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Speechie Spotlight 4 – Class of 2017

March 27, 2016

This month we caught two more students in our spotlight.  Say hello to Kelsey Grant and Bradie Dushanek!

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Shine On!

February 19, 2016

Do you ever wonder what’s happening with the previous SLP class?  We decided to catch up with a couple of them–and if there are any other Second Year students or alumni out there with a great story to tell, please contact us at uaspeech@ualberta.ca so that we can shine a spotlight on you, too. For our first look into the life of a second year, we have two people in the spotlight: Genevieve Roberts, former TV star (seriously–see below!) and previous co-president of OASIS, and Jenelle MacDonald, who is one of our amazing Audiology TAs this term.  In her case, we dug up an old unpublished spotlight, so that we can look at her then and now!

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In SLP!

February 18, 2016

Want to know why the Class of 2017 adores the Class of 2016?  Because they are incredibly talented!

(…and clever and kind and generous and supportive and …)

Learn what it means to be “In SLP” with the Best. Parody. Ever. We’re looking forward to more from The Suprasegmentals: Elysha Clapp, Alysia Jeske, and Andrea Mallon!  Don’t forget to watch for cameos from the faculty and all our wonderful academic support staff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pluxobrYUPY

An Interview with a Clinician Scientist: Meet Teresa Hardy

February 16, 2016

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Next in our series of interviews with the amazing clinician scientists in our department is PhD candidate Teresa Hardy.  You may have seen the news already—Teresa is the recipient of the prestigious Alberta Innovates ─ Health Solutions (AIHS) Clinician Fellowship.  So, just who is Teresa Hardy and how did she get where she is today?

1) When did you realize you wanted to study speech-language pathology?
I was in grade 11 and attended the local career fair where I met a pediatric SLP. I had been flip-flopping between career ideas (e.g., lawyer, optometrist) but SLP seemed to strike a chord with me. I had been searching for something in the medical field but was not drawn to becoming a physician or a nurse. SLP seemed like the perfect fit! (Sidenote: it also seemed to fit with my tendency to be a stickler for grammar.:) ) I got the list of schools that offered training in SLP and immediately decided UofA was the place to go. I did waver a little in that decision when I was accepted to Dalhousie and McGill but, thankfully, came to the right decision in the end!

2) What degrees did you pursue and where?
I obtained a B.Sc. 4-year specialist degree from Brandon University in Manitoba (major in psychology, minor in music…I know, weird). I had to do a visiting year at the University of Manitoba to get my linguistics pre-requisites as well. I got my MSLP degree (this was during the years that thesis track wasn’t available) from UofA. I’m back again (since January 2013) to do my PhD and am now a candidate (YAY!)

3) In what settings have you practiced?
Just about every setting, it seems! As a new grad I took a job in an early education program but one month later dropped to part-time so I could fill a maternity leave (my former supervisor) at the Grey Nuns Hospital working with adults. It was inpatient and outpatient service at that time. I was excited because I really wanted to work at the GNH and with adults. Eventually, that position became permanent and then expanded to full-time once the specialized stroke unit opened, so I gave up the early ed work. It was at the GNH that I was first able to work with transgender individuals (more on that below). I was at the GNH for 8 years and by the end of that time, the caseload was almost exclusively dysphagia because the demand for service had become so great. I took a leave from the hospital during my last year so I could fill another maternity leave, this time in Corbett Hall! The previous lab coordinator/CE (think Andrea Ruelling) had a baby so I got to return to my old stomping grounds and try teaching. I loved it; it felt like returning home. That year reminded me of my love of learning and put me on the path to a PhD. Everything started to fall into place and it seemed like the time had come to finally take the plunge. I took a part-time job at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital so that I could go back to school and I’m still there now (one day per week). I started off in SROP (the adult outpatient program) and have now moved into the voice program (another career goal for me and more in keeping with my research interests). Throughout all that, I somehow managed to do some private practice as well (consulting to a school-aged program, LSVT for Parkinson’s Disease, aphasia, and communication feminization). I think I gained valuable experience in each setting and it is all leading me to where I want to be.

4) What is your specialty or area of research, and how did you choose it?
My specific area of research is communication feminization for male-to-female transgender individuals/transwomen, although I am also interested in other areas of voice and have been lucky enough to be involved in some of the LSVT [Lee Silverman voice treatment] research coming out of Dr. Boliek’s lab. I am looking at communication-based predictors of gender perception, femininity-masculinity ratings, and vocal naturalness ratings and how presentation modality impacts these ratings. I’m also looking at how these communication factors are related to quality of life for transwomen. I chose this area of research to answer my clinical questions.  A couple of years into my career, a colleague approached me and told me she was thinking about starting to see transgender individuals for treatment and wondered if I also would be interested. I immediately said yes! I became fascinated with learning about transgender identities during an undergrad psychology class and after hearing and reading about David Reimer (the book As Nature Made Him: The boy who was raised as a girl by John Colapinto is a great read and relevant to transgender theory even though David, himself, wasn’t transgender) and that was also a way for me to get into working in voice. Another reason I wanted to work in the area was because of the discrimination these individuals faced in healthcare: not everyone was willing to see them. Sadly, that is still the case. At the time, there was only one psychiatrist seeing trans-identified people in the whole province (now there are two, both based in Edmonton, to the best of my knowledge) and he just so happened to be working at the Grey Nuns. So, the only gender clinic in the province was at the hospital where I worked. It was meant to be! I started to see clients and my co-worker didn’t really pursue it. When I decided to start, I went back to the books to figure out what the heck to do. My voice text book only had half a page on the topic! With the help of the librarian I managed to track down a few articles to get me started but I still had a lot of questions. There just wasn’t the evidence base we needed. My first client told me I should do my PhD in this area and that she would be a participant. I hope she remembers that!:)

5) Have there been any major shifts within your field of study?
Yes, it’s still happening right now! The changes are not specifically about communication but in the way we, as medical professionals and the research community (and hopefully society in general), are understanding what it means to be transgender and subsequently how we treat these members of our communities. For example, Gender Identity Disorder has been removed from the DSM (replaced with gender dysphoria: distress associated with a gender identity that is not congruent with that assigned at birth. It is the distress that is the problem not being transgender). There have also been fantastic changes with civil rights and social justice in terms of ability to change identity documents and protection against discrimination. There is still a long way to go but the work continues and we are moving in the right direction! As far as communication is concerned (SLP research), there has been a relative explosion in research over the past 8 years or so. It’s exciting to see our knowledge base grow.

6) How do you feel about the role of research in your own personal practice? In other words, why have you decided to be a clinical scientist?
I think research plays a very important role in clinical practice and being a clinician scientist offers benefits not found (or that are more difficult) when the roles of clinician and researcher are separated. As a clinician working on the “front lines” it is easier to identify the questions that are most important to answer in order to better serve our clients. That role also provides insight into contextual/environmental factors that need to be considered for service delivery. These may be organization specific but are essential to consider. Another huge benefit concerns knowledge translation, getting research into practice. As a clinician scientist, some degree of knowledge translation is built in! Being connected to other clinicians in the field and to the organizations in which we want our results translated can really facilitate this process; there is less of a disconnect between the researcher and the clinicians and organizations. As for me, I truly enjoy working with my clients and would not want to lose that aspect of my career. Becoming a clinician scientist will allow me to better answer (or try to answer) my burning questions, provide teaching opportunities (be it at conferences or in the classroom), while still allowing me to do what brought me into the profession in the first place, helping people. One of the reasons I decided to come back to school was because of my friend’s uncle. One day we were there for dinner and were sitting around chatting. He asked us what we wanted to do with our careers. When I said I wanted to travel and teach, he replied, in his infinite wisdom as an accomplished attorney, “Well, you’re going to have to get your PhD for that.” Thanks, Richard!

7) What’s next for you?
Well, isn’t that the million dollar question?! Once I finish my program I will hopefully be able to move into a clinician scientist role. There aren’t many of those positions for rehab professionals (especially SLPs) at the moment but there is trail-blazing happening. I’ve also thought about getting involved in creating a gender clinic in Edmonton like exists in some other places like Toronto. This clinic would have “one-stop-shopping” for trans-identified clients to access specialists, services, and information and would also provide education and mentorship to other healthcare professionals to expand services and improve accessibility (right now a client could wait up to a year to see a psychiatrist and then another six months to see other specialists!) We’ll see where the path takes me in the next few years.

8) Do you have any advice for current or prospective students?
Work in an area you love (if possible) and don’t stop asking questions. There is so much to learn and so much that we don’t know yet. Continuing to learn will make you a better clinician and working in an area you love (aside from making you a happier person) will keep you passionate about learning. Continuing to learn doesn’t necessarily mean pursuing a PhD (although I’m happy with my decision). You can attend workshops, read articles, and tap the knowledge of other clinicians. If you want to get your PhD, I think some clinical experience is a real asset to help you figure out the questions you want to ask.

9) Have you found any strategies that help you maintain balance in your work and personal life?
That’s not always easy to do, but I have found prioritizing and setting boundaries to be effective. I’m a ‘yes’ person and someone who likes to do everything (if you didn’t get that from my response to the ‘clinician scientist’ and ‘what’s next’ questions) so that helps me to keep focused on what needs to be done most urgently. I also know that maintaining my relationships is important so I make time for that as well. During really busy times (e.g., when I was working 0.6 FTE, doing a research assistantship, taking three courses, and doing a study) that might be a phone call to a friend while walking my dog, but when things are less busy I have more flexibility. I try to get my work done (rather than procrastinating) so I can take time off. Being organized, making lists, and setting smaller, achievable goals have probably helped me the most. [Um, doing these interviews doesn’t count as procrastination, does it?]

10) Have you had any mentors in your career?
Oh yes. Several of them! I think I’ve probably had a mentor in every job (including PhD student) I’ve had. A mentor is an invaluable resource and I don’t think I would have survived without mine! I won’t list them all but there are a couple that I would like to mention (this feels like the Oscars now and I don’t want to be played off stage!) Dr. Boliek has really been a champion for me, encouraging me, guiding me in how to advance my career and studies, and pushing me to be successful. Plus, she’s just an awesome person. She was really instrumental in my return to school. Another one of my mentors has been our very own Brea Chouinard. She started the program a couple of years before me and has been a mentor in the true sense of the word, providing advice, encouragement, and resources. She has been a fantastic guide for being a successful PhD student and continues to be even though she’s on mat-leave. What a dynamo!:)

I really hope you have enjoyed these interviews.  Sometimes, when I am feeling burdened by labs, exams, and APA formatting, I like to revisit them.  Although we aren’t all destined for awards, or PhDs, we do all share a common purpose and passion—to help our clients the best we can.  Gabi, Brea, and Teresa are giving a voice to their clients, and through  their tremendous commitment to continuous learning and sharing their ideas, they offer us a glimpse of what it means to be a #SLP2B!

~ Jo Reimer

 

Speechie Spotlight 3 – Class of 2017

January 31, 2016

The Class of 2017 has officially finished (survived?) their first term with lots of support and encouragement from our beloved “Second Years”!

So who are we?  What brought us to study Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Alberta?

Here is the third in a series of posts profiling some of the fantastic people in the SLP class of 2017!  This time, we feature: Jeremy Davie, Karla Iannuccilli, and Tamara Paetkau.

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An Interview with a Clinician Scientist: Meet Brea Chouinard

January 30, 2016

chouinard_breaDespite being on maternity leave, Brea Chouinard, a clinician scientist who received the prestigious AIHS fellowship in 2013, generously agreed to answer an online Q&A session for OASIS.

1) When did you realize you wanted to study speech-language pathology?
I have a very unusual story (I think) about how I ended up in SLP. My undergrad degree was a math degree, and I had no idea what to do next. I ended up in Engineering, where I spent three whole days before I ended up crying (how embarrassing) in the office of the Dean of Engineering about how I wanted to work with kids. He wasn’t too pleased with me, but got me transferred as a special studies student back to the Faculty of Science. Now what was I going to do??? I sat down with my brother and we talked about my dream job (basketball coach) and the things about it that made it my dream job (instilling self-confidence in young people, team work, goal oriented, etc). We then flipped through the calendar page by page (yes, things were pen and paper back then) until we stumbled upon SLP. I had never heard of it, but apparently my cousin had seen an SLP. So, I spent the year doing pre-reqs and then applied. I actually didn’t get in (was devastated), but luckily, someone who got in had also applied somewhere else and had gotten in there, and had decided to go there instead. Lucky for me I was first on the waiting list. I was in:)

2) What degrees did you pursue and where?
BSc – Biological Sciences (U of A)
Master of Speech Language Pathology (U of A)
PhD in Rehabilitation Science (U of A)

Doing all your degrees at one institution isn’t recommended, but I had international clinical experience (2 years in Britain), so this made my situation a little less troublesome.

3) In what settings have you practiced?
School board (general and intensive classroom based); hospital (in Britain, on a unit that specialized in diagnosing and providing therapy for kidlets with ASD); private practice.

4) What is your specialty or area of research and how did you choose it?
I specialize in autism spectrum disorder and am super interested in how the brain develops and ends up functioning in individuals with ASD. It chose me! When I was in Britain (2006-2008) I had such lovely experiences with families of children with ASD that I was hooked. I had also studied a lot about brain plasticity and wondered how it could be applied to ASD therapy. The more I merged the two (neuroplasticity and ASD therapy), the more success I had.

5) Have there been any major shifts within your field of study?
When I graduated with my MSLP, I was so glad to be a “real person” making money and all that jazz. I swore I was done with Uni forever. (Ha ha, the Universe laughed at my naiveté). When I came home from Britain and was having so much success with the therapy I was providing for individuals with ASD, the parents kept telling me that I needed to tell the world what I was doing. I felt that I should come back to Uni and get some street credit before I did that.

6) How do you feel about the role of research in your own personal practice? In other words, why have you decided to be a clinician scientist?
I think that the more we know as a clinician, then the better we can be at tailoring our therapy to each individual to provide the most effective therapy. For the very few cookie cutter therapies that we do have in the field (PECS comes to mind), I think a clinician could be a thousand times more effective if they understood exactly why the therapy made the changes it did/how it was working.

7) What’s next for you?
Ireland or bust. I have decided to do a post-doctoral fellowship, which means that I get to continue some intensive training, but get paid for it (I am no longer a student). I have applied to work with some geniuses in Ireland (clinical trials and neuroimaging) so that I can boost my skill set and develop a mature network of collaborators and colleagues.

8) Do you have any advice for current or prospective students?
If you’re considering a PhD, don’t worry for a second whether or not you’re smart enough. You are. Anyone is!! The skill required to get you through a PhD is emotional resilience. Also, go out and be a clinician for a while. It is fun and it allows you to come back as a different kind of student: more self-directed and independent.

9) Have you found any strategies that help you maintain balance in your work and personal life?
Oh yah. This is sooooo important and it has been a high priority for me since day one. You just have to set boundaries and then stick to them. If you start off as the person who doesn’t reply to their e-mails after five or on weekends, then people get used to you like that and tailor their expectations around those boundaries.

10) Have you had any mentors in your career?
Yup, yup. I am a huge believer in mentorship, in being both a mentor and a mentee. I will take this opportunity to give a big shout out to Dr. Hopper who was always a believer in me, even when I was off in clinical practice. Dr. Al Cook (who you poor souls never got the fortune to work with, since he’s retired and in California now), was also a huge believer. At one point I confided in him that I was considering leaving the profession and he made me promise that I would consider Academia before I did that. Good ol’ Dr. Cook.

11) Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Oh, I could go on for hours! I love to talk about research and how it can influence your clinical practice. Alas, I need a nap. (Work-life balance in action!) Best of luck in your studies and in your careers.

Want to learn more about Brea’s publications? Click here.

An Interview with a Clinician Scientist: Meet Gabriela (Gabi) Constantinescu

January 22, 2016
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Photo credit: Bill Hodgetts

On January 8, 2016, I (Jo Reimer) had the pleasure of sitting down for tea with one of the CSD department clinician scientists, Gabi Constantinescu, a head and neck cancer speech pathologist and PhD candidate at the U of A.

Gabi’s path toward becoming a speech-language pathologist was not a straightforward one. Despite being a successful third-year undergraduate student in genetics, on her way to becoming a basic scientist, Gabi stared into a test tube one day and realized this life simply wasn’t for her—she knew she wanted to be helping people directly, not isolating DNA.  After a visit to a career fair on campus, where there was no mention of speech pathology, Gabi had an impromptu chat with her German professor, who suggested she look into becoming an SLP. A friend suggested Gabi shadow her friend’s aunt around for a day, who turned out to be none other than Dr. Jana Rieger, who now holds a joint appointment between the U of A and the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM) as a clinician scientist. And an aspiring speech pathologist was born!

Gabi followed the thesis stream, and, attracted by the opportunity to work with state of the art technology, she chose a project under the supervision of Dr. Carol Boliek studying entrainment with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Did you know that neurotypical conversation partners will change their breathing patterns to match that of the other speaker, rather than following their own tidal breathing patterns?  Gabi’s study showed that this was not necessarily the case for children on the spectrum, an interesting preliminary result that really needs more work (hint hint future SLPs).

After her Master’s, Gabi spent a great year with Alberta Health Services, working with kids from grades 1-6, and loved working in the schools, which is small wonder since her reception was generally accompanied by an excited greeting of “Hooray! The speech pathologist is here.  She’ll know what to do!” Although Gabi enjoyed this work, and found it strengthened her confidence, she knew in her heart that she needed to get back to school herself, and enter the world of the clinician scientist.

I told Gabi that one of the competencies our professors are emphasizing is the need to contribute to the field, to accept that no matter how busy one’s clinical practice is, research must be a part of it, and Gabi agreed, stating “clinician scientist should be synonymous with clinician,” adding that you can’t advance the field without critical thinking and research skills.  This is her passion, and, in light of the fact that she specializes in head and neck cancer, research is fundamental to her work.

Gabi credits the immense progress in the work of the iRSM to Dr. Rieger, who took the field from a focus on pure survival for the patients to where it is today.  Initially, a nurse would ask clients how their speech and swallowing was, and that response is all that was reported—there were no objective measures taken, no assessments done to determine how the client was actually doing and if there were any real progress. Dr. Rieger introduced intelligibility ratings and assessments, and, in collaboration with the ENT department, began using an assessment battery for tracking data on her patients so research and care could be informed by objective data. In light of the new emphasis on client-centred care in our field, Dr. Rieger enhanced her protocol to include an assessment of the quality of life of her clients, including their interests, priorities, and participation goals.  Gabi has witnessed firsthand the positive changes inherent in focusing on patient-driven outcomes, and her passion for working with people with head and neck cancer is clear.  In her words, “I love this population.”

So where is she now?  Gabi is completing a PhD at the U of A through the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. While working in iRSM, Gabi was bothered by the accessibility issues for their dysphagia clients who were expected to visit the iRSM clinic 2-3 times per week to work on their swallowing. These people need intensive therapy, but the demands of taking time off work, or travelling long distances into the city were problematic, never mind the fact that they only had one machine and could rarely find appointment times to schedule everyone.  Over lunch one day, Gabi shared her frustration with a biomedical engineer, who offered to create a smaller prototype device so that they could have more machines onsite.  This led Gabi and her team to her PhD project, the development of a mobile device that will allow clients to receive the intensive therapy, which is vital to their rehabilitation, in their own homes on an intensive schedule. We have some amazing CSD students who have joined Gabi and Dr. Rieger on this incredible journey as their project for their Master’s.

What’s next for Gabi? I don’t think I have ever met a person with a greater passion for learning, so her next step is likely going to be a post-doc. Although we will be sad to lose her from Edmonton, imagine the knowledge she will be able to bring to her next placement.

I had a few other questions for Gabi that related to the current SLP students.

Me: “The workload in the program is intense and sometimes it is hard to step outside the ‘is this going to be on the test?’ and the ‘worry-about-grades’ mindset.  Do you have any advice for us?”

She laughed and pointed out that it is so hard to get into the program, and we have all been focused on grades for so long that we need to give ourselves time to adjust. As for any vestiges of competiveness, she recommends staying focused on the friendships and camaraderie of the program, as there will inevitably come a time when we are in the field, and your classmates will be your colleagues, perhaps even your boss. Ultimately, she suggests we need to try to permit a shift between the focus on yourself to the focus on the patient or client. Try to think about their needs and less about how people perceive you, and just do your best in the moment.

Me: How can we balance the needs of being a clinician and a researcher in our careers?

She suggested we remember that being a clinician should be synonymous with being a clinician scientist.  In your clinical work, continue to be a critical thinker, ask questions, and build relationships with others around you.

Me: Speaking of relationships with others, what do you think about IntD (our interdisciplinary studies class)?

Gabi stated that it is easy to build great friendships within the department, and sometimes it feels like you are working in a silo. But in the field, you won’t work alone, so embrace it.  Her one regret in her placement at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital is that she didn’t socialize more with people in other fields and become really comfortable with that early on, because it is an essential part of her work today.

Me: Do you have any advice on maintaining a work-life balance?

She replied that obviously balance is important in life, and even if your personality makes you a work-focused person, you still need to step out of that every now and then to bring back that creative focus.

Me: Any final advice?

Gabi: “Find a good mentor.  It’s where I have grown the most and learned the most.”

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