Q&A with CATHY LAZARUS, Board Recognized Specialist in Swallowing & Swallowing Disorders
Cathy Lazarus, PhD, CCC-SLP, BRS-S, always wanted to be involved in education and healthcare. Her position as an assistant professor and speech-language pathologist at New York University allows her to do both. Cathy earned her BS from Northwestern University in Illinois. She went on to receive her master's degree and PhD from Northwestern as well. Cathy received her Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology Licensure (CCC-SLP) in Chicago, Illinois. She is also a Board Recognized Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (BRS-S) and the Director of the Hearing and Speech Department in the Bellevue Hospital Center (BHC) in New York. Currently, Cathy is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology in the New York University School of Medicine. She is also a speech-language pathologist in the NYU Voice Center.
Q: What motivated you to become a speech-language pathologist?
A: I always wanted to be a physician and also a teacher—this profession allows me to do a bit of both!
Q: What kind of facilities do you work for?
A: I work for a fairly large private hospital and a very large public hospital. The major focus on my work is evaluating and treating patients with voice, speech, and swallowing disorders. I also conduct research in the area of swallowing. My facility offers state of the art assessment of voice (laryngovideostroboscopy) and swallowing (Modified Barium Swallow procedure and FEES).
Q: When and how did you start at NYU/BHC?
A: I began working at NYU/BHC in 2002. I previously worked at Northwestern University/Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, for 22 years. My partner was recruited to New York and I was then recruited to NYU/BHC.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: I spend the majority of my time in clinical care. I primarily see patients with voice and swallowing impairment at both, the NYU Voice Center and the Hearing and Speech Department in BHC. Patients with voice disorders include those who are over-using their voice on the job and are developing voice problems and/or vocal cord lesions (i.e., nodules, polyps).
I also see patients with neurologic-based voice disorders (i.e., vocal cord paralysis). Patients with swallowing impairment include the treated head and neck cancer population (surgical and chemoradiotherapy), as well as stroke and progressive neurologic disease (i.e., Parkinson's, ALS, MS).
I also direct the Speech and Hearing Department at BHC and have administrative responsibilities.
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as a speech-language pathologist, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: I currently pursue research in the area of swallowing. I recently had an NIH grant examining the effects of two exercise programs on swallowing in oral cancer patients treated with chemoradiotherapy. I am currently participating in an NIH multi-institutional study examining the effects of electrical stimulation on swallowing in head and neck cancer patients.
I am an adjunct faculty member at New York University and teach the Swallowing Course to the graduate students in speech pathology.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face as director of the Speech and Hearing Department at BHC?
A: The greatest challenge is fighting for new positions within my department at BHC. There is a great need for more staff, in terms of speech pathologists and audiologists, particularly since the downturn in the economy and the loss of jobs and health insurance. We are seeing significantly more patients at BHC than ever before.
Q: What do you like to share with your colleagues/co-workers about your specific job?
A: I like to share success stories with colleagues/co-workers. Since I see patients for therapy, it is rewarding to see them achieve their goals. It is particularly rewarding to see patients with swallowing problems eventually get back to a normal diet.
I also meet monthly with speech pathologists that live in NYC to discuss interesting cases. We share information regarding new research.
Q: Do you feel that the role of speech-language pathologists has changed over recent years?
A: Yes! The demand for evaluation and treatment of patients with swallowing problems has grown dramatically. With this growth, there has been a push for evidence-based research and practice. This helps justify the use of new techniques so that clinicians have evidence to back up their use with patients.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to SLPs today?
A: The lack of government funding for our services is a great concern. State and federal agencies are frequently trying to cut speech and hearing services and funding for patients.
People who can't walk are so obvious and physical therapy services are obvious to 3rd party payers. However, speech deficits are not as obvious, nor are swallowing problems. Yet, not being able to communicate or swallow can be devastating.
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: I really like seeing when the students start to get it, especially when they are reading videofluoroscopic swallow studies.
I also like seeing patients improve. This goes for voice, speech, and swallowing function.
Q: Can you share an inspiring story about working with a patient?
A: I saw a person for a voice evaluation. She had a paralyzed vocal cord. I gave her a simple exercise to improve her voice. After only one session, she was thrilled with the improvement in her voice. She reported that it made a huge difference in her life.
Q: What advice do you have for those thinking of becoming SLPs?
A: You've got to like working with people. You'll meet people with a variety of voice, speech, and swallowing problems. You'll need to be flexible. There's a nice mix of science and art. You'll have a handful of therapy strategies to try, but it's an art to determine which of them will make a difference.
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