It’s All About Commitment This English-language learner struggled for years to become an SLP. Now she uses that persistence to help her clients. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   March 01, 2015
It’s All About Commitment
Author Notes
  • Chiao-fei Chang, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual clinician who works with people with swallowing difficulties and a variety of communcation disorders at inpatient and outpatient settings in Southern California. happyarianne@gmail.com
    Chiao-fei Chang, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual clinician who works with people with swallowing difficulties and a variety of communcation disorders at inpatient and outpatient settings in Southern California. happyarianne@gmail.com×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   March 01, 2015
It’s All About Commitment
The ASHA Leader, March 2015, Vol. 20, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.20032015.72
The ASHA Leader, March 2015, Vol. 20, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.20032015.72
I am keeping the promise I made to myself six months ago: If my patient regains the ability to swallow, I will write to The ASHA Leader to share my philosophy of “never give up.”
Speech-language pathology is a career I never thought that I would pursue, because I am an English-language learner. The first time I heard about the career, I was 19 and had just moved from Taiwan to the United States, as my parents wanted me to have better education and a better life. I had no idea what I wanted to study in college, but there was one idea that I was very sure about: I wanted to be a “therapist.” I could be a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a counselor, a psychologist or other helping professional, but I needed more information about each field.
I spoke with a physical therapist, who suggested speech-language pathology. She thought that I had the personality and patience to work with people and believed that speech-language pathologists would be in great need for many years. The minute I hung up the phone, I thought, “Are you kidding me? I don’t even speak English. How am I going to be an SLP?”
I started seriously considering the career when, as a college student completing my general education requirements, I did a lot of observation in skilled nursing facilities. I watched how physical therapists, occupational therapists and SLPs worked and interacted with their patients. I could easily figure out what PTs and OTs did with their patients, but I could never figure out what the SLPs were doing. A language barrier with medical terminology is one thing—but I never imagined that massaging a patient’s neck could be speech-language treatment.
Because of my rising interest, I decided I would take a couple of courses in communication disorders to see if I liked it. I assisted with interpretation during clinic sessions, and I fell in love with the field.
I almost gave up when I applied to graduate school, because I was not “qualified” for most of the programs. First, four years of English-learning experience was not strong enough to meet my patients’ needs. And because the program is so competitive, I felt I needed a 4.0 GPA to get in. I started taking courses in cultural and interpersonal communication to learn how to communicate with people with different backgrounds and to improve my GPA. I did not give up. Now, I am a medical SLP working in hospitals.
Oh! Back to my commitment: When I met her, my patient was in her early 20s and had been diagnosed as a child in her native China with a degenerative neuromuscular disease. She came to the U.S. to receive better medical care, and had been hospitalized many times for respiratory failure. She had a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube.
“I have begged the doctor for at least two years for a swallow evaluation because I really want to be able to eat noodles, dumplings and buns,” she told me when we met. I told her, “We will do everything we can together, even if we have to struggle.” We used traditional swallowing treatment, electrical stimulation and diet texture modification. We also worked with physical therapy to enhance her head and neck control and strengthen posture.
My patient is finally able to swallow after seven years of taking in nothing by mouth. I was not sure about the outcomes while working with her. But although she can’t eat “regular” food, she can have small portions of modified consistency. At least, this is a step up. Now, we are celebrating together. And, by the way, did I tell you I love my career?
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March 2015
Volume 20, Issue 3