Switching Careers—and Continents Paula Leslie and her husband, Iain, celebrate their first Christmas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. If you had told Paula Leslie, when she was in her 20s, that she was going to be a U.S. speech-language pathologist specializing in swallowing, she wouldn’t have believed you. When she was 8 years old, ... In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   June 01, 2012
Switching Careers—and Continents
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.×
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Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   June 01, 2012
Switching Careers—and Continents
The ASHA Leader, June 2012, Vol. 17, 26. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.17072012.26
The ASHA Leader, June 2012, Vol. 17, 26. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.17072012.26
Paula Leslie and her husband, Iain, celebrate their first Christmas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
If you had told Paula Leslie, when she was in her 20s, that she was going to be a U.S. speech-language pathologist specializing in swallowing, she wouldn’t have believed you. When she was 8 years old, however, she might have believed that prediction.
“After I got over wanting to be an astronaut, I wanted to be a speech-language pathologist because my brother had trouble saying ’s,’ and I would go with him to therapy and help him at home,” says Leslie, who is now 45. “I thought it was a wonderful job!”
But as the years progressed, she got sidetracked. Growing up and going to school in London, Leslie excelled at science. She studied environmental science, planning to work for the Water Company, driving around the Lake District in a jeep and checking the waterways. But by the time she graduated, there was a hiring freeze. She ended up working as a paint technician—not her dream job.
She began contemplating her next move. After months of introspection, she had an epiphany over a pint in a pub.
“I knew I wanted out,” she said. “I was talking to my husband, trying to remember what I wanted to grow up to be when I was a kid, and then I remembered: a speech-language pathologist. I’ll never forget that night.”
Inspired by her paint job supervisor—whom she respected a great deal and who had a significant stutter—she set her sights on working in adult fluency. She began the degree program at Leeds Polytechnic in 1992. During her first term, however, she found herself in a seemingly endless sea of child development courses and had some serious doubts about her career leap (“I left my well-paying job for this?” she kept wondering. “What have I done?”). Luckily, she found two professors who specialized in fluency, took her under their wings, and assured her that she could pursue her goal to work with adults in fluency. She persevered through the pediatric courses and moved on to the fluency courses she wanted. Goal achieved, story over.
Or so she thought.
During her final year, she was mistakenly assigned a clinical placement in swallowing. It was a mistake because at that time, there were no dysphagia placements—the assignment should have been in aphasia. Although she found part of it appealing because she “likes food,” she admits dysphagia was not her thing at first because she’s “a bit squeamish.”
After graduating in 1995, Leslie went to work for Britain’s National Health Service, working in schools and hospitals. She worked with some adult fluency patients but had dysphagia cases as part of working with adult acute clients. By now the area was beginning to grow on her.
Leslie applied for a research post, was coaxed by her supervisors into pursuing her PhD, and slowly became entrenched in dysphagia. She also became interested in clinical education and helped develop a research program at the University of Newcastle to train advanced SLPs and otolaryngologists in voice and dysphagia.
“The idea was to take advanced clinicians and skill them up in research methodology to tie it into evidence-based practice,” she says. “Sometimes pure researchers aren’t always 100% in touch with clinically relevant questions.”
The program was a success and she continued to rise as an expert in both dysphagia and research. During a 2005 trip to the United States to attend ASHA’s annual convention, she presented a workshop with James Coyle from the University of Pittsburgh, which was launching a clinical doctorate in medical speech-language pathology. Would she be interested in working with them?
In short, yes, and now she and her “very accommodating” husband have settled in Pittsburgh, which she describes as an “absolutely funny, beautiful place that reminds me so much of northern England. I feel quite at home.”
Leslie is continuing her professional evolution, which involves studying palliative care and ethics. Ironically, now that she is stateside, she is familiarizing herself with the works of British philosophers.
But are they here to stay? Although she is happy with her new life in America—turning right on a red light still feels “naughty but great”—there are still a few adjustments she and her husband are making.
“All Brits have their most creative and inspired ideas while in a pub,” she says, thinking back to her original career change. “That’s why we all worry about coming to America—you all don’t have enough pubs!”
Contact Paula Leslie, PhD, FRCSLT, CCC-SLP, at pleslie@pitt.edu.
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June 2012
Volume 17, Issue 7