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.

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