You're an SL- What?: Life as a Home Health SLP

Happy holiday season, my friends! I hope everyone is staying warm and cheerful and sane! For those of you who get a winter break, you're SO close! For those, like myself, who don't, just remember all the reasons we love what we do! My friend Abby is our next guest in the You're an SL-What? series to tell us all about home health. Her personal story of how she found this field is incredible! You'll be glad you're reading this one!

I am a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist in the state of Oklahoma. I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Oklahoma State University in 2013 and Master of Science degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Oklahoma State University in 2015 with a 4.0 GPA. I have experience working with both adult and pediatric populations in outpatient rehabilitation, inpatient rehabilitation, hospital, skilled nursing, home health care, and private practice settings. In my free time I volunteer with my therapy dog, Annee, to provide comfort, companionship, and joy to individuals in a variety of settings. I also enjoy volunteering my time as a counselor at Camp Sunrise, a camp for brain injury conquerors. In March of 2017 I officially opened my private practice, Advanced Therapy Solutions, LLC, where I work part time serving pediatrics and adults in the Stillwater, OK, community. In addition to my private practice, I work PRN at Stillwater Medical Center where I divide my time between Home Health, as well as inpatient rehabilitation and acute cure.

I learned about Speech-Language Pathology as an undergraduate attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I was interested in rehabilitation fields after recently being involved in a motor vehicle accident and suffering three fractured vertebrae in my neck and undergoing anterior cervical discectomy and fusion as well as posterior cervical fusion in 2009. I transferred to Oklahoma Stated University in January of 2011 and immediately fell in love with the undergraduate coursework. During my Intro to Communication Sciences and Disorders class my first semester at OSU we had a guest speaker come into our class, and she was discussing voice disorders and had mentioned spinal cord injuries as well as many other etiologies. At this time, it had been just over two years since my motor vehicle accident and I continued to have chronic difficulty with my voice and breathing that four doctors had dismissed as me being “out of shape” even though I exercised under the direction of athletic trainers multiple time per week at that time and was a member of a dance team.  After our guest speaker concluded her lecture I went up and talked to her at the end of the class, and she said could immediately hear it in my voice that something was not right. She referred me to an ENT and started me in voice therapy soon after for what I know now was right unilateral vocal cord paralysis. My voice improved significantly as a result of participation in speech therapy. Those two-and-a-half years that I could not speak loud enough to order in a restaurant or talk without running out of breath gave me a unique perspective that makes me a better therapist, as I know first-hand the impact that communication and swallowing disorders have on a person’s life. 

I have a pediatric and adult private practice, but I also spend close to half of my time seeing patient’s in their homes as a Speech-Language Pathologist for Stillwater Medical Center Home Health within a 50-mile radius of our home office.  In home health I work primarily with adults and geriatrics. Common diagnoses I work with include aphasia, dysphagia, dysarthria, cognitive-communicative disorders, and dementia. We have an outstanding collaborative team that includes nurses, aides, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists, and a social worker. 

The greatest challenge that I face working in home health is not having the support of other disciplines present in the home when you are there for a visit. You can’t walk into the hallway and get the assistance of a nurse or physical therapist when immediate support is needed, as you can in inpatient rehab or acute care. Home health is a field where multidisplinary education and knowledge are important because sometimes when the patient has immediate needs or concerns you take on roles that you normally wouldn’t because you are the only health care provider in a home. As a result, communication and team work are crucial in home health in order to provide out patients with the support and quality of care that they need to remain safe in their home and reach their personal goals. Another challenge, that I see as more of a benefit than a challenge, is having to perform therapy in the patient’s home with limited resources in comparison to your typical therapy environment. I enjoy the challenge and the opportunity for creativity to make therapy as functional as possible in the patient’s home. Being able to maximize the patient’s safety and functional independence in their home makes home health one of the most rewarding environments to work in. 

The greatest reward in my job is being able to be a part of a team that is helping people overcome some of the biggest obstacles they will every face through rehabilitation. I love being able to see improvements in my patient’s ability to communicate, eat and drink safely, and perform daily activities with increased safety and independence through their rehabilitation and regain their quality of life. Is it an amazing feeling to watch a patient meet a goal, and then continue to watch him/her make progress over time. Let me tell you how awesome it is to watch a patient go from having little to no words to speaking in short sentences, or not being able to eat or drink anything by mouth to being able to have a meal that they wished to be able safely eat for months prior to that time. It can bring tears to your eyes. I also find that working with individuals with dementia and their families is a rewarding population.  I frequently provide services to patients and caregivers of individuals with dementia that without the support wouldn’t be able to remain safe in their home, and I love educating and empowering these families and caregivers. Treatment primarily consists of caregiver education and training and establishment of external aids and strategies in the patient’s home environment, but these supports and strategies can make a world of difference for the families of these patients and can often be the deciding factor between whether the patient will be able to remain in their home or require placement in a higher level of care.   

If I could teach the world one thing about our field, it would be the diversity that we work with! I spread the word everywhere I can that Speech-Language Pathology is not all about speech, but encompasses every function that impacts our ability to communicate and swallow. As SLPs we graduate with a master’s degree and the training to work in any setting, but we also have the ability to specialize in the areas of our field that we have a passion for. This may mean working exclusively with children or adults, or for some this may mean specializing by disorder and providing interventions only for swallowing, voice, stuttering, or motor speech disorders. I am grateful that I have the opportunity and ability to stay educated and work in several diverse areas of our profession. Knowing that I am improving my patients’ quality of life and functioning with my interventions is the very reason I do what I do.

Thank you so much, Abby! I’m truly inspired by your personal experience with voice disorders as well as your vast experience as an SLP! You’re such an asset to our field!!

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