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An Interview with a Clinician Scientist: Meet Teresa Hardy

February 16, 2016


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


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