2020 Essay Contest - First Place - SLP: Lifelong Learning and the Art of Storytelling by Allison Flanigan

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Lifelong Learning and the Art of Storytelling by Allison Flannigan

I think that one of the most unresolved issues in our field of speech-language pathology, is the simple art of storytelling and the power of learning from stories. I propose that we can resolve this by utilizing the time in undergraduate and graduate programs to cultivate the love of reading and curiosity that is essential to the progressive nature of our field. This art of storytelling can be extended into various facets of our practice, including the stories of our clients and developing functional materials, utilizing our therapeutic presence and awareness, finding the value in interdisciplinary practice, and lastly establishing a love for reading and interacting with scientific journals. All of these will lead to a clinician who is competent and committed to furthering their knowledge and skills. Ultimately, this commitment will lead to better care and outcomes for our clients. These skills are required for individuals working in any area of the field and across the lifespan.

We will ultimately enter the field as a clinician who is a, “jack of all trades but master of none.” With a field that is broad in scope, we aren’t expected to be an expert in any niche of the field. However, a key takeaway from our training should be the love for continued learning and seeking out the unknown. The diploma and the certification from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) shouldn’t be viewed as the end line but rather the start of the marathon. During our many miles of our career, we will encounter patients and students who deserve for us to continue to train.

Client-centered training and counseling is an integral piece of our field that is often overlooked. Each patient and student will enter into our lives with their own story. It is essential that our clinicians are trained to be therapeutically present and attentive to our clients and their stories. This means that the field of speech-language pathology is not a simple algorithm. It’s not “Patient 1 + Treatment 1= Outcome 1.” Rather, each client presents with their own story and unique needs that consist of psychosocial, emotional, physical, and mental chapters. So the question is, how can we utilize our client’s stories to best align their therapy to reach their long term goals? I propose that a solution to this barrier is that graduate programs should require a counseling course or equivalent supplement. While ASHA requires various competencies, they overlook the aspect that is prevalent in all etiologies, the people themselves. By understanding what our patients own goals are, we can seek to develop evidence-based strategies that will best help them meet these.

Interdisciplinary practice is a buzzword in current healthcare and rightfully so. I believe to help this translate to the workplace, graduate programs could hold various interdisciplinary conferences where students have the opportunity to learn about and work with other disciplines in a low-stress and low-risk environment. Potential barriers to clinicians translating successful interdisciplinary work is a lack of foundational understanding of the scopes of the other disciplines and the power of collaboration. The graduate program should prepare students to leave with a desire to learn about their field, their team members, and ultimately to become a valued participant on an interdisciplinary team

Furthermore, we ask how we can develop evidence-based and functional strategies and materials that best serve our clients. Graduate programs prepare students through clinical hours and achieving competencies in the major areas. The issue is how do we create clinicians that are dedicated to being lifelong learners after their formal training. The field is continuously evolving, so the evidence-based practice (EBP) during a graduate study may not be the EBP in 1 month, 1 year, or 1 decade later. A solution that is already in place consists of the licensing requirement for continuing education. I propose that an additional resolution to this issue is to create accessible access to scientific journals. While this is a lofty ideation, the access to the major speech and hearing journals could be essential to our clinicians implementing this current research in their practice. I also think that utilizing multiple modalities to deliver the information is essential, such as a “weekly roundup podcast,” visuals that synopsize the lengthy articles, and videos that demonstrate the researchers using their research findings in a clinical setting. This can help meet the various learning styles of our clinicians and the time barriers they may face.

The last question we explore is, how do we promote the love for learning and stories in our graduate program curriculum? Graduate programs are loaded with information, courses, and clinical experiences that are essential to developing the clinical skills of a budding clinician. I propose that faculty members utilize the textbooks and readings that they integrate into their curriculum and take it a step further. Similar to approaches that we may take with young children, programs may find benefits in asking students to draw text-to-self and text-to-world comparisons. We need to ask our students to do more than simply digest and regurgitate facts from articles. We need them to understand the personal force that drives our field. One suggestion would be to add multiple case-studies that are relevant to their clinical experience, current research, and the major competencies areas. This would help the young clinicians to understand the purpose behind interacting with current research and how it can benefit our patients.

Allowing students to interact with various forms of reading and to do more than just simply read and retain is essential. When assigning a module, including eleven relevant research article attachments most likely won’t develop a love for reading. Ideas of interacting with the text include allowing students to act out the reading in a skit, giving a newscast of the article, having a day of week where students can briefly present new information, or recording a Podcast overview. Programs can generate a way for the students to interact with the research to cultivate an excitement and desire to stay connected with lifelong research outcomes. Additional program components could include a back-in-time where students have the opportunity to trial implementing research from five and ten years back versus modern and cutting-edge research. Understanding the history and progress of our field should be a foundational piece of curriculum. By differentiating the outcomes, students will have a first-hand look at the power of modern research. The reading may be more meaningful when they are aware of the clinical implications.

In conclusion, I think the most unresolved issue is how do we develop clinicians who are committed to lifelong learning. Our students and patients deserve a clinician who is competent in evidence-based practice thus we should utilize the time that a student prepares in formal education to train them to be lifelong learners.