Shepherd Center Shines the Spotlight on Speech-Language Pathology to Mark Better Hearing and Speech Month
By Tracey Wallace, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIST
Speech-Language Pathologist, Shepherd Center
Each May, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), the national professional, scientific and credentialing organization for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists, celebrates Better Hearing & Speech Month. The celebration is an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and the role of professionals providing treatment. Shepherd Center joins in the celebration by shining the spotlight on speech therapy services at Shepherd Center in this blog post.
Challenging. Rewarding. Inspiring.
These words come to mind when describing my job as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) working with patients with acquired brain injury (ABI) at Shepherd Center. Growing up, I always knew I would choose a profession that involved helping others, but I didn’t realize just how fulfilling my career choice would be.
Challenges help us grow, learn and build strength. The challenges presented to healthcare providers working in brain injury rehabilitation are often directly related to the very hardships experienced by patients. For example, patients with ABI may experience changes in their physical and cognitive functioning that can affect their independence and limit their participation in activities that are important to them. In addition, some patients may have added barriers, such as other medical conditions, hearing or vision loss, behavioral changes, limited caregiver or financial support, or difficulty understanding their deficits and how therapy can help.
SLPs at Shepherd Center work as part of an interdisciplinary team of rehabilitation professionals to help patients and their families overcome these challenges. As primary care providers for cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders, SLPs evaluate and treat impairments in skills, including: language (i.e., the understanding or use of spoken or written language); cognition (i.e., thinking skills including memory, attention and problem-solving); and speech, voice and swallowing (i.e., the ability to safely consume liquids and solids).
SLPs work with patients and their families to determine how deficits in these areas affect functioning in their daily lives. They provide speech therapy aimed at helping patients rebuild their lives and return to their desired social and vocational roles by improving skills and learning to compensate for deficits. Speech therapy may take place in group sessions and on community outings in addition to individual speech therapy sessions. Group sessions and outings can be ideal settings to work on communication and can provide the opportunity for peer modeling and feedback, as well as the opportunity to practice skills in a more real-world-like setting.
Accomplishment in the face of challenges often leads to immense feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment, which are shared with the patient and family. I feel extremely proud of my patients as I watch them overcome obstacles, and I share their joy as they see progress and achieve their goals.
Some of my favorite moments include: hearing a patient – whose brain injury affected his ability to talk – be able to say “I love you” to his wife for the first time since his injury; watching a parent read a story to her child after working hard to relearn to read after her injury; and enjoying a steak lunch with a patient who previously could not chew well enough to eat his favorite foods.
It’s also incredible to receive updates from former patients as they continue to reach their life goals, such as graduating from college or returning to work. Over the years, I have enjoyed making connections with these amazing people and have learned so much from the patients and families I have known.
Working at Shepherd Center has permitted me to meet some of the best of the best in ABI rehabilitation. I have had the opportunity to work with top-notch medical and rehabilitation staff, as well as to collaborate with leaders in the field at universities and at other prestigious healthcare organizations. I am, and continue to be, inspired by the wisdom, passion and spirit of these dedicated ABI rehabilitation specialists. However, even more so, I am in awe of the patients and families who fight so hard to overcome insurmountable obstacles and show time and time again that sometimes the impossible is possible.
I am fortunate to work among greatness and to have a job that allows me to give and get so much in return.
Tracey Wallace is a speech-language pathologist at Shepherd Center. She has worked at Shepherd Center since 2002. Tracey provides speech therapy to patients center-wide and has worked extensively in the post-acute acquired brain injury rehabilitation program, Shepherd Pathways. She is a Certified Brain Injury Specialist Trainer and has published and lectured nationally on outcomes, functional interventions and the use of technology in rehabilitation for brain injury.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.