Dear Grad Student Me,
I am writing you this letter with the hope you won’t worry so much. I doubt you’ll listen—as you memorize the cranial nerves with some clever video—but I implore you to at least skim this letter.
I know you’re focused—I mean really focused—on your perfect PRAXIS score goals, buying the ultimate study guide books and landing your dream clinical fellowship (CF) job. You cram endless hours of studying into a schedule that includes reading books, listening to lectures, and observing and holding clinic. I wish you could see how it’s all important, but not to sweat the details. Here’s what I wish I’d known:
- Don’t take offense to language like “emerging skills.” We all start as beginners. It takes months and years to develop a protocol, diagnosis and treatment skills, and the ability to make it enjoyable for the patient. You want to pay attention to the patient as a person, not just a list of data. So when your supervisor qualifies your skills as “emerging,” don’t get offended. You need practice to become the funny, superstar clinician the children call “Peach Teach!”
- The world won’t end if you don’t get the CF placement you want. I remember begging the stars to help me land the perfect job. “Why wouldn’t they want me?!” As it turned out, I felt lucky to get a placement with my desired age range of clients. Everything I learned was invaluable. I feel comfortable treating all types of patients because I experienced so much beyond my intended focus. Just get your license and gain as much knowledge as you can—not only about patient care, but about teamwork as well.
- You will never really know everything. I’m sorry, but you won’t. I know you think you are the gift to the communication sciences and disorders world because your GRE was pristine and your letter of intent was the best ever written. The truth is, we all continue to learn. You should always keep up with new approaches to ensure you give your clients the best treatment. Patients trust you to do your due diligence. This is one reason continuing education remains mandatory and not just encouraged. I know 30 hours of CEUs might seem daunting, but those hours are worth it when you use what you learn with your patients.
- Professors are people, too. Right now you might feel like they’re robots, created to judge, quiz and dole out crazy punishments for you: “For your final exam in fluency, write everything you know about stuttering. You have one hour.” Those professors and supervisors become lifelong colleagues and friends. They expect a lot from you because they want you to succeed. They have families and problems too, yet they come to work each day and answer every last question you ask. Take time to tell each one “thank you,” because they really want you to become the best.
- You’re not an island. If I learned one thing, it’s to ask for help occasionally. I do my best to find the right answers when I don’t know, but I’m not afraid to ask a colleague. Start with the Facebook group: Speech Pathologists at Large. Sometimes patients come up with the best solutions, so if you struggle to find a homework compliance plan, ask your client what she thinks! She might surprise you.
I know it seems like you give up everything just to make sure you spend your all your waking hours poring over “An Advanced Review of Speech-Language Pathology.” However, putting in this effort really pays off. Do your best to balance family, friends, work and school. You’ll look back and feel so glad you did.
Future You, MS, CCC-SLP
Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is an SLP and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech-language treatment in her private practice, a tempo voice center, and lectures on vocal health to area choirs and students. She also launched a business, Voice Diagnostix, that provides mobile videostroboscopy and fiberoptic endoscopic evaluations of swallowing. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders. Knickerbocker blogs on her website and developed a line of kid-friendly treatment materials specifically for voice. Follow her on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram or like her on Facebook. firstname.lastname@example.org