This blog is essentially a reflection on the life and career lessons I learned during my clinical fellowship (CF) year. My CF year was unique in that, not only did I volunteer for a first year position working with students with complex communication needs, but I also decided to join Sarah Lockhart on a podcasting adventure and openly discuss my experiences during my first year as a speech-language pathologist.
But let me be honest, I didn’t open up that much. I only really admitted to struggles I was comfortable with sharing online. At times imposter syndrome set in real hard, and even harder when I sat down to record a podcast advising others to leave work on time and prioritize their families, when I was staying late each night and working on the weekends. I felt like a complete phony and hypocrite. Then Sarah told me something that made me completely change the way I looked at my whole CF/SLP Podcaster experience. She said, “we don’t podcast about self-care because we’re good at it! We podcast about self-care because we struggle with it.” So there you go folks. The struggle is real. Yes, I absolutely had some amazing times, but also my CF year was hard, really hard. So to make up for concealing this somewhat on the podcast, today I’m sharing five reflections/lessons learned from my clinical fellowship year.
Those of you who have been listening the podcast from the beginning know that Sarah and I both love personality tests. On the Enneagram personality test I come out as a type 2 - “the helper” (Sarah is type 6, “the loyalist”). Giving time and assistance is almost a love-language for type-2 people. Things can get dangerous however, when type 2 personalities give so much to others that they forget to take care of themselves. I am SOOO incredibly guilty of doing this my first year…and not even realizing until after it was too late and I was crying in the bathroom, completely overwhelmed, with only myself to blame.
Lesson learned: before volunteering to help with ANYthing ask yourself if you TRULY have the extra time to give. This can be quite difficult for a type 2, especially when someone else is struggling and you want to help fix it. Remember if you take on others’ problems, they becomes yours. It’s okay to not help. (I cringed after I typed that! Not helping is SO hard for me!) Seriously, it is okay to just be there, listen and support and not take on more work and more problems. Know what you can and can’t manage and protect yourself from over-helping, especially during that first year.
Major confession here - I stay late constantly (present tense). This year is bad, but last year was worse. During my CF year, I served three schools, was unfamiliar with the reporting system, and had essentially no materials. My position in the district was brand new. I didn’t replace somebody who retired or moved away. The district had created some new programs and a completely new post for a completely new SLP. As such, I did not inherit any materials and supplies. My first desk was actually a student desk which was barely bigger than my laptop! Starting my CF, my materials consisted of a few TPT downloads, a white board, sticky notes and some childhood books my mom had saved in her attic. This was one of the biggest reasons I stayed late my CF year.
Lesson learned: We talk a lot about minimalism and “lazy lessons” on the podcast and I learned this lesson pretty quick my CF year. Keeping things simple and being okay with that will save a ton of time. You don’t need picture perfect crafts, materials and toys to be a good SLP. Keep things simple your first year and REALLY prioritize your time off for family and friends.
Scheduling is a headache, especially for those of us who serve multiple locations. My CF year I worked at 3 schools and the meeting schedules were incredibly hard to coordinate. I felt so much pressure to be present at every single one and so, so guilty if my schedule conflicted. I learned pretty quick not to get worked up about this though. There’s not enough time in a day.
Lesson learned: Manage your schedule, don’t let it manage you. If you can’t make a meeting…you can’t make it. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Come up with an alternative solution. It is okay to call in. There have been times I’ve had to call the parent ahead of the meeting to go over my piece of an IEP plan and their child’s progress because there was just no possible way to make the meeting or reschedule it. That’s okay.
I didn’t make enough of an effort to spend time with the staff I worked with and get to know them better. I never ate lunch in the staff room (working lunches were my jam) and when social-bonding events came up, I felt self-conscious about joining in because I didn’t feel like I knew anybody and was too shy to go without a friend. To make things more difficult, being at three schools meant I was hardly at one location and didn’t really have the time to build relationships. Not to mention my offices were often in the far corners of the schools. I got to know a few people and love them dearly, but I must admit there were times I felt really lonely and it was something I absolutely could have changed.
Lesson learned: Say, “yes” to staff social invitations. Participate in the potlucks, go to the after-work winery meet-up. This can be hard, especially in the beginning and particularly for introverts, but it will be worth it. Take part in your work community. It will help you feel more connected and supported through the good and the not-so-good days.
I am a very organized person at home and at my work. I have my system and it works well for me. When I had to learn a new database for reporting during my CF year, I didn’t really like using it for monitoring upcoming evaluations and IEPs. Mainly it was a formatting issue. So, I created my own system using excel. It took me hours to create and ton of energy to update and maintain throughout the year. Additionally, I had all these big plans/intentions for the fancy formatting I was going to do for progress monitoring etc. Long-story short, I ran out of time to implement my fabulous plan. So finally, I emailed my CF supervisor to see what she used and low-and-behold if she didn’t already have an amazingly efficient and organized system she’d been using the whole time and all I had to do was ask.
Lesson learned: This is a two-part lesson. Part one is ask for help, and part two is don’t try to recreate the wheel until you’ve asked around. There may already be something someone else has created that will save you hours of time and energy.
I hope these reflections and lessons-learned are helpful to others in the field. I’m still nowhere near perfect. I still stay late, take working lunches, and offer to help others even when I’m barely making it through the day. Still, I’m improving and growing all the time. I’m glad I made it through my CF year and would like to think I’m a better SLP because of it. I didn’t write this blog post because I rocked my CF year, I wrote this blog post for the struggles within it and I hope they’ll be helpful to others struggling as well.
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I also have an occasional newsletter that goes out with all sorts of tips and tricks like these to help SLPs spend less time doing work tasks by managing workload more effectively. I also offer freebies to help your planning go more smoothly. You can sign up here.