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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.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. I will be starting the graduate distance learning program at WKU this month and I have already wondering what to expect from bootcamp. I appreciate having some inside knowledge on what will be going on and what to expect. Have you mentioned these cons to anyone at WKU or do you know if any changes have been made?

  2. Great questions! This blog and post were part of a class I took for the CD department at WKU. Not only was this feedback given to my professor at the time, but was also shared with the department upon graduation-- they are always accepting of constructive feedback to make the experience better for newer students!