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Journey to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

How did you become a speech-language pathologist? I've heard this question dozens of times so here is the story.


My grandfather's NYU tie clip I wore at my Texas Tech graduation ceremony.

My senior year of high school I took an anatomy and physiology class and enjoyed every part of learning about the human body. Understanding the capabilities and adaptations human bodies, notably the brain, intrigued me. I didn't entertain the idea of medical school but a physicians assistant sounded like a good alternative. Then I'd have to work holidays, and I knew I wanted to spend that time with my family...


"What else do you enjoy?"


I completed numerous volunteer activities with children and underserved populations, leaving completely satisfied. So naturally I thought, maybe something in a school, like a teacher! Yes, a teacher. But I wanted something more...


Now I was driving up to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (GO BADGERS!) with my two career plans, PA or a teacher. My mother was insistent on scheduling a meeting with my academic advisor a month before my first semester at college! I was so embarrassed. Nevertheless, my mother, Virginia, my academic advisor, and I met for a one-hour appointment where she asked me, maybe, 8-questions and led me to the discovery of the field of speech-language pathology.


Signing to the University of Wisconsin

She insisted I take the introductory course to "see what you think about it before deciding on a career." Further, she recommended going through the school of education so many of my credits would go toward education, pending I decided a teacher was the better direction for me. That first semester introductory course to speech pathology left me thirsty for more. I was already seeking to meet the professors and researches, to which Madison had plenty, registering for extra-curricular/volunteer opportunities within the department, and signing-up for NSSLHA (National Student Speech Language Hearing Association).



After graduation from Madison and entering into my master's program at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center (WRECK 'EM!), I now had to make other big decisions-what population I wanted to work with, where I wanted to work, where were my skills would be best used, etc. HARD questions, y'all. I didn't know, I genuinely enjoyed all of it! Some things were much easier and natural for me, which has benefits, and other things were more challenging, which also has benefits. By graduation and my final internship with amazing mentors at the University hospital, I decided I wanted to go the medical route.



Unfortunately, I was unable to complete many of the medical/hospital job applications I found because they were not accepting CFY (i.e., a clinical fellowship year). I was often found in the predicament of "do I lie during the application when they ask 'number of years experience' to make it to the next screen?" or "Tell the truth and realize you're not a qualified applicant for the position?" If you know me at all, the latter didn't sit well with me. I tried calling the facility at various times of the day to speak to an SLP or rehab manager, but to no avail. "The mailbox is full." Sigh.


I had unbelievably talented SLP mentor during my internship at a Level 1 trauma unit who gave me sage advice. "Call and ask for a PT. Once you get them, ask them to get you the manager." I received an Skype interview and accepted my first job at an OP clinic working with survivors of various neurological and developmental injuries across the entire age range. I then transitioned into the IP unit with intermittent acute care. From there I have entrenched my studies in various areas of feeding/swallowing, literacy, pediatrics and adults, and almost anything else you can think of. I love learning and helping others, so to find a field that lets me do both, is like hitting the jackpot!



I will be forever grateful for that academic advisor and my mother for introducing me to and learning me more about the field of speech-language pathology. It is my PASSION and brings me much joy on the daily. The relationships with clients and families is second to none. The opportunities for new learning, growth, and variety is vast.


I can sincerely say "I love what I do," and mean it.

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Leigh Harter Speech Services, PLLC © 2019 by Leigh Harter, CCC-SLP