We sat down with Kelsey Stauffer, M.S., CCC-SLP, to dive into her background and experience, clinical approach, inspiration for becoming a speech therapist, and more. You can read more about Kelsey here.
Can you spend a few minutes talking about your experience and background as a speech therapist?
I have a pretty diverse background as a speech therapist. My first year out of graduate school I worked in a public school district outside of my hometown of Houston, Texas. I worked with preschool-8th grade and served on the assistive technology team. However, I got married during this first year and moved to California for my husband’s job as soon as the school year finished. Since I was fresh out of grad school, I decided now would be the chance to make the switch to working with adults to see what I enjoyed the most (spoiler - I still haven’t decided!). My first job in California was working in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities where I specialized mostly in swallowing disorders with a geriatric population. I then left the position to work in a nationally recognized brain injury/stroke rehabilitation unit with adults of all ages, where speech therapy covers everything from aphasia to swallowing rehab. At that hospital, I rotated into covering acute patients (those who are still medically unstable or just experienced a stroke, for example), and I have worked in acute care at two different level I trauma hospitals. Working with primarily adults really made me miss working with pediatrics though, and I’ve once again made the shift to working in the public schools as well as doing teletherapy. I also still cover extra shifts at the hospital on the brain injury unit/spinal cord injury units and acute care, so that way I can keep working across all areas! I love working with kids and adults, and am very happy to be in a field that lets me work with both.
Why did you decide to become a speech therapist?
I honestly didn’t know I wanted to become a speech therapist until it was time to figure out what I wanted to do after college! I have two sisters who both have moderate-severe hearing loss requiring hearing aids. Visits to the audiologist and speech-language pathologist were commonplace in my house growing up. In high school and college, I loved learning about languages and the brain, and picked linguistics and cognitive sciences as my majors in undergrad. I wanted to go a little more practical with my career choice, and speech language pathology was a natural choice. Once in grad school, I learned that I honestly love almost all areas of the field and very much enjoy helping people communicate (and swallow/eat!).
What areas of speech-language pathology interest you most?
See my answers above! I really do enjoy almost everything. That being said, I have a special calling to those who have suffered a brain injury. I have a specialization certificate for brain injury rehabilitation. Every patient is different and requires a lot of spontaneity/thinking on your feet based on the knowledge I’ve learned from continuing education and my experiences. The brain is also so interesting and good at making adaptations and progress in different ways after injury, and I love being part of that process. Plus, helping someone eat for the first time after they haven’t been able to for several days/weeks/months is pretty indescribable.
What part of your job do you find most enjoyable?
Breakthroughs in progress are the most joy-giving part of this job. Whether it’s giving someone their first bite of pudding in 3 months, having them hear their voice for the first time after a tracheostomy, hearing their child say their first word, or being able to produce the /r/ sound for the first time, they are all exhilarating. The happiness these milestones bring my clients are what inspires me everyday.
Among all the clients you’ve taught throughout your career, is there a particular success story that stands out in your mind?
A client that stands out is someone I worked with after they experienced a severe brain injury following an accident. One way we measure progress with brain injuries is called the Rancho Scales, and when I first saw him, he was in the Rancho III stage. This meant he produced only localized response. He did have sleep vs. wake cycles during the day, but there was no consistent communication or attempts to follow commands, and he was unable to complete any tasks to take care of himself. Every day I would provide therapy to try and stimulate him, measure his response, and provide education to his family. Slowly, he made progress until one day he was able to emerge from his minimally conscious state. It took a couple of days for him to start forming memories again (e.g. being able to remember from day to day), but after that, he made rapid fire progress. By the time we discharged him from the hospital, he was walking, talking, eating, and did not have any severe cognitive deficits. Thinking about him is a great motivator for me and my other clients.
How do you assess and monitor your clients’ progress?
I think a big part of assessment and monitoring progress involves client buy in. I try to incorporate clients in setting their goals, and pick activities that relate to personal interests or functionality. I can certainly track the percentage of accuracy during a session, but I think the more important thing is if the goals are being carried over outside of our session. For example, my patient may remember their clear speech strategies when they’re talking with me, but what really matters is if they feel they can use them in their meetings at work.
What attracted you to online speech therapy?
The accessibility of online speech therapy is huge and so, so amazing. I’ve discharged clients from the hospital who live several hours away and weren't able to make it back into the city for outpatient therapy, and home health can also be scarce. This is an opportunity to provide services for those who would otherwise be unable to receive them.
What are your hobbies or passions outside of speech therapy?
I love traveling and adventuring. My favorite weekend is one spent up in the mountains filled with hiking and stargazing. Living in California has provided me with ample hiking and mountain opportunities. I also enjoy running and cycling in my free time during the week. However, most days you’d probably find me planted on the couch in front of the TV, usually knitting a blanket or a sweater. I also love a new movie or good book!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m so grateful for the field of speech language pathology. It gives me the ability to continuously to grow, learn, and work with such a diverse population of people. I have met so many awesome people throughout my career and love helping them achieve their goals. Everyday is an adventure!