It’s hard to believe I’ve been an SLP for 38 years! For most of that time, I’ve worked in an acute-care pediatric setting. I’m employed at the Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando, where I provide pediatric/neonatal swallowing and feeding services for multiple acute-care services, including neonatal intensive care, pediatric intensive care, newborn nursery, general pediatrics, oncology, epilepsy, ears, nose and throat, gastrointestinal, congenital heart surgery, plastics, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Thinking on my feet, but carefully considering both the evidence base and interdisciplinary perspectives, is a must every day.
Sometimes people ask me: What are you passionate about? What drives you?
I am passionate about the neonatal intensive care unit and our tiny patients. Being a part of this wonderful team and fostering the parent-infant relationship through supporting safe and successful feeding continues to fill my heart with joy after all these years. I am a lifelong learner and am passionate about creating opportunities to learn from physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, my rehab colleagues and the families I serve.
Are you interested in working with these tiny and fragile patients? If so, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you like to solve a puzzle? Problem-solving is essential in acute care! Critically thinking about a patient’s medical history and co-morbidities, then looking at the data and making sense of the information is key. Is the infant/child safe to feed? If so, what is the best approach? How can the child best communicate? What is interfering?
- Are you passionate about evidence-based practice? Physicians want to know why you are recommending what you are and what evidence there is to back it up. Sometimes the highest level of evidence is our clinical experience and wisdom. But we need to be aware of what hard evidence exists and bring it to the physicians.
- Do you work best in a team setting? Looking at the critically ill child works best in the context of multiple perspectives. Physician specialists, bedside nursing, respiratory therapists, dieticians and our rehab colleagues bring information that helps us make better clinical decisions. Through team interactions, we jointly problem-solve.
- Do change and unpredictability give you a buzz? Some days we need rollerskates! The day can change quickly with new consults, children being discharged, and changes in the patients we are treating. Being ready for change and staying focused are key to riding the wave.
- Are you well-grounded in normal and atypical development? This knowledge allows us to problem-solve and recognize what symptoms deserve our focus. Experience in birth-to-3 is invaluable for preparing to become a pediatric acute-care SLP.
Do the traits above sound like you? If you are thinking about moving into acute-care pediatrics, stay tuned for more to guide you on your journey!
Catherine S. Shaker, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, works in acute care/inpatient pediatrics at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando. She offers seminars on a variety of neonatal/pediatric swallowing/feeding topics across the country. Follow her at www.Shaker4SwallowingandFeeding.com or email her at email@example.com.