It’s graduation season and I can’t help but notice all of the brand new speech-language pathologists coming out of graduate programs across the country. What’s more is that I can’t help but be so happy for them! Here’s why: It seems as if it was just yesterday that I was a free spirited sophomore who decided to take a random class in phonetics. Little did I know this class would influence my life’s work. The class was taught by a young Ph.D., Gloria Weddington, who helped to focus me and, much to my mother’s delight, give me a purpose.
As a senior, Dr. Weddington took me to my first ASHA Convention where she introduced me to all the leaders in our profession. What impressed me most was how well liked and respected she was by everyone. She would introduce me to her colleagues as her “little student” who was going to be a great addition to our profession. She believed in me and I believed in myself. Once I received my master’s degree, I was ready to set the world on fire!
I vividly remember my first experience as an itinerant SLP in Los Angeles Unified School District. I was so eager and excited to have my first real job with my first real paycheck. I loved my schools and my kids and had a great master teacher who served as my CF supervisor. I enjoyed my work and continued to grow seizing every new opportunity that came my way. I absolutely loved my job! A few years later I left my very secure job to strike out on my own and opened a small private practice. I was the secretary, the receptionist, and the SLP, but most importantly, I was happy again. That was 35 years ago and I have never looked back. In fact, I discovered another side of myself, that as an entrepreneur who was able to develop and sustain a thriving private practice in Los Angeles.
Today, many of my friends and colleagues are happily retiring. I have to admit, I feel a little conflicted when I think of what it must be like to wake up each morning and to not having any professional responsibilities. However, I also can’t imagine life without my professional responsibilities, especially since there is so much more for me to do. The truth of the matter is that I feel as passionate today about our esteemed profession as I did when I was 24.
Young staff often ask me what’s my secret? It’s no secret–it’s living and learning from life’s experiences. I am approaching 40 years “young” in our great profession and here are seven lessons learned along the way that continue to feed my spirit and nourish my soul:
- Find a role model, a hero whom you admire, respect and trust. Listen, watch, and learn from him or her. If you are lucky they will be your mentor.
- Make your CF year count. Get the clinical supervision and support that you need to grow strong and healthy in our profession.
- Be willing to rebuild your dreams. Protect the joy and excitement that you experienced upon entering the profession. Remember there are no victims, just volunteers.
- Continue to grow, learn, and maintain high standards. Make it a priority to attend ASHA conventions or at the very least your state conferences. Learning is critical in our ever-changing profession
- Keep plenty of mirrors around. Look closely at whether the person you see is the person you really want to see. And, when in doubt refer to our ASHA Code of Ethics.
- Don’t burn bridges. You never know who you will need to give you that last cup of water.
- Have fun. There is always work to be done!
Congratulations and welcome to our great profession!
Pamela Wiley-Wells, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is the president of the Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center, Inc. and the founder of The Wiley Center, a 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to providing direct services and support to children with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities. The practice includes early intervention programs located in South Gate, Lawndale, Los Angeles, and Culver City as well as two satellite speech therapy clinics in Studio City and Downey. Wiley is a frequent lecturer on how to effectively deliver services to the increasing number of children diagnosed with ASDs who have social cognitive deficits. She has written several professional articles and has co-authored two therapy workbooks; Autism: Attacking Social Interaction Problems for children 4-9 and 10-12 years of age as well as a separate parent resource guide available in English and Spanish. You can follow her private practice on Facebook.