It all began on October 26th, 2011. I sent an email to friends and family asking the question, what professional path should I pursue that will allow me to become a master in a field and help others in a meaningful way? Dr. Phil Schneider, a loyal friend and mentor since I began working with him in college, responded almost immediately (as per usual). In short he said, become one of us, you know the inside story. And that is how my path to becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist originated.
It started with a year of online post-baccalaureate courses and I vividly remember crying over my Anatomy & Physiology textbook. How would I integrate into a rigorous academic program after being out of school for six years? My coursework eventually spanned five homes; Union Square, Park Slope, Astoria, the Wiegmann barn and now, Kingston. I got by with a little Netbook computer that I will now donate to my husband to take apart or chuck it off the porch.
I also got by, as they say, with a little help from my friends and a lot of support from my family. Both financially and emotionally, Salish and the Don have been unwavering in their generosity.
When I began the two-year Masters of Science program in Communication Disorders at SUNY New Paltz, the Wiggys again showed tremendous support; salmon dinners and the construction of a studio apartment in the barn. They welcomed my fiancé, Dan, into their home as well. Oh yeah, I got married too while in grad school! Since meeting, Dan has made me laugh until I cry, fortified me with endless cups of green tea, sweet potatoes and veggie burgers, and absorbed minute details of laryngeal musculature and speech & language disorders.
I had three internships (in a preschool, hospital and school setting) that offered the most expansive learning of any of the coursework. Yesterday was my last day at the school where I had been giving speech therapy for 3 months, Monday – Friday, under the supervision of a very skilled and kind clinician. The Speech department threw me a breakfast and throughout the day the students I had worked with came in to give me roses that amounted to a dozen when it was time to leave. Even though I don’t think I want to work in a school setting, my supervisor was so inspirational, I just might consider it sometime down the road. She gave me an engraved pen, which is hard to see from this photo but says, Sarah Cocciardi, Speech-Language Pathologist. I had also worked closely with a fourth-grade girl who stutters. During our last session yesterday, I asked her what she techniques she might remember, what had made her laugh, made her happy and inspired her journey with stuttering during our time together. She replied, “you”. Every moment of challenge during the past four years became worth it in that instant.
Now, with the energy of transition and spring, I move towards graduation on May, 15th and the first day of my new job, May 18th. I will be working for Language Fundamentals, a husband and wife team who contract into long-term care facilities from Long Island to Albany. Services provided are primarily for dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), aphasia (language difficulties), apraxia (speech difficulties) and dysarthria (motor speech disorders). I will spend most of my time at Pine Haven, a nursing and rehabilitation center near Hudson, NY. I believe that most of the patients are geriatric, one of my favorite populations.
Unlike occupational and physical therapy, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) do not graduate with a license. The first nine months following graduation is deemed a Clinical Fellowship (CF) which entails mentoring from a colleague with their ASHA license (American Speech Hearing Association). Following the CF, I receive my CCC’s (Certificate of Clinical Competence) and then I can really explore the vast scope of practice available to SLPs.
I now look forward to helping those I encounter communicate better and live richer lives, developing my clinical skills, contributing financially to my marriage, reading classic literature rather than peer-reviewed journals (although of course I won’t stop completely) and… traveling! My friend Carrie in Chico, California reminded me that when we met in 2007 I asked her if we should spend our precious time-off on moments or materials. Despite an increase in funds, I’d still like to spend my energy on moments with those I love rather than materials.