Despite growing up in California, I decided to add a school in Boston to my list of places I wanted to apply for graduate school. I added Northeastern but intended to take it off my list because I didn’t think I was brave enough to go to school out of state. As the application process went on, I didn’t take Northeastern off my list. I applied and got in. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic started. I had decided in my mind that I was going to graduate school in the fall of 2020 to start my journey to become an SLP. I took a leap of faith by moving across the country, away from my family, at the height of the pandemic.
As my boyfriend and I drove across the country from Oakland, California to Boston, stopping in national parks along the way, I visualized what the next two years of my life would be like. I knew I’d learn a lot in classes and that I’d have a lot of good experiences that would prepare me for my future career as a SLP. I thought I wanted to work in a children’s hospital on the acute rehabilitation team. Turns out, two years later, that part of me still exists.
But I learned that I am drawn to so many different subspecialties within the scope of speech pathology. And I learned that I am capable of so many more things that I thought I was. I learned that I could conduct speech therapy over zoom with my first ever client, a four-year old with a speech sound disorder. I learned that I could work in a specialized school setting where the majority of students used a total communication approach. I was able to utilize American Sign Language, Alternative and Augmentative Communication, and English to work with Autistic students, students with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders. I learned I could conduct in-home therapy sessions with 3-year olds, be flexible and adapt my sessions in the moment. I learned that there were so many language opportunities in everyday activities. I learned that I could navigate medical floors and conduct swallowing examinations and treatment sessions on patients that are acutely ill. I learned that I could put on a brave face and provide care to patients that were hospitalized due to COVID-19. I learned that I love dysphagia, videofluoroscopic studies, and working alongside other medical providers. I learned that I could do all of this and complete 60 credits worth of classes all while working in a research lab as a research assistant. I learned that I could serve as first author on a research study. Later this year, I’ll learn that I can present on this same research study at the 2022 ASHA Convention.
As I reflect on my clinical experiences in grad school and look forward to my clinical fellowship position in a post-acute brain injury rehabilitation clinic, I feel grounded in this new aspect of my life. Two years is an incredibly short period of time. Though for us students whose weekly schedules are filled with clinical placements, classes, research labs, homework, and more, two years goes by in a flash. When looking back, I am so incredibly proud of all that my cohort has been able to withstand. Navigating grad school, learning who we are as individuals and as clinicians, forming life-long friendships all through the ebbs and flows of a global pandemic has been a two-year long lesson we will never forget. I’m so glad I never took Northeastern off my list.