What Made Us What We Are Today? A Boomer SLP Looks Back Features
Features  |   July 01, 2005
What Made Us What We Are Today?
Author Notes
  • Marge Gibbons, owns and operates a speech practice in west central Florida and works with pediatric and geriatric clients. She is also a surveyor for CARF, the rehabilitation accreditation commission. Contact her at DrMarge@tampabay.rr.com.
    Marge Gibbons, owns and operates a speech practice in west central Florida and works with pediatric and geriatric clients. She is also a surveyor for CARF, the rehabilitation accreditation commission. Contact her at DrMarge@tampabay.rr.com.×
Article Information
Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   July 01, 2005
What Made Us What We Are Today?
The ASHA Leader, July 2005, Vol. 10, 11-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.10092005.11
The ASHA Leader, July 2005, Vol. 10, 11-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.10092005.11
If you’re a clinician of the “Baby Boomer” generation (born 1946–1964), consider the many people and events that have shaped your professional outlook over the years. Those of us who are in this huge demographic will be the most health-wise and demanding body of seniors in America’s history. Please join me on my journey through the past to see how we got this way.
Growing Up, 1945–69
In the eyes of a kid from upstate New York, the mid 1940s to the mid 1950s were simple and happy times. The scariest things were the notion of bomb shelters, a vague connection with the “Cold War,” and Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” on black and white TV. Because I was the first-born daughter of a middle-class ethnic family, my parents automatically expected good grades and high achievement from me. My father never finished high school, having to support himself during the Depression. For most of his life he worked 10 to12 hours every day, at either his sales job or repairing and expanding our home. My mother was a full time homemaker.
When I expressed an interest in the helping professions in high school, I was steered toward teaching or nursing. Despite high grades and good performance on the rigorous New York State Regents exams, no one presented me with any other career options. I don’t remember how I stumbled onto “speech therapy,” as it was called at the time.
Though inexpensive by today’s standards, the cost of my education was far beyond my single income family’s means. Dad borrowed the money for my education, with the understanding that if I married before graduating in four years, I would pay it all back on my own. I completed undergraduate school as a single woman, and my graduate education was completely subsidized by a teaching assistantship.
My first working experience was like being in love. My paycheck was a secondary consideration, because I was so happy just to be treating clients and, I thought, making a positive difference in their lives. I had no “business sense” at that time, and didn’t feel it was necessary.
During that period I attended my first ASHA convention in Washington, DC. I sat in a room with perhaps 50 seats, listening to a gentle and caring giant of our profession, Charles Van Riper, talk about his experiences with a young stutterer. Only in later years did I realize how profoundly he influenced me.
Conservative Amid Activists, 1969–77
Early in this period of time, jobs were plentiful; at 22 I was on my way to completing a master’s degree. I began working as a speech therapist, and married at 23 years of age. Although I grew up in Woodstock, NY, scene of the 1969 “hippie happening,” nothing could pull me away from professional and married life. Marriage was most important to me, since mainstream society placed great value on being a wife and mother. Sure, it was great to have a master’s degree-a status symbol, even; but regardless of her education and opportunities outside the home, a woman’s role as wife and mother was paramount.
Life’s bumps started popping up during the latter part of these years. Jobs in my area were scarce in the early ’70s, but my father’s examples taught me that it didn’t matter what kind of work you do-only that you do your best in whatever job you have. I worked as a clerk for a small business run by a linguistics professor, shipping foreign language tapes from his garage. While disappointing at the time, it provided me with wonderful and unusual experiences in retrospect. I lost my first child late in pregnancy in 1973, leaving me at an emotional low point. My desire to be a mother remained strong, however, and a year later I had a beautiful son.
Character Under Construction, 1978–87
In this 10-year stretch, life dealt some heavy blows in the form of a dissolved marriage and the prospect of singly parenting a young child. Little did I know that my determination and years of schooling, and my family’s support and sacrifice to pay for it, would make all the difference in my economic survival.
On the up side, these years brought diversity to my career, and introduced me to the world of business. I taught at area colleges, and began a successful practice providing speech services in hospital and home health settings. Changes in state and federal funding offered opportunities for SLPs to serve previously underserved populations.
This was a wonderful time of personal and professional growth, raising my child and running a practice. In 1982 I married a wonderful man and we became a family of three, which was very important to me. Soon afterward, we decided to seek a fresh start in the land of paradise, Florida. This period brought a 10-year stint in the local school system as a clinician, resource teacher and middle school administrator. My school-based positions allowed me to be at home in the afternoon and during the summers for my son. Things really coalesced for my personal and professional life during this decade of widely varying experiences.
The Leadership Track, 1988–2004
As if family and work responsibilities weren’t enough, I started getting itchy during this period. The drive for achievement instilled in me by my parents told me that I could do more. I faced the same challenges that any teenager’s parent would, but at the same time managed an entire middle school grade level and completed my doctorate in education. After enduring all that stress, I figured that I could get through anything.
Later in this period, a great opportunity arose for me in geriatric care, along with a step up from clinician to manager-middle manager. This track gave me years of outstanding clinical operations training and experience. It also taught me first hand about the loss of corporate “womb-to-tomb” loyalty to employees, and the demoralizing loss of self respect that comes with losing a job in spite of one’s personal efforts.
Coming Full Circle
In 2004, I left the world of corporate management behind. I am once again treating patients, both pediatric and geriatric, just as in my early days-and loving every minute of it. I have come full circle. At this stage of life, choosing a job is based largely on securing health care coverage and preparing for our retirement years. Is it possible? My husband will soon be eligible for Medicare.
Now I can relate to my geriatric patients as one of them. Facing the end of a professional career that is a huge part of my identity is definitely frightening. At the same time I’m exhilarated, looking back over a very satisfying career, and looking forward to the coming years of scuba diving, golf, volunteer work, travel and other fun activities with friends and family-probably the best years of my life.
What Makes Boomers Different?
  • The only group whose parents or grandparents belonged to the “Greatest Generation,” who learned and benefited from their elders’ tireless work ethic, unquestioning loyalty to their employers, frugality, and “doing the right thing” before it became a cliché.
  • A group whose educational experiences were “atechnological,” yet during their career faced the challenge of harnessing the power of automation to benefit the nonverbal patients they served.
  • A disproportionately large segment of the population who will be making unprecedented demands on America’s resources across the board, and doing so as better informed consumers.
  • A “sandwich” population that often finds itself simultaneously caring for both its children and its aging parents; one that desires retirement, but often can’t afford it; one that has watched its investments for the golden years fluctuate violently; and one that “just missed the bus” on full entitlements and a guarantee of social security and health care funding for their retirement years.
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July 2005
Volume 10, Issue 9