Ten Tips for a Successful CF Experience (Simply Speech Blog)

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Ten Tips for a Successful CF Experience

This is a guest post from Sarah and Sarie from the SLP Happy Hour Podcast. Sarie is a newer SLP, in her first CCC-SLP year (last year was her CF), and Sarah is an SLP with more than a decade of experience. In the following post, they both share their experiences as CFs and what you can do to enjoy yours even more.

Since this post is all about CFs...what is a CF? A CF is a “clinical fellow” in their first year of practice as an SLP, working towards gaining their CCC-SLP from ASHA.

Our CF Experiences: For Real

We can both remember our tenure as CFs. We both struggled with overwork, perfectionism, and feeling like we were just (barely) keeping our head above water.

Every challenge seemed new, and the paperwork process seemed like a complex Rubik’s cube we’d never be able to solve.

As CFs, we both felt isolated and were never quite sure how to proceed or who to ask about day-to-day challenges.

The CF time is also riddled with impostor syndrome (Why couldn’t I finish that on time? Why did I have that paperwork mistake?) which can leave new SLPs feeling guilty and like they just don’t measure up. We know we felt that way!

The leap from grad student to full-fledged practicing SLP is not an easy one. Since we’ve both made it to the other side, our hope is that new SLPs don’t have to put up with the anxiety we experienced and can feel confident (well, as confident as a CF can feel) and capable as they complete their CF.

10 Tips for Clinical Fellows

1. Find a Mentor

Our first tip is to find a mentor, one you can ask questions. Your mentor doesn’t need to be the CF mentor who signs off on your paperwork. Some CFs find they just don’t “click” with their mentor, or find their mentor is too busy to answer their questions.

Find someone you trust, whether it’s 1:1 or in a group setting (for example, a group of other SLPs in your setting who can get together regularly). Then, ask away!

Also realize that you don’t need one mentor for all your questions. You may have a handful of people you turn to which will lesson the overall burden on your mentor.

That said, if you do click with your CF mentor and he/she gets back to you when you have questions - ask away (but be respectful of their time and do your best to research the answer yourself before you ask your mentor).

2. Engage in the Online World of SLPs

CFs today are so lucky to have the online support that is available at their fingertips. Facebook can be especially good for this, as there are groups for nearly every work setting and interest area.

How can you be a good member of a Facebook group? Never make anyone feel embarrassed for asking a question. Give more than you take (do your best to give feedback here and there for other’s questions), don’t sell things within the groups unless it’s allowed, and keep it positive!

Also, Instagram is a great place to learn all sorts of activity and therapy ideas.
Pinterest is another place you can go to organize your own therapy ideas or find ideas from others.

3. Keep Your Sessions Simple

What’s the best way to stay late every day at work?

Decide you have to do a different (new) lesson for all your groups.

SLPs are wonderful at modifying materials to suit a variety of learners - so use this to your advantage as you go about your day.

Usually we teach no more than 3 lessons/activities in one day at each school: one language/fluency activity, one social activity, and one articulation activity. From there, we can modify for each group in the moment.
Does this skill take time to develop? Yes, absolutely. But starting here can help you build your skills, and spend less time lesson planning.

An added bonus? We tend to get better and better at teaching a certain concept as we get practice, so the repetition is good for us and our students.

Also, don’t feel like you have to lesson plan (most SLPs don’t). However if it helps you feel better, quickly write out what you plan to do on a notepad before leaving work the day before.

4. Remember Our Job is Pretty Darn Fun

In the hustle and rush of being an SLP, it’s important to pause during the day and realize that our job is pretty darn fun. Cherish the moments you have with your clients/learners when they say something that cracks you up or make progress on a goal.

At the end of the day, try and think of one time you laughed during the day and one client who is making progress. It’ll help you remember that in this profession - where people often come to us when something is going wrong - there is a lot going right.

Also, remember to create fun and engaging times with your clients/learners every once in awhile. These engaging moments are good for both the SLP and the client/learner.

5. Remember You Have Strengths

We both remember feeling that, as CFs we were just learning all the things.

But guess what? We had strengths when we were just starting out. So do you.

By nature of being a CF, you recently graduated and probably have more knowledge about current research than most of us.

Also, if you are reading this article about how to have a more positive CF experience, chances are you care about those you will be working with and want to continue to improve. That is a strength, too!

So, don’t believe the lies impostor syndrome tells you - you do know what you are doing, even if you are still learning, too.

6. Go Home on Time Whenever Possible

Are there times you may need to stay late? Yes.

However, if that becomes a habit, beware. Burn out is a huge issue in our profession. Although we weren’t able to find research on this, we did a poll and 75% of respondents said they were either currently dealing with burnout as an SLP or knew someone who was. That is a lot of burn out! If you do start to feel the burnout, remember it is not a failing of yours! Burnout is usually the result of unreasonable job demands, possibly a unhealthy team/work environment, and more.

Your CF is an ideal time to start developing habits now that will serve you well later in your career. One of those is not staying late regularly. If it’s once in awhile, and you are OK with it - go for it. We both choose to stay late on occasion. However, if it’s more days than not, you are overworking, which can lead to burnout. Take care of yourself.

7. Keep Track of Your Wins

Whether you call it a “fun box,” a “yes file” or a “compliments folder” - the idea is the same. When you get positive feedback, keep it! Chances are, you’ll need to dig it out every once in awhile.

We have an extra folder in our email inbox we can click and drop emails to when they are complementary, and a physical file of cards, notes and artwork we receive.
When it all goes sideways (which it eventually will in this profession), you’ll find your “yes file” to be a lifesaver. Bring it out whenever you need it.

Also, remember you want to give what you get! Make sure to be complementary of families, clients, and co-workers when they go the extra mile.

8. Track Your Hours for ASHA and/or your State requirements

In order to get your CCC-SLP, you do need to consistently track your hours for ASHA. Don’t expect your CF supervisor to do this for you. Once you receive the paperwork you need, make sure you keep track of your hours so it’ll be a smooth transition when you need to send your paperwork to ASHA to get your CCCs. ASHA has specific requirements for the hours you will need to track and how many hours will need to be supervised. Make sure you understand these requirements and thoroughly document them. Establish a system from the beginning for logging these hours and stick to it.

9. Be the Person You Want on Your Team

What’s the best way to have a positive team at work? Be the person you want to have on your team.

Be helpful, but don’t let people give you their work to do.

Be kind, but don’t be a pushover.

Be productive, but let people know when they need to wait (due to your caseload and workload).

Decide what kind of person you’d like to have on your own team at work. Then realize that we can’t change others - but we can work towards being that person, and offering our coworkers a team member they look forward to interacting with.

10. Realize We All Make Mistakes

How often do we make mistakes in our jobs?

Every day!

When you are still learning, you’ll probably make lots of mistakes on a daily basis. Get used to it, and forgive yourself. It’s nothing to feel guilty about. You are still learning the process, and you are committed to not making the same mistake twice.

While you don’t want to rush and make careless mistakes, every work setting has their own set of rules that must be followed. Unless your workplace gave you extensive training (and we are guessing they didn’t), chances are you don’t know all of those rules...yet.

When you make mistakes, don’t be defensive - but commit to following the procedure the next time, and be thankful for the feedback.

The Best CF Advice

We’ll leave you with the two pieces of advice we got from our CF mentors in hopes that it helps you, too:

Always go Forward, Never go Back

The basis of this advice is that as we learn about policies and procedures, we will learn that we’ve been doing things wrong for awhile. Or, as we learn about new research and techniques, we may realize something we’ve been doing in the past wasn’t the best way to do things, and we’ll change.

The idea here is that we focus on implementing that change moving forward.

Of course there are times (like for legal paperwork) where we’ve had to go back, but keeping this overall advice in mind keeps the perfectionism at bay and helps us move forward with the new knowledge we do have, instead of wallowing and wasting time feeling guilty for what we didn’t know beforehand.

You Are Not Irreplaceable

This is not meant to sound like the work you do is not important. This is actually meant to take some of the pressure off of your shoulders. A lot of CFs invest their heart and soul into their first job and may experience burnout that first year. This can be especially draining if your job is not the job of your dreams. (Not to worry, it’s not uncommon.)

Remember being and SLP is a job, and it most likely your CF position will not be the only SLP job you have.

If you need to walk away, there will be another SLP to fill your position. That SLP may enjoy the job more, work better with your team, or (gasp) run sessions better than you do. That’s okay. Never feel guilty about walking away from a situation that is causing you emotional or physical stress that you can’t recover from - that is a sure sign of burnout. Protect yourself as much as you can from burnout your first year. Take a step back when you need to and be mindful of how you invest yourself in your first position.

Now, Go Get ‘em!

We hope this article has you feeling encouraged and ready as you start your CF journey. It won’t be easy, but it’s easily one of the most rewarding and knowledge-filled times in our own careers. The clients/students you work with during your CF will have a special place in your heart for a long time to come.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out the SLP Happy Hour Blog.

You can listen to the SLP Happy Hour podcast on your podcast player or here.

SLP Happy Hour helps busy SLPs find more calm and less chaos at work and at home through easy lessons, how tos, and habit change that focuses on simple, realistic self care.