I like to look at life by its phases. Everything we do in life comes by segmented beginnings and endings. For me and my journey in maneuvering the field of speech-language pathology, it is in its relatively early stages. It has been an incredible experience, and this is only the beginning. I may not know everything about the field, but I think it is important to take a step back to reflect on some significant moments that have carried me to this point in life.
Phase One: Exposure
I cannot count the times I have been asked what career I am pursuing, and after proudly saying speech-language pathology, I get a confused look and response of “what is that?” I usually take this opportunity to explain the spectrum of the field in a condensed version. It still catches me off guard when someone has no clue what speech-language pathology is, but I welcome the questions. I feel like I am bringing awareness to my future profession and am sharing my passion with others.
My exposure to speech-language pathology is unique. The school district I attended for nine years housed the county’s hearing impaired program, so we had the technology in the classrooms, and the presence of the speech-language pathologists was talked about more. I had always been fascinated by what the kids who received services were doing in their sessions, but I was bummed I could not get in on the action in the speech rooms. I was aware they were there. I knew they served a purpose. I wanted to know more.
Phase Two: Discovery
Fast forward to my high school years. I transferred to a medically-based and college-preparatory high school. We had to declare a targeted major almost immediately, but obviously, we could change paths along the way if things did not work out. I went in one day saying I was eventually going to become a speech-language pathologist, and on graduation day, I came out still saying the same thing.
I think the experience that solidified my decision was our graduation capstone assignment. It placed us in our chosen profession for forty shadow hours. I saw speech-language pathology in a new light, and I learned that a clinical setting was more of what I wanted over being in a school setting. Had it not been for this opportunity, I would have headed into a university program chasing a goal blindly with no point of comparison. Getting a first-hand experience early on was priceless, and I would recommend it to anyone who is still trying to define goals and aspirations better.
Phase Three: Growth and Experience
Undergrad is a funny time in life. Do not get me wrong; I love every minute of it, but it gets more than hectic at times. I transferred a substantial amount of credits, so I jumped right into speech-language pathology courses. To finally have classes for the major was exciting and something I had been looking forward to for a long time. For that excitement to precede me walking into a class again validated that I made the right career choice. I looked forward to going to class and learning all I could. The information clicked, and I embraced the challenges that came with the program.
Remember that hectic part I mentioned? Well, here it is. Everything was going great this past school year, until one day, and my voice had diminished. It was nothing new that I had lost my voice, but when it did not come back after a couple of days, I knew it was serious. After months of not having my voice and many doctor appointments later, I finally gained my voice back and learned I had functional dysphonia. I gained an entirely new perspective, and I know this happened for a reason: so, I can be a better clinician when the time comes. By gaining insight and understanding the frustrations that accompany voice and speech disorders, I can show my clients a level of empathy and communicate more efficiently with the family because of my personal experience with dealing with my journey with a voice disorder.
I will be starting my senior year come this fall. My undergrad experience at The University of Toledo has been better than I could have dreamed of. My professors have poured their hearts out to ensure we get the same feeling of excitement for speech-language pathology as they have. Their passion has rubbed off on us, and I can only hope I can do the same for students one day too. Being able to work on a research project with a professor this year was exciting and has provided me with yet another perspective and sparked my curiosity even more.
Phase Four: Planning
I am a Type A kind of person, so planning is a personality trait at this point. Most people begin applying for grad school during their senior year of undergrad. For me, this process started a little sooner. I knew The University of Toledo was my first choice, so when I found out I was eligible for early admission applications, I was beyond thrilled. My application was now due during my junior year, so this on top of my voice struggle, I had a lot to juggle. Challenge accepted!
The first step of my application was to take the GRE. Now, I do not know how one studies for a standardized test, so I did not. I know that was a risky move, but I knew whatever I got on my first try, that was as good as it was going to get for me. Going into the test on my scheduled day, I did not want any surprises, so I did take one practice test just to get the hang of the format, but as far as GRE prep books go, I did not crack one open. The ten days between taking the test and getting the results were some of the longest days. On the tenth day, I was so relieved to see that my writing and other scores were high enough for my hopeful grad program. That was one less obstacle standing in my way.
The deadline was approaching, so I began to meticulously compile my portfolio. My letter of intent went through multiple revisions to make sure it was as precise as I could get it. I spruced up my resume and made sure my letters of recommendation from various people were going to be submitted on time. Hitting send on the email that contained the door to my next phase of life felt incredible and scary all the same. The few weeks between submitting my application and hearing back went by even slower than waiting for my GRE results. For as long as I live, I will never forget the moment I found out I had been accepted into grad school. I was in a computer lab on campus with a few of my closest friends. The best thing about it was that I was not even expecting to find out at that time. It came out of the blue relative to the month-long wait we were told to expect. I opened my email as I normally did during my break and saw the subject line from my professor. I gasped at the words, “early decision graduate program.” My friends had tuned into what was happening and gathered around my computer as I clicked on the email. As I read it, my adrenaline was rushing, and my excitement was bursting. At that moment, I could celebrate being yet another step closer to seeing my dreams come true.
Phase Five: Making a Difference
I hope that by choosing this profession, I will be able to make a difference. My ultimate goal is to leave a lasting impact on this world, and by becoming a speech-language pathologist, I know I can. Communication is such an important aspect of our society. And without it, a person misses out on connections. To be able to contribute to someone’s rehabilitation to communicate better has to be one of the most rewarding experiences as a speech-language pathologist. It is the best of both worlds; we get to pursue our goals as professionals while helping others make strides to reach their speech goals.
They say choose a career you love, and you will never work a day. That is how I think I will feel even on the most trying of days. I know it will not be a bed of roses, but I hope I will be able to reflect on my career and see the same love, passion, and excitement I have now as a student. I never want to stop learning or get so comfortable that I lose sight of why I chose speech-language pathology to begin with.
I do not know what my future phases of life will consist of or look like. But, what I do know is this: I am going to absorb all of the information that I possibly can, pour my heart into my work, and make my dreams my reality.
Editor's Note: Want to hear more from Kayla? Check out her blog "Inquisitive Perspectives"