Are you new to the Speech-Language Pathology profession? Or are you perhaps a soon-to be SLP in search of a graduate program, clinical fellowship or fully licensed position? Or maybe you are an experienced SLP in search of affirmation and renewed energy. Whatever your reason for stumbling onto this article, you will want to read my list of MUST-Dos for SLPs. As an SLP who has worked in a variety of clinical settings and who now must check the “forty-ish-something” box on questionnaires, applications, and telemarketer surveys, I feel that I have learned a thing or two about what is necessary in this profession. Not that I profess to know it all, by any means…in fact, with all of my…let’s just call it “ life experience,” I seem to keep learning how much there is to keep on learning. But I do have some advice for SLPs that is presented to you in my TOP TEN LIST. (Who doesn’t love a top ten list?) Many of the items on my list are things that I have, in fact, learned the hard way…it is what it is. Life is about learning the hard way, right? Except when we can learn from each other! So, please feel free to share this list with others, and also share additional MUSTS that you have learned; we all know there are more than ten MUST DOs in this profession!
Top 10 Must-Dos for SLPs
- Keep on Learning - yes, I just told you in my introduction that there are always lessons to be learned; definitely true. It is also true that graduate classes, textbooks, journal studies and seminars do not fully prepare you for real-world clinical situations. Expect to learn on the job. Your clinical style and professional skills will develop as you learn more about different populations, and as you gain individual experience with the people you meet. Also, take advantage of CEU opportunities — ongoing education is critical to developing skills that draw from the most current literature and best practices.
- Establish a Network of Support - some clinical settings in this field involve therapists traveling/working by themselves or in a building full of professionals that do not have the same background or knowledge-base that they do. It is critical that you establish a person or group of people to consult as you make clinical decisions and navigate your professional world. Your CFY Supervisor, Team Leader, or other colleagues will prove very useful during those times when you need to ask a question, relate an idea, confirm a decision, or just feel moral support.
- Build Online Connections - in these modern times, most professionals are turning to the internet and its veritable abundance of online resources. Beyond blogs, therapy supply companies and professional organizations, there are also many ways to connect with other professionals and resources. A few of my favorites? Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Speech-Language Forums. Yes, the advent of social media brought us new ways to form relationships and acquire knowledge! Start by checking out #SLPeeps on Twitter, or my Pinterest board for a glimpse at some of the online possibilities.
- Embrace Technology - You may know that I am a fan and proponent of using technology in speech-language therapy. Check out some of my posts for ideas and resources. I believe that interactive technology is the key to reaching clients in a motivating, meaningful way. You may want to save money or negotiate with your employer to purchase an iPad or similar device. Even if you can’t purchase an iPad, tablet or other interactive device, you will still want to learn about these types of resources. Every day, there appear to be more and more tech options and apps for speech-language therapy. You will want to learn how to discern appropriate clinical tools from the hype and hogwash. Check out Geek SLP, SpeechTechie, Speech Language Neighborhood, and ASHASphere for ideas, thoughtful reviews and recommendations about tech tools and apps to use in speech-language therapy.
- Stay Organized - Success as a clinician is critically balanced on the ability to remain organized in the busy world of documentation and caseload management. You will want to develop a system for maintaining pertinent information for each client, and for managing your schedule. I prefer to use online documentation and scheduling, available to me wherever I go via computer or mobile device. I use DropBox filesharing to securely and instantly transfer my documents between all of my devices. Whatever system you use, be vigilant about sticking with it…organization is more than half the secret to success!
- Be Confident (or Fake It!) - As an SLP, you will likely be responsible for making clinical decisions and eligibility or service-level determinations, and reporting therapy progress to a variety of other professionals. Family members and people from other disciplines or clinical settings (including those who do not know anything about speech-language therapy) may question you, pressure you or confront you as you make clinical decisions. You will need to develop confidence as a professional to deal with these situations. Rely on your supervisors or mentors for support when you need to, but otherwise remember that YOU are the trained service provider responsible for making the clinical decisions. Have faith in yourself, smile, breathe deeply, and learn from each experience. Developing confidence takes time…until you develop true confidence, you can Fake It Till You Make It!
- Create Professional Goals - Where do you see yourself in a year? Five years? Ten years? Think about it, and put those goals in writing. Committing to the goals in writing will create a mindset that can drive your day-to-day actionsand decisions. Even if you are in your CF year and feel overwhelmed just understanding the sometimes chaotic demands of your current position, you should have goals about where you want to go. If you don’t know where you want to go, you may be surprised to wake up one day and find that the ride continued while you weren’t paying attention…and you have arrived at the destination! Make sure YOU are in charge of your destination.
- Keep a Record of Your Accomplishments – Start a file for yourself that will hold any and all things that show accomplishment. Did you receive an email from a colleague thanking you for the resource you shared? Print it out and file it. Did you receive a positive letter from a client, family member or team member? FILE it; file it all. Keeping a record of your successes is not trivial or considered bragging — you should acknowledge your every success and embrace it. Bring your “Accomplishments” file to performance reviews and evaluations, or submit any letters of commendation when you apply for a new position or potential recognition. Keeping a file of your professional accomplishments is not silly; it’s smart and savvy. Do It Now.
- Find Your Passion –
Many Pretty muchall clinicians feel frustrated or discouraged by the demands of paperwork, meetings and large caseloads at some point in their earlycareers. How do you combat the frustration and weariness that can develop? Find your passion; focus on what you love. Ask yourself, “What types of duties do I most enjoy about my job?” Working with students who have autism? Performing modified barium swallow studies? Writing reports? Using those crafty-creative-DIY skills to plan innovative therapy activities? Think about your passions, and when you know what you like — make it happen on purpose. Focus on those preferred aspects of your job, developing your expertise and skill in the areas you most love. Seek out opportunities that will allow for more of what you love. You may still find it hard to balance what you enjoy with things about which you feel less-than-passionate, but the struggle is necessary for discovering who you are as a clinician. Soon you may have an idea of what you really want to do in life, and you can commit yourself to that idea (in writing! See #7.)
- Keep a Sense of Humor - What’s the saying…”Laughter is the best medicine?” Yes, that goes nicely with the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Do try to keep a sense of humor about challenges you face. You WILL make mistakes. You WILL second-guess yourself. You WILL NOT please everybody. You may not always love your job, even if you love what you do. Through all of the ups and downs, maintaining a sense of humor will serve you well and help you through some stressful times. Need a little help? Take a peek at the video in this post…it works every time.
Well there you have it; my experience in a nutshell…the secret to becoming a fabulous, successful clinician. Basically I recommend that you believe in yourself; go after your dreams — remember to learn voraciously, laugh deliberately, and LiveSpeakLove in all you do.