Speech Language Pathologist Helps Patients Talk Again -- and So Much More
Q&A with Amy Waite, CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist at Shepherd Center
Amy Waite, CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist at Shepherd Center for 17 years, grew up wanting to be a teacher. And though she’s never taught in a classroom, the Carthage, New York, native regularly employs expertise, patience, adaptability and humor – trademarks of great teachers – in her work.
As a speech language pathologist, Waite works with people who have cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders. Her work is both wide-ranging and part of a larger, patient-focused team that includes physiatrists, nurses, therapists and neuropsychologists.
Before talking with her about her job, we watched while Amy played cards with a patient – she often uses games to work on cognitive skills such as memory and reasoning.
Q: Watching you work, it’s clear being a speech language pathologist at Shepherd Center entails more than helping patients talk.
Of course, it includes voice work and work-ing on swallowing. But working on cognition is a huge thing here. We’ll work on paying attention, the foundation for thinking. Memory is next. You have to remember what I tell you for me to help you with anything. After that, we’ll work on judgement, reasoning, problem-solving, thought organization and executive functioning.
Q: What drew you to working with patient with brain injury?
I find the brain-behavior relationship fascinating. I’ve been doing this for almost 27 years, and I still get patients in situations where I say, “I’ve never seen that before.” I like the challenge of that.
Q: Working with patients at all levelsof cognition, how do you talk with families about progress?
I try to be positive, but honest. You can’t kill hope. But it’s cruel to give false hope. Truth is, I don’t know how things will turn out. Families and patients need to know this isn’t the end of the road. It’s going to get better. The hardest part is not knowing whether it’s going to be a little better or a lot.
Q: What's the most fulfilling part of your work?
When a patient comes back after they’ve been away for a while and they are animated and happy, that makes it worth it. When a person calls and says, “We’re having a baby” – they’re well enough to get married and have a baby – that makes it all worthwhile. When a person graduates from high school or college or goes back to work, that makes it worth it. I don’t need a thank you. I’m humbled by the chance to play whatever small role I played to get them back to the way of life they had.
Q: What is it like to work at Shepherd Center?
From the top down, Shepherd Center puts people first. It’s why we become therapists – to help people. I love the mission and vision of Shepherd Center, to put people first and do what’s best for them. We’re allowed to do everything we can to get people as far as we can. It’s more like family in that sense.
State University of New York, Plattsburgh
- B.A., Speech and Hearing Handicapped Education
- M.A., Speech and Hearing Science
OUTSIDE OF WORK
- Amy loves to travel. She’s visited six continents (Australia still awaits) and 46 states. “If I’m not on a trip, I’m planning a trip.”
- Amy calls herself “one cat short of being a full cat lady.” She has four.
Interview by Drew Jubera
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 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.