Jeannie was my first mentor when I started my career in adult speech therapy. She was so inspirational and set me firmly on my path into acquired neuro rehabilitation. My head was turned slightly by the chance to start some training in the field of head and neck (which is just so medical and exciting – having your fingers inside someone’s larynx is quite mind-blowing!) but Jeannie helped me develop my skills and love for the less glamorous but hugely rewarding work I do now.
I could not do an interview series without including her – I’m sure she is responsible for launching many careers over the years and I thank her from the bottom of my heart!
Can you tell me about your pathway into speech and language therapy as a career?
I grew up in the United States where my father was a maxillofacial surgeon and did a lot of work with a cleft palate team. He always spoke so highly about the speech therapists on the team and the work they did so that was a definite inspiration from my childhood. After earning a BA in child psychology I was still unsure about an actual career choice so checked out some possibilities, one of which was speech and language therapy. I still remember how helpful and encouraging the people in the Communication Disorders Department at the University of Minnesota were when I went to visit. That sealed the deal!
Tell me about a stand-out moment in your training as a speech therapist:
Probably a huge turning point for me was when our profession became so involved with the assessment and treatment of dysphagia. I learned to do modified barium swallows and never looked back!
What is your current role and what was the pathway to that role?
I’ve had a long and rewarding career spanning several decades and two continents. Although most of my work has been with adults, I also have accumulated a considerable amount of experience in paediatrics along the way. In the US I owned a private practice that provided services in many hospitals and facilities throughout the area. We also had an outpatient clinic. Since I came to the UK eleven years ago I have worked primarily as a dysphagia specialist in acute care and in neurorehabilitation. For the past two years I have been working in a variety of hospitals as a locum SLT. I love the fast pace and unique challenges of locum work.
What do you love most about your job?
The amazing combination of great colleagues and new clinical challenges is hard to beat!
What do you find the hardest about your job?
Leaving it – I know I will need to retire one of these days!
Who/what inspires you in your job?
Patients and families who are facing such difficult challenges with courage and positivity – they are truly inspirational.
What 3 top skills do you think are paramount in acquired neurology?
Can you share a funny SLT-related story?
Back in the US I once worked with an acquired brain injury patient who had been a lumberjack. We did a lot of cognitive communication work including some deductive reasoning “brain teasers”. Although he hadn’t even finished high school, he became incredibly good at them. At the end of each session I gave him several to do at home and one day when he returned he challenged me to do a particularly difficult one he had just completed as homework. I foolishly took him up on it and the glee on his face as I struggled to find the solution still makes me smile!
What job do you think you might have done, if not speech therapy?
Medicine – I actually considered going to medical school at one point when my two children were quite young but in the end I decided against it because my life was already way too hectic.
How do you relax/switch off from your job?
Travel, outdoor activities, and photography although most of all I love visiting my family in the USA twice a year.
Thank you Jeannie.