What Students Should Know About Becoming a Specialized Medical SLP

Students pursuing careers in speech-language pathology likely know about the medical side of the industry, along with the common career paths medical SLPs can take. However, not all newcomers are aware that becoming a general medical SLP is an option. Many also don’t have an understanding of what that entails. 

Jessica Durkovich, the most recent guest on The Missing Link for SLPs podcast, works in an intensive care unit. She’s been in the medical field for quite some time, and her knowledge and skill set is that of a general medical SLP. During the latest episode, she offered some takeaways for those considering this route.

It’s a Group Effort

One of the main aspects of working in an ICU that Jessica repeatedly emphasized is this: It’s a team effort. SLPs can’t expect to go it alone in a hospital setting, especially not when they’re working with critical-care patients. 

Building trust with the other SLPs and the physicians, nurses, and therapists on your team allows you to streamline the treatment process. That often leads to better results for the patients and improved policies in your unit.

Creativity Is Required

Intensive care SLPs often work with patients on ventilators, and thus, they need to get creative when it comes to communication. Depending where each patient is physically and cognitively, SLPs might use writing and other objects to communicate with their clients. Whether it’s on paper, using yes/no prompts, through head-nodding and head-shaking, or with technology, giving patients a voice is an important part of the job.

Being Proactive Is Better Than Being Reactive

Traditionally, medicine has been treated as reactive, where doctors address patient needs after they’ve reached a breaking point. Something Jessica and her colleagues are working on — and would like to see all SLPs embrace — is being proactive. They’re taking the steps to ensure that those in their care are receiving treatment that decreases the risk of ICU-acquired weakness and cognitive difficulties later on.

The Challenges and Rewards Are Great

For medical SLPs working in a hospital setting — and especially those working in ICUs — there are huge challenges and rewards. 

Now that COVID-19 has become so prevalent, intensive care SLPs must cope with the obstacles that accompany it. Not only are many professionals losing more of their patients, but they’re often providing them with the only face-to-face contact they receive. That can be difficult to navigate, and it can take a toll on the SLPs tasked with serving these patients. 

Of course, working in an ICU can be as rewarding as it is challenging. Watching patients who were unable to speak use their voice for the first time, or helping them go from NPO to eating solid food, serves as a reminder of why many of us chose to become SLPs. These success stories demonstrate the good medical SLPs do in others’ lives. For many, that’s worth the obstacles they need to overcome.

Want to learn more about Jessica and her journey to becoming an SLP? Listen to her and Mattie chat on The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast.

Did you know Mattie provides coaching to SLPs? Learn more here.

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