20 Questions: Tatyana Elleseff, SLP

Tatyana Elleseff is the founder and principal speech language pathologist at Smart Speech Therapy LLC in Somerset, New Jersey, as well as a practicing speech-language pathologist at Rutgers University behavioral healthcare in Piscataway. Elleseff received a bachelor’s degree in history and media studies from Hunter College in New York City, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude (2000). In 2006, she received a bilingual extension certificate in Russian from Columbia University Teacher’s College. Elleseff received her master’s degree in speech language pathology and audiology from New York University (2007). Prior to her current work, Elleseff was a speech-language pathologist at: Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick; Arc of Somerset: Jerry Davis Early Childhood Center; and Educational Services Commission of Morris County. Elleseff has been published in numerous trade journals, including Perspectives on Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders, VOICES, Adoption Today, ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, and Post Adoption Learning Center, International Adoptions Articles Directory. Elleseff is a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the New Jersey Speech and Hearing Association.
When did you first decide to become an SLP? Why?
I wish I could say something profound, like ever since I was a little girl I always wanted to be an SLP because they help people, or I wanted to be an SLP because one such individual changed my life. However, the truth is a little more mundane. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree in humanities, I was a bit adrift job-wise. For several years I worked for a number of organizations in a number of different capacities, one of which was as an ESL instructor for adults. The pay wasn’t steady since I only managed to find and work several part-time jobs and there were no benefits. So I really needed to find something more financially stable and permanent. A high school friend graduating in the field of speech language pathology told me to check out this major and even arranged for me to observe a speech pathologist who worked for a local school with children with multiple disabilities. I observed that SLP and was impressed by what she did enough to begin researching the requirements for application to a SLP program in earnest.
How/why did you choose the graduate/SLP program you attended?
I went to NYU, and to be honest I chose to apply there because at the time it was the only master’s program that accepted students without a bachelor’s degree in SLP or the necessary SLP prerequisites. It was a three and a half year program, which I finished in three years. The first year I took SLP prerequisites and then the other two years I worked on earning my master’s degree.
What surprised you the most about your SLP studies?
What surprised me the most about my studies was how much I enjoyed them. It was like a whole new world had opened up. Up until I entered the program I had very little knowledge of what speech pathology actually entailed because no one in my immediate or extended family ever needed services. After I entered the program I learned so much new and valuable information. Another surprise was how rigorous the program actually was. To give you an example, as part of program requirements I actually spent two semesters dissecting cadavers at NYU medical center, which was totally cool.
What is your specialty/focus and why did you decide to specialize in your field?
I specialize in working with internationally- and domestically-adopted, as well as at-risk, bilingual and monolingual children with complex communication disorders including: Social Pragmatic Language Disorders, Auditory Processing Disorders, Psychiatric/ Emotional Disturbances, and Alcohol Related Deficits. Again, it was a specialization I accidentally fell into as a result of my work experience (I work in a psychiatric hospital), and serendipitous professional connections (I was introduced to a social worker and a pediatrician team who specialized in working with internationally-adopted children).
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?)
I would absolutely do it all over again because I tremendously enjoy working in this field. In fact, if I had to do it all over again, this time around I would do it from the get-go and declare my major the first semester of undergrad studies.
Has being an SLP met your expectations? Why?
Yes it has. In addition to enjoying the frequent new learning opportunities my work provides I also feel that my job has value and meaning. Every time I teach children new skills or help them reach a particular milestone I feel a tremendous measure of satisfaction in my job.
What do you like most about being an SLP? Explain.
I love the fact that this is a very people-oriented career and since I work with children, I get to “play” all the time. What’s not to love?
What do you like least about being an SLP? Explain.
The one thing that really bothers me is how under appreciated we are because the public (e.g., parents, professionals, etc.) knows very little about what we do. We need to raise greater awareness regarding all the aspects of our work with communication- (speech- and language-) impaired children and adults so people understand how vital, multifaceted, and much needed our work really is.
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 in the field was fairly easy at the time I was looking. Finding a job I loved was a bit tougher. After sending out my resumes, I began receiving constant phone calls from various companies (schools, hospitals, nursing facilities, early intervention organizations, etc.) looking for SLPs. I had to weigh in numerous pros and cons regarding each offer before finally settling on a job that was the best for my needs/interests. I chose my present site (outpatient school in a psychiatric hospital) because I felt that it was a very interesting setting in which I would learn a lot on the job (I did and still do). I also decided to open up a part time private practice because it had been my plan since the time I was still in grad school.
Describe a typical day at work–walk me through a day in your shoes.
My typical weekday starts at 8 a.m. and ends about 6:30 p.m. I get to work by 8 a.m. The first hour is spent on paperwork, phone calls, session preparation, as well as meeting with the graduate students I supervise to determine the plan of action for the day. Time between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. is spent providing direct therapy and assessment services with an occasional Individualized Education Porgram meeting participation. From 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. I attend various unit meetings. On average there are about two meetings each day of the week with the exception of Friday, when various teams composed of teachers, behavior specialists, psychiatrists, and ancillary professionals (OT, SLP, etc.) meet to discuss the children in each classroom. At 4 p.m. I leave the hospital to start my private practice in which I typically see one to two kids per weekday in the afternoons.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
On average, between the hospital and private practice I work about 55 to 60 hours per week. I sleep about six to seven hours per night. I take about three vacation weeks per year.
Do you feel that you are adequately compensated? Why or why not?
I do feel that I am adequately compensated for my work and services. However, I also worked very hard to achieve that level of compensation. It doesn’t always happen right away, but is a result of careful choices, smart professional decisions and hard work.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Please explain.
Since I went to NYU for my master’s degree, I definitely had a sizable education loan at the end of my studies. I am still paying it back and definitely have a ways to go before it’s all paid up. However, it is not causing a financial strain at this time.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you were beginning your SLP career?
Think carefully regarding what professional choices you make. Do not chase after the highest salary. Chase after the right opportunities, which will allow you to gain relevant field expertise and boost your professional growth.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning SLP studies?
I wish I truly understood how much hard work was involved in my studies and how much learning I still needed to experience (and still do) after I graduated.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
Presently, one of the biggest issues in health care with respect to speech pathology is the lack of adequate speech language insurance coverage for habilitation (to impart a skill) services for children. Unfortunately, insurance coverage for developmental therapy services is often non-existent in many popular insurance plans and many parents whose children need services are forced to pay out of pocket. For those in our field who have a private practice, much of our services depend on people’s financial means. Because of it there is a vast range in the quality of SLP services. As a result, some parents chose to go to the practitioners who charge the least versus those who provide the highest quality of services but charge accordingly, which is disappointing.
Where do you see SLP in five to 10 years?
I see this field growing exponentially and thriving with respect to provision of services to both adults and children.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
In terms of outreach I am very active on the ASHA community forum (national SLP organization) as well as in different Facebook SLP-related groups. I also maintain a blog and a Facebook page, where I frequently post information on the latest scientific research and on a variety of free materials and giveaways relevant to speech language pathology.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
I am married and my spouse was actually instrumental in setting up and maintaining my private practice. He was very supportive of my career choices and plans from the get go and continues to be incredibly supportive to this day. With respect to balancing life and work, I have to admit that I am a bit of a workaholic but only because I absolutely love what I do. Consequently, I often do find it a little difficult to “exit” work mode, even when I have time off or when I am on vacation. However, I definitely feel that I get enough time to relax and unwind.
What is your final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing SLP as a career?
I think that it is very important to make the right choices with respect to your future career. It is also very important to love what you do. Speech pathology is an exciting, dynamic and ever-growing field which offers wonderful career opportunities as well as personal and professional growth. However, because it is a very people-oriented profession, you need many important skills to effectively deal with different personalities that you will encounter on a daily basis. You must exhibit a lot of patience, empathy, imagination, motivation and initiative, as well as show exemplary people skills in order to effectively interact with pediatric and adult clients and their caregivers. If you think that you’’ve got what it takes then go for it. You won’t be disappointed. It is definitely one of those careers in which you can truly make a difference in the lives of people that you come in contact with.