Entering the workforce after graduation can be intimidating, especially for new grad speech therapists, so use these 10 tips to confidently begin your career.
Beginning your career as a speech-language pathologist in any setting can be intimidating. You are embarking on a career where you will be constantly challenged. And in the face of those challenges, expertise and effectiveness are not only preferred, they are expected. Lucky for you, these 10 tips are available to help you keep your cool as you embark on this new and exciting journey.
1. New grad speech therapists might not land their dream jobs right out of graduate school, and that’s okay.
Sometimes landing the “perfect job” is more about chance than most of us care to admit. You often have to know the right people, and know those people at the right time. For now, focus on finding a position that is good enough. Maybe it’s a position in your second favorite setting or one located a town away from where you’d really like to live.
Once you gain experience, you can look for a better job. In the meantime, take advantage of each position you have. Say yes to all appealing opportunities that are offered to you (paid or unpaid) in order to advance your knowledge and skill set. Perhaps you can volunteer with an interesting organization or take a PRN position, if you’re looking to transition to a hospital. You may learn more about which clients you enjoy working with and you may find that the caseload you enjoy isn’t what you initially thought you would!
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
There is no way to learn everything about communication and swallowing disorders in two years of graduate school. It’s just not possible. We work with too large a variety of etiologies, ages, and settings.
Use your mentors and coworkers as resources, that’s what they are there for! Continue to be a consumer of research and take continuing education courses. Truly embrace the idea of being a lifelong learner. Nobody likes a know-it-all, anyway :)
3. Stay in touch with your graduate school friends.
The friends you have made in graduate school will serve as a great resource to you throughout your career. Lean on them when you have difficult cases. Bounce ideas off of them and use their expertise where yours is lacking.
They may bring a new perspective to your cases and may have some ideas for you that they’ve gained through their own individual post-graduate school experiences. Remember, they are learning just as much as you are at this time and their new knowledge is going to be different in some way, shape, or form.
4. Co-treat as much as possible.
Observe nurses, physical therapists, teachers, behavior therapists, paraprofessionals, music therapists, social workers, infant-toddler developmental specialists, occupational therapists, etc. There is so much information in our field that overlaps with other professions.
Absorb as much information as you can from allied professionals and strive to incorporate their skill set into your therapy. Take the time to discover how different people view and treat the same problem – this will make you a better clinician.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of forming friendships with your clients and their families.
You will find that your bedside manner is quite possibly equally, if not more, important than your clinical competence. Be open-minded and non-judgmental.
Share an appropriate amount of personal information in order to find commonalities with the clients and families you work with and be sure to listen when they share information with you, whether that information is related or unrelated to your therapy objectives. There are all kinds of different people in this world and you will meet quite a few of them!
6. Have some perspective.
We may think that giving our clients the ability to communicate or eat is the most important thing in their lives. And maybe some of our clients will agree that it is. Keep in mind that each of your clients as well as their family members are multi-faceted human beings complete with complex interpersonal relationships, individual stresses, and various other responsibilities.
You may be providing therapy for a child of a single mother who works multiple jobs in order to put food on the table. And her busy schedule and personal stresses are the reason she didn’t help her daughter complete the home articulation practice sheet you sent days ago.
Maybe your client was an all-star athlete 30 years ago. He may be struggling to accept his compromised mobility and may have significantly less concern about his ability to complete divergent naming tasks than his ability to build back the strength to complete activities of daily living.
7. Be easy on yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up if you are achieving more maintenance than progress with a client. You don’t have a magic wand (unfortunately). Patience is key. Each of your clients will develop and progress at different rates and there are so many other factors in addition to speech and language therapy that determine a client’s outcome. Your clients and their families will understand as long as it is evident that you are doing everything in your power to provide optimal services.
8. Notice and appreciate incremental improvements.
Notice these improvements in yourself, in your clients, in your career path, in everything. It is hugely important to be able to notice small improvements as well as communicate them to your clients and their families. The vast majority of clients we work with don’t have the same level of education specific to speech, language, and swallowing as we do. It may be more difficult for them to appreciate the minute advances in gesture acquisition or small improvements in the consistency of elicited swallows following stimulation.Did your client with autism demonstrate a novel play routine when his play is more frequently scripted and/or repetitive? Great! Explain to the family why this is a larger improvement than it seems.
Did your client with autism demonstrate a novel play routine when his play is more frequently scripted and/or repetitive? Great! Explain to the family why this is a larger improvement than it seems.
The ability to explain the importance of incremental improvements will help your clients gain confidence and believe in the power of speech and language therapy services.
9. Find a work/life balance.
Hopefully this is one you learned in graduate school, but if not, you will need this now more than ever. Do you like running? Join a weekly run club. More of a music person? Travel to concerts. Maybe you prefer binge-watching shows on Netflix. You get the idea: find something outside of your career that makes you happy and do it!
You will need regular mental breaks to avoid feeling burned out. Yes, we love what we do. Yes, we have one of the greatest careers in the world. But it’s still a job and you need to make time to find and appreciate YOU time.
10. You know more than you think you do.
Take a deep breath in. Let it out, slowly. Repeat. Feel better?
Be confident in your knowledge, graduate. Don’t underestimate the years upon years you spent absorbing and mastering all the information related to the disorders of communication and swallowing.
Just because you can’t know it all, doesn’t mean that you don’t already know a lot. You are a MASTER of science (or art)! You can do this.With the acquired knowledge from your undergraduate and graduate education, the support of those around you, as well as a caring and confident demeanor, you should feel emboldened to go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of your clients and their families.
You are embarking on a career that allows you to make a living while helping improve the lives of real people.
You will have difficult times, sure; but you will also have built-in reinforcements and reminders of why exactly we do what we do. You will see difficult clients make progress and you will have eternally grateful families for the time and effort put forth to care for their loved ones. Go out and enjoy the journey – it will be a great one!