By Juliet Farmer
Jennifer Hatfield, MHS, CCC, SLP, is owner, president and speech language pathologist at Therapy and Learning Services, Inc. serving the greater Chicago and northern Indiana areas, as well as the creator of both Little Fingers Speak (an infant sign language program) and The Munch Bunch (a food exploration group for picky eaters). Hatfield received a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders with a minor in psychology from Valparaiso University in Indiana (1992). She received her master of health science degree (MHS) from Governor’s State University (1996).
Hatfield’s prior work experience includes speech language pathologist at LaPorte Community Schools (1996-1998), and speech language pathology assistant at Argabright Communications (1992-1996). In addition to maintaining a blog that serves to educate parents, the public and other clinicians on areas of expertise, Hatfield wrote the forward for a book on The Blossom Method (infant nonverbal communication) with psychologist Vivien Sabel, as well as an essay for 100 Little Words on Parenting by Charlie Plunkett. She is a featured contributor to mombiz.com, and is currently writing two books, Food Literacy for the Picky Eater, and Food Academics.
When did you first decide to become an SLP? Why?
I decided to become an SLP during the second semester of my freshman year at Valparaiso University. I was planning to become a high school biology teacher, but it just wasn’t turning out to be what I wanted. My sister, who also attended VU, suggested that I go watch a fellow sorority sister in the Speech Clinic. From the moment they entered the therapy room as I watched through the one way mirror, I knew this was what I wanted to do.
How/why did you choose the graduate/SLP program you attended?
Well, if I’m being completely honest, it chose me. I decided to take some time off between my undergraduate and graduate programs. I worked all through high school and college, and to tell you the truth, I wanted a break. I did have a job as a therapy assistant at a thriving local clinic, so I wasn’t taking a complete break–just from the grind of school. I got married during my hiatus, and when I applied to graduate schools, my husband and I decided that we didn’t want to relocate. It was a means to an end. At the end of the day however, the program that “chose me” was likely the best for me. I had a wonderful group of professors and peers that helped to shape who I am as a clinician today.
What surprised you the most about your SLP studies?
I’m not sure if anything really “surprised me” but I do remember feeling amazed at the scope of our field and how it was evolving all the time. I still have those feelings. It was definitely challenging, but I had been prepared for that.
What is your specialty/focus and why did you decide to specialize in your field?
I have three areas of specialization: executive function delays, pediatric feeding/swallowing/selective eating, and communication for the professional (business and aspiring athlete). I specialized very recently at the suggestion of a business coach. Those of us in private practice joke that SLPs have a “branding problem,” because we are everything to everyone. Just as I said earlier, our scope of practice is huge, which makes it very difficult to find your ideal clients to treat (in private practice), so specialization not only allows you to focus but also to find your future, ideal clients.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an SLP? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Oh definitely. I can’t see myself doing anything else. It is a perfect match for me on an intellectual level (it allows me to constantly be learning), and on a personal basis by allowing me flexibility for family.
Has being an SLP met your expectations? Why?
Yes, it has. I have been able to achieve many “personal bests,” which was a goal of mine early in my career. I do still have frustration with the lack of regard for our educational level and knowledge base, however this is becoming better as we educate consumers more adequately.
What do you like most about being an SLP? Explain.
I love that this field allows me to be the lifelong “student” as I need to stay current on many topics which means constant learning. I also love that our education allows for us to go in so many directions if we choose. For example, early in my career I focused on early intervention and home visits. After 14 years of that, I decided I wanted a change and was easily able to shift my focus. There is never a dull moment, and each work day is entirely different. I can be with a baby in the morning and a business professional in the afternoon.
What do you like least about being an SLP? Explain.
I would say that there are days/weeks that you feel you aren’t doing anything for anyone. It is hard not to take things home with you. It is very hard when you lose a patient and when you have to tell a family when you think there is something else going on with their child that needs to be explored.
What was it like finding a job in your field–what were your options and why did you decide what you did (private practice, group practice, etc.)?
Finding a job was easy. As I said earlier, I had a job as an assistant throughout graduate school, so I easily slid into a position with that company once fully licensed. When I decided to try something else, jobs were plentiful and it was simply a matter of choosing which ones to interview for. Eventually, I decided I wanted more flexibility and control over my therapy so I went into private practice.
Describe a typical day at work–walk me through a day in your shoes.
I’ll do my best at typical, but no two days are the same in my practice. On any given day, I spend my first couple of hours dealing with the business side of my practice (emails, billing, scheduling, blogging, prep).Then, I may do some contracting with an online therapy company and spend the entire day (in my office in my home) providing services to schools via tele-therapy. I then may have my own tele-therapy clients to work with: perhaps a business professional on their lunch break wanting to improve their presentation skills or a young adult with a traumatic brain injury who is trying to improve their executive function skills. On another day, I may travel to a local school, office or local library to provide services to individuals that best meets their needs.
How many hours a week do you work?
On average, I would say I work 45 to 50 hours a week with actual client contact and the “behind the scenes” business and planning hours.
Do you feel that you are adequately compensated? Why or why not?
I do because I set my own rates for my practice.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Please explain.
I did have loans for undergraduate and graduate school. Paying them back was no more of a financial strain than anything else I had to pay. My husband and I had a plan, stuck with it and they were paid off in no time. I never felt badly about the loans as it was a means to an end as well as an investment in myself.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you were beginning your SLP career?
Don’t try to be perfect right out of the gate. Learn from everyone and anyone. Each encounter is an opportunity to learn and shape your future as a clinician.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning SLP studies?
Connect more with peers and watch as much therapy as possible. Ask more questions.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
Being reimbursed for services that are necessary, and the disorganized system that seems to be the norm these days. It is a nightmare as a clinician and a consumer. Many of us private practitioners no longer accept insurance for that reason.
Where do you see SLP in five to 10 years?
I think we will have more clinicians specializing. I know that we will be providing more services via alternate options–such as tele-therapy.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I provide free screenings for local preschools, as well as donate therapy to one local family per year that has had an extenuating circumstance–you can read more about a local family who benefitted on my blog (www.therapyandlearningservices.com).
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
Yes, I’ve been married almost 21 years and have two children: a son who is 18, a senior in high school, as well as a daughter who is 13 and in 8th grade. I have two dogs that are like my number three and four children–both Doodles. I don’t think any parent ever feels like they have enough time to spend with their children/family, but being an SLP in private practice has allowed me to have a flexible schedule which has, without a doubt, allowed me to have more time and more involvement with them. Balancing work and family continues to be a priority of mine and a work in progress. I use a method called Time Mapping (find more information on mombiz.com) and it is a life saver. I block off my time in two hour segments and plan my day right down to family time.
What is your final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing SLP as a career?
Be prepared to have several life-changing moments throughout your career (as a student and clinician). Don’t try to be perfect but instead be present in each moment as this will serve you well.
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