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A Letter to My Younger SLP-Self: 5 SLP Lessons

Dear Phuong,

You just walked out of your first graduate school class, and you’re on your own in Badger country.  You are 22, and I, on the other hand, exist 16 years later as the 39-year-old version of you.   You are about to dive into your chosen profession as a speech-language pathologist, and today I am in the thick of it.  To the right of me is a four-inch stack of paperwork.  To the left of me is a file containing information for a (not yet written) report.  And, on this chilly day in Austin, I have thoughts of you.    I have 43 minutes before a client walks through the door.  So, listen up.   Here are 5 SLP lessons:

1. Learn

You don’t know what you’re doing….yet.   With time and experience, it will get easier.  Then, something new will pop up, and you’ll be back at square one feeling unskilled.  Remember, this field is based on continual learning.  Be transparent with what you know, seek out the experts, listen and learn.  Then, when you have the opportunity to be the expert, share your knowledge openly and kindly.

2. Mistakes are Expected

I have yet to meet a colleague who has not made an error.  Mistakes are expected, and my internship year is blatant proof.  Oh, the sea of red I used to see on my reports that inaugural year.  Here’s what you do when this happens:  own up to the blunder, find out what to do differently next time and make it right.  The mistake is not the error.  Rather, it’s how you recover and how you treat others (and yourself) along the way.

3. Student/Client Centered

You have chosen to put your efforts in a profession that supports fellow humans. This means effective speech-language therapy sessions are built on a foundation of human needs.  Sure, you’re learning about research, strategies and data right now.  That’s only half of the work.  You need to honor the whole client.  Here’s the thing.  You will not necessarily learn these skills in school.  Instead, seek the professionals who are well respected and loved.  See how they interact with others—honoring the heart, choosing to see strengths in others, finding the solutions?  Do the same thing.

4. Seek Help

I see independent-you.  Here’s the thing.  Getting help is okay, and, at times, it’s the only solution.  In about four years, Phuong, your life will change.  Má will pass away during your CF internship year.  Many will offer to help, and you will decline.  You eventually learn to accept help, and a similar fate happens a decade later.  This time, you allow colleagues and friends to support you, and the efforts will astound you.  Seek help and then accept it.  And, I promise, you’ll do your fair share of helping others, too.

5. You Do YOU

I know that you are constantly telling yourself that you should (fill in skill) just like (fill in name of someone else).  There’s only one you, and the only book for how you should/could/need to be can only be written by your brain and heart.  You are emotional.  So, use that power to connect with your families.  You love hip-hop.  So, use that passion in your sessions.  You love books.  Use them as your medium to build communication.  When you are comfortable with being the best version of you, I promise that’s when everything will align.


That’s all the SLP lessons I have for you.  Okay, many years later you will still be particular with time management.  I have three minutes left, and sweet Sammy will walk through the door.  And, you know what’s going to happen?  He will see you and say, “Ms. Phuong!  I’m going to find my sounds!”  His mother, Nada, will smile.  She just called you this week to thank you for your efforts.  A year ago, Sammy was working hard to put two words together, and our efforts have been impactful.

So, dear Phuong, you are about to enter the best profession.   Sure, there will be hard days.  And, there will be days where you are making an impact—it’s all the days that you are a speech-language pathologist.

Written by: phuonglienpalafox

13 Comments on “A Letter to My Younger SLP-Self: 5 SLP Lessons”

  1. January 4, 2018 at 6:13 pm #

    Just what I needed to hear heading into the new year and into my second half of my CF. Thank you, Phuong!!

    • January 5, 2018 at 12:11 am #

      Britni,

      I’m glad the message brought you some comfort. You’re in the midst of a hard, hard year. It will all be worthwhile. Think of how much you have already learned in the last few months. You got this, SLP! Take care, Phuong.

  2. January 4, 2018 at 6:23 pm #

    Phuong, What an inspiring piece! It is moving, and a profound lesson to us all. I have never forgotten your presentation/performance at the ASHA summer institute in New Orleans – thank you once again for making a difference!

    • January 5, 2018 at 12:16 am #

      Hi Aletta,

      Thanks for the kind words. I will say that my lessons came slowly, and time has given me perspective. ASHA Connect was really meaningful to me this past year. The IGNITE session was a testament to my family’s efforts. I’m glad it resonated with you, and thank YOU for making a continual difference. Much love, Phuong.

  3. January 5, 2018 at 7:53 am #

    I deeply love this and am so glad you are sharing this thoughtful message with all of those in our field, not only our newest members. We all have something to learn here. Keep changing the world, friend!

    • January 5, 2018 at 9:38 am #

      Kathy! Kathy! I was thinking about you this morning. I talk about finding those in the profession who are loved. Then, I learn from those SLP Lights. This was/is YOU. I have said it to your big smile, I have said it to colleagues, I have said it to strangers I talk to at Trader Joe’s–you are my thought leader, friend. So, you’re right. We all have something to learn here–together. Love, Phuong.

  4. Anne-Marie January 5, 2018 at 8:09 am #

    Thank you Phuong for these gentle reflections of why we became speech language pathologists in the first place & the skills that are needed but are not officially taught in our graduate programs. I have seen many times qualified & knowledgeable clinicians (both new & well seasoned) inadvertently lose the quin essential human connection component which is so important to our profession. There will always be an overwhelming amount of paperwork, time constraints, work/caseloads & “productivity” mandates regularly thrown in our direction but in the end all of that stuff eventually gets done. The focal point of everything we do as SLPs should always continue to remain to provide knowledgeable & compassionate instruction, assistance & guidance our clients/patients & their families/caregivers. Thank you again for your 5 SLP lessons. They have truly resounded with me.

    • January 5, 2018 at 9:47 am #

      Hi Anne-Marie,

      I loved what you said–“knowledgeable & compassionate.” We use our brain and our heart to guide and support. Thank you for the kind words. We’ll keep working, Anne-Marie. As SLPs, we are changing the world–one speech session at a time. Take care, Phuong.

  5. January 5, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

    Phuong,
    I love this!! #5, “You do YOU,” resonated most with me. When I was in graduate school and during my CF year, I felt like I was trying to emulate others. It is through this journey I continue to be on, I keep learning that the best sessions and best interactions are when I’m authentically me. Thank you for sharing your gentle reflections and for sparking my own!

    • January 5, 2018 at 1:03 pm #

      Kelly,

      You do YOU, SLP! I, too, was a victim to emulation. The toughest part was that I would think “less than” of myself. In reality, what set me apart has become my SLP Superpowers. So, Kelly, let’s sooooooooaaaaaaarrrrrrr! – Phuong

  6. January 6, 2018 at 8:25 pm #

    Yes, ma’am, the clarity of hindsight is awesome. Ability to open the eyes of others, as well, is talent.

  7. April 23, 2019 at 10:23 pm #

    Great insight! I’m glad I stumbled upon this because I wanted to share that your speech at the ASHA connect conference was really inspiring. I had already loved that song and your speech brought new meaning to the song for me. I like to listen to it in the morning as I’m driving to work :D.

    • April 25, 2019 at 9:13 pm #

      Hi Tanya! Thank you so much. It was truly an honor to be on that stage, and that moment meant a lot to me. The SONG fuels my days, too. I appreciate you reaching out. Take care, Phuong.

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