You’ve spent the last six years preparing for your clinical fellowship (CF), but the final phase to becoming a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist can still rack your nerves a little. Most approach the post-graduate experience with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. With plenty of preparation and a few tips, these 36 weeks of your life can also be incredibly exciting.
How can you maximize this final phase on your journey to becoming a full-fledged SLP?
Choose your adventure
Most SLPs are planners, so you likely entered grad school with a clear vision of the direction you wanted to take your career. But plans change. Perhaps you found your passion in a different practice setting or patient population.
Your CF allows you time to reflect on your clinical interests and preferred work environments. In addition, you can thoughtfully consider what kind of work inspires you. Do you want to treat language disorders in schools, provide rehabilitation in healthcare facilities, offering transgender voice modification in a private clinic or one of many other choices?
You don’t have to make a career-long commitment to a specific setting with your fellowship, but openings are competitive. SLPs demonstrating passion for particular positions often have an edge when applying and interviewing. Also keep in mind that employers know fellows make great permanent staff members—they understand the culture, have developed client relationships and know the routine.
Vet your mentor
Devote some time to finding CF opportunities that look good on paper and feel like a good fit. This experience could turn into a permanent job and is a major step toward certification, so it’s good to list your basic criteria.
For example, make sure:
- You’ll spend at least 80 percent of your time on activities related to client care and reporting.
- The setting provides plenty of opportunities to evaluate, habilitate and rehabilitate people with speech and language disorders.
- The employer previously mentored clinical fellows. An experienced mentor will make the process smoother and provide valuable insights.
- You understand—and agree with—employer policies and procedures regarding clinical fellows.
- Your employer understands state licensing standards and ASHA requirements for clinical fellowships.
You must do your due diligence to ensure the clinical fellowship mentor assigned to you meets ASHA’s standards. This means verifying the current certification status of your mentor through the ASHA Certification Verification system. There’s more to being a good mentor than strong qualifications, however. Get to know your mentor and find out what you can expect and what will be expected of you.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions:
- What’s your previous supervisory experience?
- What does CF mentorship mean to you?
- Will you be mentoring other fellows? If so, will this effect the amount of time I spend with you?
Keep it real
A CF is an exciting and stimulating experience, but while adjusting you might feel frustration or insecurity. Below, we assembled words of wisdom from SLPs who figured out how to survive and thrive during their CF year:
- Give yourself a break. You’re leaving the safety of your SLP program and heading into a new environment. You might encounter several challenges in an unfamiliar filing system or finding your way to the cafeteria. Relax, take a deep breath, and understand you won’t know—and won’t be expected to know—everything on the first day. Ask questions and get to know your new colleagues.
- Maintain a healthy work-life balance. You might want to put in serious overtime during your CF, but too much work and not enough downtime won’t help you in the long run. Keep stress levels in check. Maintaining a good work-life balance ultimately makes us better SLPs.
- Fake it till you make it. You’re new and confidence levels aren’t exactly soaring. Still, your patients are looking to you as a knowledgeable professional. Don’t let self-doubt get the best of you. Remember how hard you worked to get here.
- Don’t forget why you’re here. Paperwork, interruptions and busy colleagues may make it difficult to focus on why you’re there. Never forget your most important role is providing clients with your best services.
- Don’t hesitate to ask. Ask questions and ask more questions. Write down answers and refer to your notes. A CF is a learning process, so questions are expected.
Rebecca Turley is the lead staff writer for SpeechPathologyGraduatePrograms.org, a dedicated SLP resource for graduate program options, state licensing requirements and more. info@SpeechPathologyGraduatePrograms.org