Practice Perfect Barbara Samuels didn’t become an SLP until her 40s. Now she’s 90 and still takes on new clients. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   September 01, 2017
Practice Perfect
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / School-Based Settings / Healthcare Settings / Practice Management / Professional Issues & Training / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   September 01, 2017
Practice Perfect
The ASHA Leader, September 2017, Vol. 22, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22092017.26
The ASHA Leader, September 2017, Vol. 22, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22092017.26
Name: Barbara Samuels, MA, CCC-SLP
Title: Private practitioner
Hometown: Los Angeles
Reaching a 90th birthday is no longer unusual, but the setting in which Barbara Samuels just celebrated hers is. The speech-language pathologist toasted her big day at the American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology (AAPPSPA) annual conference in Cincinnati. She attended the AAPPSPA event this year—even though it was over her birthday—as she has nearly every year for the past 40-plus years.
Samuels not only attends the conferences, she served as president of the academy in 1986–1987 and 1993–1995, after she had served as treasurer and president of the California Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Private Practice.
After her conference and birthday fun, Samuels was headed home to Los Angeles—but not to rest or relax. Her first week back, Samuels saw her regular patients—around 15 hours of treatment per week, plus related paperwork—and she began the evaluation process for a new client, a 59-year-old woman with swallowing difficulties. That’s right, Samuels took on a new client just after her 90th birthday.
“I will not retire until I determine—or someone else determines—that I’m no longer able to do the job effectively,” she says, rather matter-of-factly.
Nearly 50 years ago, when Samuels’ two daughters were teenagers, she decided to finish her undergraduate degree—she had finished two years of college right after high school—and pursue a career. Her husband pushed her to become a teacher like he was, so they could share summers off. She followed his plan until she had an asthma attack one weekend on a family camping trip.

“I will not retire until I determine—or someone else determines—that I’m no longer able to do the job effectively.”

She hadn’t experienced an attack in years and was telling a friend—who was also a psychologist—about the scary evening. He told Samuels he suspected stress caused her attack. Samuels considered this and realized she felt stressed about becoming a teacher. Plus, teaching didn’t really interest her.
To figure out what did interest her, she took a career aptitude test. The test yielded two strong options: a nun and an SLP.
“I’m Jewish!” Samuels says. “Obviously, I needed to investigate speech-language pathology.”
After talking about the profession with the head of the department at California State University, Northridge, where she was taking classes, Samuels liked what she heard and took her first communication sciences and disorders class. Within three years of that conversation, she finished her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and began her clinical fellowship (CF) in 1972.
Samuels’ intent from the beginning was to run a small private practice. She wanted time to spend with her family and vacation with her husband during his summers off.
The practice Samuels started two years later was never exactly small, however. Her first client was a local Kaiser Permanente hospital where she had done her CF. Soon her reputation earned her several other medical and skilled nursing facility contracts.
The multiple contracts became too much to cover on her own, so Samuels started hiring other SLPs and administrative staff. At the time, it made economic sense to buy a small building instead of renting office space, an arrangement that allowed her to expand even further. For example, Samuels received many queries about how to help people with hearing loss, so she turned her building’s garage into a hearing center and hired an audiologist.
This growth continued for more than 20 years, with Samuels supervising around 60 employees. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, she read each word on every evaluation, data collection sheet, treatment plan and other documents her staff wrote. And she continued to provide services herself, as well as dedicating time to state and national organizations devoted to supporting audiologists and SLPs in private practice.
Samuels enjoyed serving her community, but she was working long hours. In January 1996, the 68-year-old SLP brought her entire staff together for a catered lunch and told them she was dissolving the business over the next few months. She continued in her building as a solo practitioner and rented out the remainder of the offices until she sold the building in 2004.
“I just decided I was tired of working 60 hours a week,” Samuels says.
Samuels became the sole practitioner she’d envisioned back in school. She’s finally enjoying a part-time schedule, too. She uses a small office in a friend’s physical therapy practice, where she treats patients he and others refer to her.
Samuels limits her clients to adults or sometimes teens, most of whom come for functional voice disorders, language learning issues, or stroke and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation. Many of her patients missed receiving services in school, so she tries to fill in gaps to improve their quality of life and social ties.
“I need the work as much as my patients need services,” Samuels says. “I can’t think of anything more gratifying than to help someone achieve something they want to achieve. That’s why I’m still practicing.”
1 Comment
September 7, 2017
Elizabeth Ashbaugh
What an inspiration!
Learning about Barbara Samuels is so inspiring to me. I am in my 40's and recently decided to pursue a degree in Communication Disorders. I will think of Ms. Samuel's story when I need my spirit renewed.
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September 2017
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