Even ‘Experts’ Can Learn More Clinicians who are open to new information can optimize their clients’ outcomes. Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   December 01, 2016
Even ‘Experts’ Can Learn More
Author Notes
  • Kristin Rodgers, MS, CCC-SLP, is a hospital and home health clinician in Oklahoma City, specializing in adult cognitive impairments. She also has worked in a bilingual private practice. kristin.c.slp@gmail.com
    Kristin Rodgers, MS, CCC-SLP, is a hospital and home health clinician in Oklahoma City, specializing in adult cognitive impairments. She also has worked in a bilingual private practice. kristin.c.slp@gmail.com×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   December 01, 2016
Even ‘Experts’ Can Learn More
The ASHA Leader, December 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21122016.32
The ASHA Leader, December 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21122016.32
As a newly graduated speech-language pathologist, I felt that my brain was oozing with knowledge and information I couldn’t wait to share. I pictured myself reviewing handouts with patients, explaining strategies to families and caregivers, and fielding questions or concerns.
Occasionally I’d think, “What if I’m asked something to which I don’t know the answer?” But then I’d think, “Surely as an expert I’ll be able to respond with something.”
Shortly after taking my first job, I realized this concern would become an occasional reality. One day a parent asked something that utterly stumped me. But how could this be—aren’t I an expert?
I began to realize that it’s unrealistic to think that experts know everything. I decided to find a way to balance being an expert with being a learner. The answer was teachability.
Recognize limitations
Teachability is the capacity to recognize limitations while actively seeking guidance, advice and information to fill those gaps. In one sense, being teachable is being a listener. A patient once told me, “Knowledge has a big mouth, while wisdom has big ears.” A person who is teachable—or a “teachable expert,” as I like to say—participates in collective learning, exchanging and using information. They are prepared to admit ignorance, but will simultaneously accept responsibility to discover more information.
What does that look like professionally? Here is an example. The mother of a fluency client became concerned that her son was starting to demonstrate vocal tics at home. She asked me why these tics started and what she could do to fix them. In that moment, I was as baffled as she was. I told her I wasn’t sure, but that I would do my best to find out and talk to her about it.
By doing some research and consulting with experts within and outside of my discipline, I was able to learn helpful information and share solutions with her—an outcome directly related to my willingness to admit that I needed more information.
To be teachable does not reflect on a person’s skill level or level of expertise. To become a teachable expert, you need to ditch the idea that experts can’t openly say that they do not know something. After all, effective, evidence-based treatment does not develop in a vacuum, but rather within a community that is constantly growing in response to the needs of our patients and families. I consider myself a teachable expert in speech-language pathology because of three things: what other experts have taught me, what I teach myself, and what I am open to learn.

To become a teachable expert, you need to ditch the idea that experts can’t openly say that they do not know something.

Make a choice
Being teachable is a choice. It involves acknowledging three concepts in your life and your practice:
  • Recognize and admit your limitations.

  • Create pathways for learning.

  • Surround yourself with credible people who can share their knowledge with you.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to follow these principles is to connect myself with people who know more than I do, especially in an area of expertise different than mine.
One of ASHA’s objectives is to “advance interprofessional education and interprofessional collaborative practice.” By collaborating with experts in other fields, you can improve patient care and learn concepts related to health care on a larger scale.
This willingness to collaborate helped me with the boy who developed vocal tics. Although this problem had a communication component, it was too complex to address solely through speech-language treatment. I asked for help from our occupational therapist and psychologist.

I’ve found within my own workplace and clinical practice that teachability results in increased evidence-based care for patients and their families.

As the three of us conferred, the psychologist contributed information from a behavioral standpoint and the OT suggested modifying the stimulus associated with the tics. I had never been a part of this type of group analysis and differential diagnosis. Our interprofessional collaboration yielded a probable cause and possible solution, which turned out to be correct. I still use information I learned in that meeting with other patients.
You can use interprofessional collaboration to promote teachability by passing along research articles to colleagues, visiting local conferences together, or even sharing great finds online.
I’ve found within my own workplace and clinical practice that teachability results in increased evidence-based care for patients and their families. Teachability follows all three pillars of evidence-based practice (clinical expertise, best current evidence, client values), but is especially synchronous with making clinical decisions based on “external scientific evidence.” It can be easy to forget the importance of learning once you are an established clinician. It can become habit to base our decisions on what we’ve done in the past—which isn’t always a bad thing—but sometimes, we need to make decisions based on new information. Create pathways for information to reach you from all directions, not just from personal experience.
By following the steps to teachability and using them across therapy types, you will be able to care for your patients more effectively and become a more well-rounded clinician. Create an environment within your workplace, clinic room and yourself that fosters teachability.
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December 2016
Volume 21, Issue 12