“I need a blood test”*
Lots of people have never met a speech pathologist. Some have a rough idea of what we do, often along the lines of: “Oh, you work with kids with speech impediments, right?”
Others have absolutely no idea. And fair enough. There are loads of professions I know little or nothing about.
One of our key professional duties is to advocate for people with communication and swallowing needs. But it’s hard to advocate for some groups of clients if the public don’t know what we do or why we’re qualified to speak on issues as varied as adolescent literacy, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia care, youth justice, stroke rehabilitation, accent modification and professional communication.
Our peak bodies – like SPA and ASHA – do their best to spread the word through terrific projects like Speech Pathology Week, the 900 swallows initiative or the SPA Book of the Year Awards. But every speech pathologist has a role to play in educating the public about what we do: one of the main reasons I post so often to my clinic website.
Despite our collective efforts, I’d hazard a guess that few members of the general public understand our full scope of practice, or the many different ways we help people in different places. Shockingly, I didn’t know the full scope our practice until the second semester of my degree!
Getting the word out, ethically
One of the main themes that crops up whenever I speak to groups of speech pathologists or speech pathology students about private practice is a deep sense of ambivalence about self-promotion. And for good reason. We work with people with health needs who are vulnerable to misleading and deceptive advertising. It’s one of the main reasons the profession in Australia has such a robust Code of Ethics – Advertising policy.
But I think we can do more to explain what we do to others without trying to “sell” ourselves. And it’s a fairly simple idea, borrowed from Michael Port’s research on networking and marketing strategies for professionals:
How to explain what do you do for a living in 5 steps
The next time someone asks you what you do – at a barbeque, a kid’s birthday, a networking event, cousin’s wedding, etc. – don’t say “speech pathologist” and leave it at that. Instead, use Port’s simple 5-part formula, which I have adapted for speech pathologists as follows:
- Summarise your key client groups: Who do you help most often: Infants? Toddlers? Preschoolers? School-age children? Teenagers? Young offenders? Young and middle aged adults? Older folk?
- Identify two or three of the most critical problems that your clients face: In what areas of practice do you help clients? Language? Literacy? Speech? Voice? Fluency/stuttering? Feeding? Swallowing? Life-long disability/Multi-modal/AAC? Accents/intelligibility?
- List some of the main ways you help people: One-to-one or group therapy? Telehealth? Parent training? Client coaching? Advocacy/education/lobbying?
- Explain the number one result you want your clients to achieve.
- Talk about the deeper benefits your client’s experience.
One of the great things I find when introducing myself this way is the genuine interest many people have in what I do. Rather than just a customary exchange of titles before moving onto the next topic (usually property prices in Sydney), it starts a conversation.
This is how I apply the formula to explain what I do:
- I help children and adults…
- who have difficulties with their speech, language, literacy, stuttering, voice, and/or accent…
- with evidence-based, tailored therapy in my clinic, via Skype, or through online courses,
- to pursue their goals and to make the most of their abilities and potential,
- to get the most out of life.
Here’s an example for a paediatric speech pathologist focusing on traditional speech and language services:
- I help infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children;
- who have difficulties with their speech, language (including social use of language), and/or literacy;
- to improve their language, intelligibility and literacy through home, (pre)school and clinic visits, parent training, and home programs;
- to communicate with confidence, be understood and to participate more fully at home, in extra-curricula activities and at (pre)school.
Here’s another example for a speech pathologist working in a rehabilitation setting:
- I help young adults and adults;
- who have had a traumatic brain injury or stroke causing language, speech and/or swallowing difficulties;
- with evidence-based treatments and carer training based on principles of motor learning and neuroplasticity in a multidisciplinary rehabilitation setting;
- to recover maximum communication skills and to learn compensatory strategies for areas of on-going difficulty;
- to regain independence and to go back to work.
Not just for introductions
The great thing about doing this simple exercise is the clarity it brings to what we do. I use my 5-part introduction not only to explain what I do to non-speech pathologists, but as a key part of my “mission statement”, business plan, strategy and even branding for my clinic. Once a year (or so!) I reapply the formula, taking into account new target clients, training and new competencies, and proposed service delivery changes for the coming year.
To advocate for, and to market, speech pathology services, we need professional credibility. For credibility, we need the public and potential clients to recognise our expertise, experience and authority across our scope of practice. Explaining who we help, how we help, and the outcomes we deliver for clients is critical for both public advocacy and private practice success. Port’s 5-part formula is a simple way to articulate what we do for a living to people outside the profession.
- 29 tips to Turn Pro and improve your private practice – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
- 22 lessons I’ve learned from a private practice pioneer in allied health
- 5 steps I took to comply with Speech Pathology Australia’s advertising rules
Principal source: Port, M. & Wallace, J. (2013). Book Yourself Solid Illustrated. John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey, USA.
* True story. This happened to our operations manager a couple of weeks ago:
Gentleman: “I want to book in a blood test.”
Banter Speech: “Sorry? I’ve think you’ve got the wrong -”
Gentleman: “Can I come in later today? I need a blood test urgently. My doctor said I needed to go to…”
Banter Speech, finally twigging: “Oh, sorry. We’re not that kind of pathologist! Let me see if I can find a local pathology lab to help you out.”