschool-aged children.  In theory, this activity sounds amazing!  In practice, it was nothing short of a cluster-f.  Our instructions, at times, were vague, and the worst part of it was that if our day of interaction fell on a day when we had a client at the CEC building, we had to find a 'substitute clinician' to handle the session--which really aggravated me because we already had such little time to spend with our clients, and to hand the session over to a classmate, even for a day, meant that it was taking away from our own interactions.  It felt that just when we had built rapport with our new clients, we were being pulled away from them, even if only for a session/day.  I didn't mind the High Hat experience, per se, I really enjoyed it! I just wish the logistics of it had been better organized in a way that didn't sacrifice a client session or cause people to scramble desperately for a substitute therapist.

Do I feel that this type of intense training is effective? I think... yes, and no.  As I mentioned above, there were definitely major pros and cons to the intensive bootcamp clinical experience.  I think that most of us made the best out of a stressful experience to walk away from it with a positive attitude.  I know that there were moments that were incredibly frustrating, but I also know that no program or method is perfect and in many ways, bootcamp was the best way for some of us to jump in and get our feet wet.  I can certainly look back and say with certainty that I walked away with some majorly positive experiences. It is easy to reflect back and only think of the negatives of something, but I really felt that the WKU CD department was trying to offer up a valid, beginner-friendly clinical experience and I am confident that I got it in every way possible.  I can't say if I would have learned more or differently if I had gone the more traditional route because I choose the distance learning tract for the very reason that it offered a different delivery method to the clinic and curriculum experience.  I think every student has to weigh the options and choose the best option for them and their learning style... and for me, the distance learning/bootcamp experience has been exactly what I was hoping it would be.

June 21, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Burn Out

We talked about what you want in a career.  We talked about the options of work settings.  We talked about non-traditional and traditional settings.  There is no reason then for an SLP to burn out of the career.  But we do.  Why?  Are you someone who may be prone to burn-out?  If so, talk about what you can do to prevent or manage it if happens.

Burnout... it happens to the best of us.  This can truly be said about any job, in fact.  I experienced the sensation of burnout in my previous career as a retail store manager-- a job that left me stressed, exhausted, and unsatisfied in many ways, which I now see as a blessing since it was the catalyst that inspired me to find a career in speech-language pathology!

That being said, burnout is something that can occur in any setting, but I think as long as certain precautions are utilized, the effect of burnout can be minimized or eliminated in every way! As I mentioned above, I experienced major burnout in my first career as a retail manager after only 5 years in the profession... but I feel the requirements of the job were what contributed to my burnout levels, much more than my personal demeanor-- I am not typically someone who experiences that type of emotional negativity, so really attribute my burnout rate to the long and demanding hours required of a retail worker, the stresses involved in maintaining a multi-million dollar establishment, and the toils of negotiating the intricate details of a diverse staff.  I firmly believe that the job requirements were the elements that lead to my immediate burnout rate.

The key, for me at least, is that of time management.  Knowing that I will be entering a new profession that offers more manageable working hours is a blessing in and of itself! Unless I choose to, no more working nights and weekends! Woohoo!  In addition, depending on my location and employment setting, I can decide if I will "leave work at work" or bring it home with me--something I never had much of an opportunity to do in my previous career.  Being able to come home without bringing my work home with me, unless I choose to do so, is something I am very excited about.  In addition, since my new profession will allow me more advanced income opportunities, I can decide how rigorous or lax I want to be in how much I am working at the time.  Should I begin to feel stressed or overworked, I can choose to pull back and work a bit less, without such a monumental loss of income, as it was in my earlier retail life.  Sadly, in moments of extreme dissatisfaction, I found myself being pushed faster and further as a retail manager--there were simply no other options available to me.

I think the real message here in preventing me from becoming burnt out is that of empowerment.  I can make decisions on how much, how long, how hard, and what setting I choose to work, which gives me a great deal of wiggle room to make adjustments needed, should I begin to feel the pangs of burnout.  Honestly, with such a great variety offered in the SLP profession, I can easily see me moving on to a new setting with different populations and challenges, should I find myself hitting a professional crisis.  One must always self-evaluate how they are feeling in certain situations and make important and smart decisions on how to fix negative feelings, and this is no different.  Being an SLP means that I have many more options available to me should I ever feel burnt out, but something tells me that it would take a great deal for me to reach that mental status--this profession is just too interesting and diverse for burnout to last that long!

June 15, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Counseling

Counseling is a critical part of the SLP’s scope of practice but not a large part of the curriculum. Consequently, many of us however are not comfortable with this topic. Why is that and what can you do to feel comfortable with the interpersonal aspects of the profession?  Should the department and/or ASHA focus more on this topic?  If so, how?

Counseling is a considerable large portion of the profession-- moreso than I ever initially gave it credit for.  The field of speech-language pathology is so integrated with many elements that make the talent of counseling an important trait to have.  It is no easy feat to approach situations where breakdowns of communication or language are apparent, and the task of discussing those challenges are given to the SLP, especially with regard to informing caregivers and family members on what the bigger picture is, considering their loved ones. Consider the following hypothetical situations in which counseling is necessary and challenging:

1. A 56 year old man suffers a CVA (cerebral vascular accident) which damages his right frontal lobe, causing Broca's aphasia.  How would you approach the family members following an evaluation and assessment in terms of reporting abilities and limitations of his communication?

2. A 4 year old boy is seen for an assessment because of his severe unintelligibility and is determined to have childhood apraxia of speech. How would you counsel his family on this condition and what it means for his speech intelligibility (among other things)?

3.  An 86 year old woman is brought to a skilled nursing facility and her family wants her to be evaluated for signs of dementia.  How would you approach the family on how the assessment is to be performed and how will you counsel them if your findings do support evidences of dementia?

See? Counseling is important! As professionals, we are taken to task the important duty of communicating to our patients and their loved ones what the larger picture is with regard to their challenges and conditions.  I've often wished that our program offered a course on counseling but have really pondered how such a course would truly address this need for practice and refinement? Would we be asked to record a counseling session for critique?  Write papers on hypothetical situations and report how we'd approach them? Are projects like these truly reflective of what the true nature of counseling really is...? I mostly think not, which is why I think a class in counseling has yet to be offered-- it is such as refined skill. I believe that no coursework in the world will prepare you for the day that you have to just jump in, perform, and hope you've done your best. Luckily, I believe the profession of communication disorders attracts very compassionate and empathetic people--something I firmly believe any strong counselor will excel in.  Without empathy or understanding, the act of counseling would feel empty and heartless.

When I first began my early endeavors in this career, the act of counseling intimidated me. It still does, to a very large degree, partly because it is never an easy feat to tell someone that there is a problem, even if there are viable solutions.  "Difficult news" is never easy news.

I've been completing my final externship with a private practice, and this environment has offered the most opportunities for me to counsel patients and family members more than any other.  For now, I feel a strong senses of intimidation and waves of nerves wash through me.  What if the parent asks a difficult question that I have trouble answering?  What if I am unable to thoroughly explain the condition and areas of breakdown so that the family can better understand the situation?  How will I react if I am met by emotional outbursts by caregivers if I deliver less than good news?  All of these questions flood my senses as I approach the act of counseling, and I can only hope that time, experience, and practice can make me a better clinician in this regard.

I think the WKU program has done a fine job of integrating the subject of counseling into each class that is offered.  I don't think a separate class is needed--as mentioned before, I don't necessarily believe any project or class requirement would adequately simulate the real counseling experience.  Sometimes, it just takes real world practice and refinement to improve a skill, which is what I expect our externships to offer.  As they say... practice makes perfect!

June 9, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Satisfaction

At the beginning of class, we talked about what would make a person happy or satisfied in a position.  Often what brings you happiness is not directly related to your profession.  Some people need to work in an environment where there is great deal of professional autonomy while others want a direct line of authority and lots of layers of it.  I for example like having a start and finish. What do you want – interior hall, lots of windows, solo practice, teamwork, variety, continuity, change, stability, something new every day, routine?  I want you to think about the environment more than the specific duties. 

As always, I love questions like this one that cause me to stop, reflect, and consider what I truly desire for my professional life.  After much consideration, I've decided that the following elements are those that I consider to be paramount to my career and professional development.

I love teamwork, and I thrive on the ability to bounce my ideas and questions off of other professionals without a fear of embarrassment or intimidation.  I would feel most satisfied in a position where I was allowed, nay, encouraged to collaborate with my coworkers and fellow professionals.  While some people enjoy dancing to the beat of their own drum, I find that I am most creative when I am able to gleam insight from others in the profession (such as Pinterest).

Ideally, I'd like to find myself in a situation where I have my own little plot of space-- that is, in the form of a classroom or office. I know that sounds trivial, but I would feel that I would be a stronger clinician if I had a spot from which to store/house therapy items, quietly work on documentation, and collaborate with other professionals, if needed.  In short, I need some type of "home" for myself as a professional, for my materials and for my own sense of a space.

One of the reasons that I went into this profession was the fact that we tend to see so many different things, day in and day out.  I love the fact that in some instances, I never know what to expect.  That sense of unknown definitely helps to keep me on my toes, and that is something I think will be vital for me, to motivate me to constantly be on my guard, to not get complacent at times, and to consistently work with an open mind.

That being said, while I do like variety, I enjoy a routine in my life. I like to know what to expect and have a sense of a schedule that I am used to.  I don't really thrive in environments that are constantly changing to the point that I never know what to expect-- this sense of chaos really makes me feel uneasy as a professional.  I like to have a plan, organize, and be prepared... and a routine definitely aids in that endeavor!

June 8, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Social Media and SLPs

Facebook. Pinterest. Linked-In. YouTube. Twitter.....these and more have become a daily stop for people across the country (and world). Social media has grown and expanded from just being a way for people to keep in touch, but it's now an instrument for businesses, religious communities, politicians and professionals like speech-language pathologists.  Discuss the role of social media in your education.  Then talk about how (if?) you anticipate using it professionally.  Are there more disadvantages or advantages? What are the cautions for you, your clients, and the professions? 

I gotta admit... I have a love-hate relationship with social media.  On the one hand, I love the ways that social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter can be utilized to share ideas, collaborate, and stay connected with other like-minded professionals.  On the other hand, I can easily see how so many options to stay online and connected could become negative distractions.

The Good:
First, let's talk about the reasons why I love having an 'online presence' with regard to social media.  I absolutely LOVE the sense of community that social media can provide for those within the communication disorders profession. Additionally, since 100% of my Pre-SLP and graduate school work was completely online, I feel a large sense of my accomplishments were aided by having an online connection, namely through the use of a class cohort Facebook group.  This group proved to be incredibly important as myself and fellow classmates could collaborate on therapy ideas, ask questions and gain clarification on assignments, remind each other of important due dates, cheer each other on accomplishments, or just commiserate in our experiences.  I firmly feel that my academic performance was directly and positively impacted by my experiences within the FB group, something that is incredibly important for online students, since none of us had the luxury of what traditional students can take advantage of, in the form of direct classmate and professor interaction.

In addition, I used sites like Pinterest and followed helpful SLP bloggers (look under my favorite links for the ones I most frequent!) so that I could gather helpful therapy ideas, materials, and information relating to the field. Another heavily-utilized site was YouTube, in which professors were able to share videos of specific information that was relevant to the class topic; reversed, as online students, there were several assignments and projects which required the use of videotaping to show practiced skills or complete tasks required and YouTube was an easy way to upload and share such videos with fellow classmates and professors.  Also, as I prepare for graduation, the prospect of employment is always close to my mind, and I've approached the idea of presenting my experiences on the website LinkedIn to ensure that I am creating viable networking associations, just as many of my fellow classmates have done as well.  Last, this blog has been my latest endeavor to expand my sense of community within this profession by offering insights, resources, ideas, and everything in-between, and I love the feeling of having a venue to share my passion for the profession.

I honestly don't think that I would have even ever been able to continue my academic career without the aid of an online program--logistically, when I first began this endeavor, I didn't live anywhere near a communication disorders graduate program.  I was working in a school system as an SLP-A and wanted to continue my real-world experience without having to prematurely give up the position I was learning the most information from... and being an online student allowed me to do both at the same time.  Thank you, internet!

Last, I had the luxury of attending the 2012 Atlanta ASHA National Convention, and there was an overwhelming theme of social media promotion that I was astounded and excited to see (ASHA's social media information).  Participants were encouraged to tweet #SLPeeps and #ASHAConvention2012 to increase a sense of community and collaboration and I gotta admit, it sure was catching!

To recap, here's a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of social media outlets:

ASHA's Social Media Outlets:
ASHA Facebook
ASHA Community
ASHA's Pinterest Page
ASHA's Twitter

The Bad:
And now... the flip of the coin--why social media and too much internet can actually be a bad thing (in my opinion).  One word: distraction! I sometimes fear that the integration of so many social and online networks can create great distractions to proficiency and, perhaps, professionalism (more on that in a bit). I can't count how many times I've sat down to complete some honest, solid work on something, be it a class project, assignment, or even clinical preparations, only to get side-tracked by spending time on Pinterest or Facebook instead. Sometimes the internet seems like a black hole, where productive time just seems to get sucked in by all of the other means of entertainment.

Another area of concern is that of privacy, or on the other hand, overshare.  As clinicians, we must always ensure that we maintain an aura of professionalism and I think we have all heard the horror stories where people have accidentally overshared, or failed to realize what they were sharing was public rather than private, and ended up loosing their jobs, or worse, over social media gaffs and accidents.  The horror!  Posting personal photos to Facebook may seem like a good idea at the time, but one must always consider the notion that even the strictest of privacy settings is no guarantee that your words or actions won't reach the wrong hands, or eyes!  When in doubt, always err on the side of caution!

The Summary:
In short, I think social media and internet applications can be quite beneficial if used in the proper contexts.  As with any profession, great caution must be used in order to ensure that privacy measures are considered, time management is effective, and every interaction is as professional as possible.  I think anything in moderation is acceptable, provided that precautions are made accordingly with regard to the concerns I mentioned in the above 'bad' section.  It seems that everyone has an online presence nowadays, with websites for everything... schools, churches, businesses, etc. Social media has allowed many professionals to come together and collaborate when there once was a time when such practices were impossible, and I think that is always a good thing.

Speechie Evie's Social Media:

June 6, 2013

Thrifty Therapy

One of my favorite tools to use in the therapy setting is an iPad, mainly because it is lightweight, portable, enticing (to most), and it offers a multitude of apps that can be used to target specific goals and objectives.  In my experience, kids really enjoy the interactivity that certain apps add to a session, and adult clients are open to their use in most situations.

Photo source: Apple

As a new clinician with limited resources (that grad school is sure expensive!), I've developed a great way to build my pool of applications by utilizing the following apps-- sounds like a gimmick... apps that promote free apps! There are rumors that apple will be putting the squash on free app promotions, but for now, you can utilize the following to download free content to your apple device, but the catch is that most of the deals are only up for about 24 hours, meaning you will want to check on them every day.

For me, that's part of the fun, getting to check each day to see what apps are available for free, when they are normally downloaded at a cost!

App Price Drops
Apps Gone Free

These are just a few of the apps that promote other free apps, but the three listed above are the ones I use personally on a daily basis and their use has saved me significant amounts of $$! I've managed to snag some amazing steals with free Toca apps (this one being just an example-- there are TONS of them and they are all great to use as Tx supports,  or as reinforcers)!

June 4, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: The Big Nine

As we explore state licensure, we're going to talk about the difference between being able to practice (ASHA certification) and being allowed to practice (state teacher certification or state licensure).  ASHA wants to make sure that you understand that just because you have the CCC, that doesn't mean you should practice in every area of the field.  As of 8/31/13 (or 12/31/2013 for some), WKU is going to tell the world that you have speech-language-hearing competencies in nine areas.  

Given that just because you're recognized as being competent doesn't mean that you are, what are your thoughts? Do you feel competent to assess and treat each of the big nine across the lifespan? So feel free to replace 'competent' with 'confident'.  We all have strengths and weaknesses; ASHA wants to make sure that you know yours. 

Wow, what a though-provoking question! This question was asked of us students a while ago and I found that I needed some time to reflect on each of the "big nine" competencies and my ability to approach them, as it relates to being a future SLP and clinician. I think I am finally ready to summarize my competence in the areas that relate to the "big nine."

As graduate students, our mission in the world of academics is to synthesize, integrate, and familiarize ourselves with coursework, bookwork, and clinical work to become 'confident' in treating, as best we can as new clinicians (usually with direct supervision), clients who present with disorders or challenges with the any of big nine.

To begin, what are the "big nine?"  The nine areas that communication disorder clinicians should be fairly familiar with are the following, in no particular order:

Language: receptive and expressive
Dysphagia (swallowing)
Cognitive aspects of communication
Communication modalities (AAC)
Source: ASHA

So, now that we've listed what the nine competency areas are, let's delve into my personal feelings and attitudes about each of the 'big nine.'  First, I'd like to recognize an aspect of the reflection/question, mainly the portion of knowing that recognition of confidence doesn't always mean competency.

Let's get started.

I feel pretty solid about my skills as a clinician working on articulation needs.  My early beginnings as an SLP-A in a school setting really facilitated my understanding of how to evaluate and target speech sound disorders in multiple ways. Articulation is a topic that I feel pretty confident about and it is one of the major reasons why I decided to pursue this profession in the first place.  I feel confident and competent in this topic area.

Oh boy.  This is a subject that I am fascinated with, and have dabbled with very lightly in terms of evaluating and treatment, but it is an area that I want to become a stronger clinician in! Unfortunately, my career as a student clinician was very lacking in exposure to clients who stutter, which is understandably something that was uncontrollable by me or anyone else; I feel my desire and excitement to continue learning about stuttering makes up for my lack of experience in this subject matter, since this is definitely an area I want to excel in.

As with fluency, voice disorders were something I had little exposure to, but a topic that I am really interested in furthering my education and experiences in.  I had a great opportunity to shadow an SLP who worked in an ENT's office, performing modified barium swallow studies, FEES evaluations, and treated various voice disorders as needed.  This opportunity to shadow her was very beneficial to my learning; however,

Language: Receptive and Expressive
Ahhh, finally we hit an area that I feel both competent and confident in: language disorders. I take great satisfaction in assessing, evaluating, and treating language breakdowns and creatively coming up with ways in which I can draw and inspire improvement from the client in multiple forms.  As with articulation, my clinical foundation was established while I was an SLP-A within an elementary school, so naturally articulation and language disorders were our 'meat and potatoes' of therapy targets, and I feel that my early experience in this 'big nine' subject matter was truly shaped by some very skilled coworkers and supervisors.  What is the old saying...? Something like:  "I learned from the best."

This is an area I feel pretty neutral terms of my learning and experience. What I mean is that I feel like I have the basics down: I know the general anatomy and knowledge about hearing disorders and conditions, I can easily and quickly screen hearing using an audiometer, I know general information about most hearing aid models, and I know what it feels like to be hearing impaired firsthand (more on that for another post).  That being said, there are other areas and aspects of the hearing category that I don't quite feel competent or knowledgable about, such as auditory processing disorders, cochlear implants, and other aspects of hearing.

Dysphagia (Swallowing)
I feel good about my understanding of dysphagia.  I've had the pleasure of having a very skilled clinical supervisor who taught me many great techniques for treating dysphagia.  I also gleaned great knowledge from watching her use NMES devices (neuromuscular electrical stimulation), namely the VitalStim system.  I also had very positive experiences in learning different compensation techniques and caregiver/community awareness collaboration.  I know that there's a lot more for me to learn in this subject matter, but I feel confident that I've established a solid foundation from which to grow my experiences and knowledge.

Cognitive Aspects of Communication
Much like with language disorders, this area (also known as Cog-Ling... cognitive-linguistic aspects) is one area that I've had the fortunate experience of establishing a strong foundation with.  While I was externing with my sub-acute rehab center (the same one I was with that enhanced my knowledge of dysphagia, mentioned above), I was privvy to work with a multitude of clients who exhibited various needs in cog-ling therapy and evaluation.  I feel confident that further clinical applications in this area will bolster my competence (isn't that usually how it goes, though, with the two being so intertwined!).

Communication Modalities
I feel... less than confident in this area.  At most, I've dabbled with iPads as AAC devices, played with apps like Proloquo2Go and the like, and brushed up on some very basic ASL/SEE signs... but really, this is one category I need a lot of aid and support in!  Sometimes I think that our experiences as new clinicians are truly shaped by what we are exposed to... and in many cases, it just depends on how the stars align for what we get to become familiar with, so for me, AAC/Comm Modalities were definitely not in the stars.  This is one 'big nine' that I do not feel confident or competent with, but I do hope that my future work as a clinician will garner me some experience-- after all, we have to start from somewhere, right?

May 29, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post: Special Interest Groups

ASHA offers special interest groups. Review those on the ASHA website and suppose a kind soul were to pay for you to join-- which ones might you join, and why?  Might you tell the kind soul a gentle 'no thanks' and ask for something else... if so, what would you ask for and why do you feel that way?

Such an intriguing question, and one that I can answer quite easily-- I've been involved in NSSLHA (The National Student Speech-Language Hearing Association) for a few years now, and during that time, I've had the pleasure of joining several of the "SIG" special topics groups.  I've been asked many times during my student life if NSSLHA was worth joining (and I plan to do a full post on my opinions about NSSLHA and why, soon) and this is a great example of a positive benefit of being a member-- community, resources, and information readily available!

Overview of how to join an ASHA Special Interest Group
In-depth overview of each SIG by category
Already an ASHA/NSSLHA member? Click here to join a SIG!

So, back to the question at hand: yes.  Yes I would absolutely join a SIG (special interest group), since at the time of this blog post writing, I've been involved in the following Special Interest groups (at various times during my NSSLHA membership):

Sig 1: Language Learning and Education
Sig 3: Voice and Voice Disorders
Sig 4: Fluency and Fluency Disorders
Sig 9: Hearing and Hearing Disorders in Children 
Sig 13: Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders
Sig 18: Telepractice

Several of these SIG groups were picked because the topic was found to be extremely interesting to me as a future clinician:  specifically SIG 3, 4, and 13.  I joined the SIG groups 9 and 18 for different reasons...

Namely, SIG group 9 appealed to me because I am extremely hard of hearing (HOH) and have personal insight into aspects of the Deaf and HOH community.  I wear a behind-the-ear Phonak hearing aid that greatly increases my ability to function in this profession, and I understand the struggles that hearing challenged individuals face.

I joined the SIG group 18 because I've spent extensive time collaborating with a local private practice, The Center for Speech and Language of Huntsville, AL and the director approached me to gather insight as to if adding telepractice to her business would be of benefit.  After joining the SIG 18 group, I was able to really delve into the topic, collaborate with other professionals about the subject matter, and I was also able to attend numerous SIG 18 events held at the Atlanta 2012 ASHA Convention.  All in all, this SIG group membership was extremely helpful to both me and the practice!

I found SIG group 13 to be one that I was able to glean a great deal of insight from.  Dysphagia and swallowing disorders are topics that are very overwhelming to me, as a 'green' clinician in those topics, and the SIG group proved to be most helpful--especially when various professionals would share personal accounts and information about their practices.  It was very enlightening to me that even skilled, knowledgable clinicians sometimes need a "second opinion" or push in the right direction with regards to clinical applications. This sharing of knowledge was very insightful to me.

After reflecting about my involvement in the SIG groups, I discovered a pattern which explains some of my reasoning for joining the groups when I did, and, as a undergrad to graduate student who is about to soon graduate, I recommend new CD students consider the same process:

I first joined NSSLHA as a PRE-SLP undergraduate student.  At that time, I joined SIG group 9: Hearing Disorders (for personal reasons and motives) to see what the fuss was about and how the process worked.  As I began taking a class in language disorders, I then joined SIG group 1 (Language Disorders) for more information.  As a first semester SLP graduate student, I then joined SIG groups 3 while enrolled in my Voice Disorders class, again, to bolster my information collections.  I bet you can see the pattern... soon after, I was enrolled in Dysphagia and finally, Dysfluency... and as I approached those classes, I joined the appropriate SIG group to enhance the information I was collecting in classes.

In summary, I highly and strongly recommend that if you are a student (or professional, even!) and navigating your way through your courseload or clinic demands, decide which topics you will want to hone information on, and join a SIG group.

I promise, it will be the best $10 you've ever spent!

Better Hearing and Speech Month

As May comes to a close, I wanted to ensure that I made mention of one of my favorite moments of the year: Better Hearing and Speech Month! I love the new logo, the new look, and the new focus on professional advocacy and awareness.  I feel like I'm a bit late in posting about this event since the month of May is almost over, but better late than never, right?

One of the things I love most about the profession I am about to embark in, is that a large emphasis is placed upon SLP's to promote awareness to our communities.  This endeavor can take the form of information sharing, collaboration, screenings (sometimes offered free during this month), shared therapy materials, in-service lectures, etc.  ASHA maintains that the key to a successful BHSM is that "awareness is raised about communication disorders and to promote treatment that can improve the quality of life for those who experience problems with speaking, understanding, or hearing."

Here are some great resources to celebrate BHSM:

ASHA Flyer
BHSM Activities Booklet
BHSM Water Bottle Labels from The Speechie Freebie Blog
BHSM Bookmarks: Hearing Loss from Heather Speech Therapy Blog
BHSM Bookmarks: Voice from Heather Speech Therapy Blog
BHSM Bookmarks: Fluency from Heather Speech Therapy Blog
BHSM Bookmarks: Language from Heather Speech Therapy Blog
Lots of materials to promote BHSM month from Speech of
Who better to celebrate BHSM month than with Super Duper, Inc?
Cooking up good speech Blog has some great recipes to make SUCCESS cookies!
Check out what Pinterest has to share for BHSM

Since I got a late start to blogging about BHSM this year, I'm glad I can share a few fun tidbits with you and I hope that by this time next year, I can create my OWN fun freebies to share and promote within the SLP and communication disorder professional community!

Happy better hearing and speech month!