Q&A with Cathy Carney-Thomas, DHSc, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist in Scottsboro, Alabama
Cathy Carney-Thomas is an SLP with a specialty in dysphagia and works at eSWALLOW. She graduated with a BA in broadcast journalism in 1984 and an MA in communication disorders in 1986 from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Cathy has certifications in gerontology, lifespan across the ages, end of life care and electrical stimulation for swallowing, and received her DHSc with a concentration on global health in 2011 from Arizona School of Health Sciences. After being an SLP for 26 years, Cathy says, "That is the beauty of speech-language pathology: there are so many things to do you never get bored with the profession."
Q: What motivated you to become a speech-language pathologist?
A: I wanted to help people not only communicate, which is a very important part of life, but also add to the quality of their life. Speech-language pathology is so varied: it is possible to see many different people of different ages with different skills everyday.
When I was younger I am sure I wanted to do other things like be a doctor or a writer, but nothing sticks out as much as a comment made by my middle school English teacher (I was quite a good writer and enjoyed journalistic pursuits, hence the BA). The teacher told me, "If you can find a way to mix language and medicine, you have found your niche." Once I discovered the medical side of language production I was hooked.
Q: You work for eSWALLOW, a company that provides treatment and therapy for dysphagia. What services does eSWALLOW offer?
A: At eSWALLOW we offer teaching, training and in-services for the population suffering from swallowing disorders. eSWALLOW also sells products—the NMES device, lead wires and electrodes.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities at eSWALLOW?
A: I monitor and track the training of the speech-language pathologists currently taking our courses. I also develop other courses to aid in the learning of more and better skills, and offer any necessary clinical support for the clinicians. In some instances I do the training face-to-face.
Q: How did you start working for eSWALLOW?
A: I wanted to work for a company that was true to the profession and had something of quality to offer to both employees and those with disabilities. I got my job through networking—I had met the owners of eSWALLOW, Bill and Nancy Ingram, at a state conference where I was presenting and they were exhibiting. We had talked about their product and services. I ran into them and their CEO at a few other state and national conventions over the next couple of years. They needed someone who knew the product, knew how to mentor and teach, and someone who could add to their training and education program. I love to teach and do the "other" aspects of speech-language pathology work, and the eSWALLOW team welcomed me in late January of this year!
Q: What type of patients/diagnoses do you encounter most frequently?
A: Most often, geriatric patients after a stroke.
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as an SLP, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: Educationally, I would like to pursue the BRS-S, Board Recognized Swallowing-Specialist, as it would add to my skills as a clinician and an educator.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face in your job?
A: The greatest challenge is the distance of the clinicians that need assistance. With modern technology we are able to e-mail, Skype, and call but it is not the same as face-to-face.
Q: Do you think the advance of technology in speech-language pathology is a good thing?
A: Having been in the field before we had all this technology, I was a hard sell. I wanted to do things the old school way. Now, hospitals and nursing homes are moving to electronic medical records, home-bound clients are asking for telehealth, schools are teaching online and educating students on the use of the internet to search for evidence based protocols, etc. I think that when used in the right manner, the technology we have developed is a great thing. Without it, I would not be able to do what I do, as I use Skype and webinars to help train. When I can't be there in person it is the next best thing.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I love being able to help people, both clinicians and clients. I have been an SLP for 26 years, working in pretty much every setting possible. That is the beauty of speech-language pathology: there are so many things to do you never get bored with the profession.
Q: Are you currently involved with any research projects? Are there any projects that you would like to be involved with?
A: I would love to continue my research with the population with dementia and do research on patients who regain their swallowing skills with the use of NMES as part of their therapy routine.
Q: Do you feel that the role of speech-language pathologists has changed over recent years?
A: Yes, many of the changes are due to the fiscal intermediaries and the way therapy is covered. The advent of the internet has also made the patients more aware of what is out there, and how and what to expect from therapy.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to your profession today?
A: Having enough graduates to fill the current job openings and having enough who want to pursue further education to the doctoral levels. I don't think the profession is that well known yet. People who have heard of "speech therapists" often think of those that work in schools with children, and not about all the millions of other things we do.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Having a former client come back to see me and show how far he/she has come and how happy the family/caregivers are with the progress.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: That I will never know everything there is to know about speech-language pathology, and that there needs to be an open network with other professionals and SLPs to continually grow with the challenges.
Q: What advice do you have for others thinking of entering speech-language pathology?
A: Be open to learning about all types of patients and caseloads. It is okay to want to focus on a certain type of client or disorder once you have seen everything that there is to offer.
Q: How has working in speech-language pathology allowed you to grow professionally?
A: I have learned a great deal about mentoring and teaching other professionals, and find that they often impart as much knowledge on me as I do on them.
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