Over the past nine years of my career, I’ve mentored first-year Speech Language Pathologists, current undergraduate students studying Speech Language Pathology, and high school students interested in seeing if Speech Language Pathology might be a good career fit.
For me, mentoring has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I enjoy mentoring and teaching because I have been in the field long enough to have knowledge to share, but for a short enough time that I clearly remember what it’s like to be fresh in the field. I’m also aware that (like my students already know) there is always more to learn.
Over the past year, I’ve been mentoring a Clinical Fellow, Alice. Alice works in Medford providing speech therapy. Alice has been everything I’d hoped for in a student: open to feedback, a lifelong learner, and a thoughtful and reflective clinician.
Yesterday, Alice and I met up at a coffee shop in Medford and reflected upon the year and our experiences with mentorship and speech therapy. It got me thinking about some life lessons that emerged from my personal experience mentoring. I’d like to share three pieces of advice I would give to anyone new in this field or anyone I have mentored.
1 | Give it Time
It takes time. Time to get used to new clients. Time for new clients to get used to you. Time to improve your skills. Time to set goals, and then time to make progress on them.
Give yourself permission to take time learning new things. Give yourself the grace and time you need to make progress on your goals.
2 | Be You
Let yourself do your work the way you do your work. There may be many people in your profession, and their work may not look like your work. For example, there are many Speech Language Pathologists, and many of them have a similar educational background. However, each person has a unique personal background composed of experiences and skills unique to them. Because of this, your work may look a bit different from the work of others; remember this could be your strength, and not your weakness.
Keep learning. Keep observing what others do who you respect in the profession. Integrate what you learn from others into your practice, but don’t feel like you have to imitate others in order to be good at what you do. Take what you’ve learned, try it out, and adjust it to your taste.
There may be others out there doing the same job as you, but no one else will do your job just like you. Be open to learning new information and watching how others work, but find how that integrates into what you uniquely offer.
3 | Be Flexible
In the world of Speech Language Pathology a running joke is to make a plan and then throw your plan out the window. This is because you may have the World’s Best Lesson Plan (if that exists, which I think it doesn’t), but a client may not be ready for the lesson you wanted to teach, and you sometimes have to just wing it.
In life, that means constant adjustment. Making a plan can be a good idea, but adjusting or abandoning that plan when needed can be an even better idea. In fact, your in-the-moment plan (or wing it plan) often turns out to be better than the plan you made beforehand!
Being prepared means having a plan, being flexible means being willing to change that plan based on the situation as it is (not the situation as you’d imagined it would be).
I’m so thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned from mentoring. Congratulations to Alice, who is finishing up her year as a Clinical Fellow. Welcome to the profession!