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What to Expect

Students who study speech language pathology and audiology each have their own reasons for studying this subject. But they share the desire to help people.

"I've always loved languages, teaching ESL, and helping others in general," says Joyce Fok. She's in the first year of the master's in speech language pathology university program.

"However, it wasn't until my first year of undergrad that I developed a passion for speech pathology," says Fok. "It was during Intro to Linguistics that my professor showed a video of a patient with Broca's aphasia. This patient demonstrated so much difficulty and frustration trying to articulate his thoughts, and I just felt a strong yearning to help him."

Fok majored in linguistics and psychology during her undergraduate studies.

Rachel Dodds' undergraduate degree was in speech, language and hearing sciences, with an emphasis in pre-audiology. Dodds earned it at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She's now working on her Au.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"I had an interest in sign language, in the deaf culture, and so I started taking a couple of classes on the side of my architectural classes and I realized I would rather be in the health care field, and that's how I got to where I am now," says Dodds.

Dodds says her undergraduate degree didn't get into the topic of audiology until later on.

"A lot of the workload was predominantly general education, and your last two years is when they truly focus in on the main degree, but it really depends on which university you go to," says Dodds.

"I was lucky, where my undergraduate degree was a degree in speech language hearing sciences, and I also had an emphasis in audiology. Most schools don't have that emphasis, so when you're studying audiology it's predominantly speech classes which you're getting and one or two audiology courses in most university programs.

"So it's mostly focused on the speech end but we did have some extra classes as far as acoustics and understanding how sound travels and stuff like that," Dodds adds.

Fok says her first year of her master's in speech pathology is going well. "It's a lot of readings, assignments, and group presentations, not to mention midterm and final exams, but I find it manageable," she says.

Fok has had one big surprise so far in her master's program.

"I never expected to work with cadavers in speech pathology!" says Fok. "However, this lab turned out to be the most enjoyable, and eye-opening, aspect of my first semester in speech pathology."

How to Prepare

Dodds suggests taking biology courses in high school. "But it's kind of tricky," she says. "In high school there isn't a whole lot, actually."

Since they aren't exposed to it earlier, a lot of students don't end up majoring in audiology until later on in their studies.

"I have yet to meet one audiologist that went into college... and had declared audiology [as their major in first year]," says Dodds. "Most audiologists go in declaring speech [pathology] first."

Some of those students later find they prefer audiology.

"Sometimes it's hard to find an end result in the (speech) therapy side of it," says Dodds. "You can work with the same patient and not see a lot of progress. Most audiologists are more analytically minded, so they like to see an end result and see progress right away, and so they find that speech therapy is not what they want to do."

While in high school you can volunteer with older folks. This can help you decide if audiology is right for you.

"Obviously we test people of all ages, but we really do a lot with the geriatric population," says Dodds. "So if there's any work they can do in understanding the geriatric population, volunteering at nursing homes, getting to know that community and also knowing how to respond and react to them."

For those mainly interested in speech language pathology, here's what Fok recommends: "Any language course and biology would help a lot," she says. "Psychology would be applicable as well."

Fok volunteered as an assistant to a speech-language pathologist for one summer in her second year of undergrad.

"This experience was extremely helpful in showing me what sort of people I could potentially be seeing in my career, and also in gaining insights about the practice from an experienced speech pathologist," says Fok.

"If you're considering speech-language pathology as a career option or for university studies, try volunteering with people with speech disorders -- aphasia conversation groups, camps for people with disabilities, any group that raises awareness for speech disorders."

Fok enjoys that her program is preparing her to help real people when she graduates.

"The aspect of my program that I enjoy the most is the clinical focus of each course," says Fok. "For each speech disorder that we learn about, there's always a focus on how we assess, identify, and treat the speech disorder. I love how this program prepares me for the clinical world."

Fok's dream is to work as a speech pathologist in Cambodia. She wants to work in the large cities and then provide free services in rural Cambodia for those who can't afford it.


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