This is part four of an ongoing podcast series about the Speech-Language Pathology program at Salus University.

Thanks for joining us for our podcast series, talking about speech-language pathology graduate school. Join Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP, the chair and program director of the department of Speech-Language Pathology at Salus University as he speaks with recent alumni from the class of 2020. Learn more about what it's like to graduate and search for a job during a global pandemic.

To start us off, the alumni introduced themselves and stated where they're working as well as a favorite memory of their time at Salus:

Nicole Duffy
Hi everyone, my name is Nicole. I'll be completing my clinical fellowship at a skilled nursing facility. My favorite memory was getting the chance to do one of our dysphagia labs at Penn Presbyterian Hospital. I got to see so many amazing things that day while working with some of the best speech therapists in our field. I especially loved the opportunity to observe and work with an acute care SLP, as that's a dream setting of mine.

Jaclyn Kolano
Hi, I'm Jaclyn. I'm about to begin my journey as a clinical fellow in a skilled nursing facility. I've made so many memories during my time at Salus, but if I had to choose just one, it would probably be the end of our first year celebration at a restaurant because we got to hang out with our professors and supervisors from the clinic outside of school. And it was really, really fun.

Megan Schafer
Hi everyone, my name is Megan. I am currently working for a pediatric therapeutic services for my clinical fellowship year. I am placed at Keystone Elementary School in Bristol Township School District. All of my memories at Salus tend to relate back to my time at the SLI during that first year. Even though there were some tough and long days there, we were all getting through it together. And I actually had the opportunity to have a different clinic block each semester. So, I was able to get to know different classmates as well as work with many different clinical educators.

Kara McCullough
Hi, my name is Kara. I have been working full time in the skilled nursing setting for my clinical fellowships since June. As everyone else said, there's been a lot of great memories at Salus. But my favorite was probably getting to facilitate modified barium swallow studies in my externship placement at Holy Redeemer Hospital.

SLP Q&A
Bob Serianni
I know that there are a lot of stressful days, to weeks, maybe even semesters. If you think back to the time... fall of 2018 was when you joined us. I'm wondering if you can think about why were you interested in coming to Salus? Or why did you finally choose Salus as the program for your graduate studies? 

Jaclyn Kolano
There are definitely a million reasons why I chose Salus over any other program. But what really stuck out to me about Salus specifically was that the courses and the clinical experiences offered, they weren't partial to any specific setting in the field. I walked into the program completely set on working with kids with autism. And then I graduated with the goal of working in an inpatient rehab, specializing in stroke and brain injury. So, you really never know how your interests will change throughout grad school. The program really allows you to keep your options open by offering academic courses that explore different areas and specialties, and also provides the opportunity to work with all ages in the on-campus clinics since week one, which were both aspects of the program that were really important to me when selecting a school in general.

Bob Serianni
I know that's really a daunting prospect to students, when they hear that we start with clinic care like literally the first week. So, you think that was one of the reasons why you chose us?

Jaclyn Kolano
Yeah. It was definitely intimidating, but it was worth it in the end. It was really fun to just jump right in.

Kara McCullough
I also loved the idea of getting to see numerous clients right off the bat. I had a few other friends in different programs, and they started off at a much slower pace. And, at first, it was definitely kind of scary, but I think it benefited all of us in the long run and it was a great thing.

But, as far as choosing Salus, in addition to that, I kind of always knew I was considering Salus for graduate school because I have an older sister who graduated from their OT program back in 2014. She loved her experience at Salus and was also able to commute there from home. I have another sister, my twin sister, who is currently in her second year of the OT program as well. And she loves it.

In addition to having family members who have had and are having great experiences, I felt like the SLP program considered the whole person rather than just GPA and test scores when determining who would be offered a seat in the program. Of course, those aspects of an application are important, but I love that they sat down with me and did an in-person interview. That's something I didn't experience anywhere else.

Bob Serianni
I think, in addition to our early clinical exposure, our location really is an asset to the program, being sort of nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia where we can reach pretty closely into the city for the cultural and linguistic diversity experiences and the downtown medical complexes, as well as being sort of close to suburbia, with our school districts and variety of other healthcare providers.

Megan Schafer
I really admired the fact that Salus takes the whole person into consideration, rather than just what is on one piece of paper. I chose Salus because the campus made it feel very professional. There's not an undergrad or there weren't any classmates that were familiar with the campus or any of the professors. So, we all had a clean slate, and we were beginning our SLP journey together. Salus really prides themselves on interprofessionalism. And I can say that was not just something to sell you on the school. We collaborated with each program in many different ways. And it was great to hear and understand their perspective, as we're going to be working with them in one way, shape, or form in the future.

Bob Serianni
That's something actually that I really enjoyed about taking a job at Salus, because it wasn't just sort of working with other speech pathologists in the speech program. Working across the programs, teaching and experiencing clinical experiences with other disciplines, I think, has been a really interesting aspect to develop at Salus.

Megan Schafer
Absolutely. And we're so brainwashed in undergrad that just our program. And we finally get there, we get the chance to breathe, and we get to learn a lot more than just speech-language pathology related things.

Nicole Duffy
From day one of my journey to become a speech pathologist, I knew I wanted to be a medical SLP. So, after my interview with Salus, I knew that this program was going to be able to provide me with the resources I needed to pursue a medical SLP career path. And, for me, that was very important to help me land a potential future dream job.

Another reason I chose Salus was because of the amazing professors and clinical educators on staff. Salus has professors and clinical educators who specialize in so many different areas in our field that I knew there was always somebody to be around to ask for help. And I think that's something important when looking for a graduate program, because you need to be able to explore all fields and have people working at the top of their field.

SLP Class of 2020
Bob Serianni
I do have to say, we're pretty lucky to work with an amazing group of speech pathologists across the faculty and our clinical supervisors. I think it's the diversity in our ranks that really allows us as practitioners to learn from one another and really strengthens the fabric of our ability to teach students, because we have all of the facets of the program sort of covered by our faculty.

So, y'all are graduated, and you had the opportunity to sort of hunt around. Some of you just sort of picked jobs. Some of you have been working in jobs. Give us a sense of what it was like to do the job search.

Megan Schafer
Honestly, I'm not really sure what I expected job hunting to be like. So again, it was a whole new phase. I took the praxis a little earlier, just so I would be able to focus on finishing my externship as well as really focused on that job hunting.

It definitely did make me stick up for myself and make sure I knew what I wanted in my CFY. I started applying back in February. I was still unsure of what setting I wanted to work in. I had an awesome experience at Moss Rehab for my externship in the fall. In the spring, I was placed at an elementary school and was also exposed to pediatric feeding. So again, I got another pretty rare pediatric feeding in our field. I was excited to finish the placement and felt that I was going to be so certain when I finished, but then COVID happened. During the whole process, I had to write out many lists of pros and cons for different offers and different companies. And then, what it came down to was, even though I didn't finish my spring placement, I decided I wanted to go to the pediatric route and maybe medical down the road.

So, also with COVID shutting everything down, I decided I wanted to look for a contracting company that would be able to offer me more resources as a CF, due to the placement being cut short. When I narrowed it down, I was then able to compare different companies and what they did for CFs, because some, you could really tell how much they took pride in their CFs. My company, Pediatric Therapeutic Services, have a whole CF program. Once a month, we do a CF virtual meet, kind of talk about things that went well, things that didn't. And again, I'm very lucky at mine. When I was going through it, I was kind of figuring out who really took pride in their CFs and not just said, "Oh, yeah. We take CFs."

Bob Serianni
So, it sounds like putting some time in, investing in looking at companies is really important for those about to graduate or have graduated to make sure you can continue that learning path.

Kara McCullough
So, my experience was a little bit different than Megan's. I went the medical route. As I said, I'm in a skilled nursing facility. So, I'm sure job hunting is never easy, especially as a clinical fellow. I accepted a position back in March right before COVID kind of initially spiked, like right before we got kicked out of our externship placements and all of that. And the job seemed pretty great.

Looking back, I am glad that I took that job because jobs became very limited with COVID, especially in healthcare. The job ended up not being a great place for a clinical fellow, but I stuck it out until I found something better. So, I job hunted for probably three out of the four and a half months I was working at this job full time. And I can confirm with the others here who didn't have a job initially, that jobs were extremely limited during that time. And it was rare to even get asked to interview for a position.

After four months of searching, I ended up finding a job that appeared to be a much better fit for me than the one that I had. I like to think that the first placement, the first job that I had, helped get me to a second job. So, I definitely don't have any regrets there. It all ended up working out in the end, but definitely a difficult job experience. And, as a clinical fellow, I think that taking the medical route, that's never easy. But I think the pandemic definitely added a ton of pressure to that and made it a lot more difficult.

Bob Serianni
Many clinical fellows are sort of afraid that they're locked into a position for nine months. So, whatever they chose from the beginning, they're sort of stuck with. I'm glad that you were able to share with our listeners that you're able to transition roles within your CF. And it's not an unheard of opportunity for those that might start down a career path and realize it's not the best place for them and their ongoing learning.

Tonight we also have two folks who have just completed the process. Although they graduated the same time, they took a little bit longer path. 

Jaclyn Kolano
Job hunting was definitely an experience to say the least. I was actually offered a position in April, but I felt like it wasn't really a great fit for me. So, I made the personal decision to turn it down. I think that might have backfired on me a bit because, like Kara was saying before, the job market for the medical field, after that was really scarce. And due to COVID, I was seriously applying to states up and down the East Coast. I just needed a job. But I feel really lucky because, in late October, the company that I'm with now reached out to me with an open position. And I'm really happy with where I ended up. So, it all worked out.

Bob Serianni
I think that that's an important story for folks to know also, that the program really hopes to set you up for a variety of jobs, whether they be local or national. We've had graduates leave us and move to California, to Texas. We even have one go off to Alaska for a while. So, the program really sets you up to be successful wherever you land after graduation. I'm just glad you landed much closer to home.

Nicole Duffy
So, I will not lie to you, job hunting is really hard and really competitive. I did go the medical route. And I found that a lot of fellowship positions were discontinued due to financial burdens of COVID. A lot of the placements and jobs I was applying for, I was going up against other SLPs. I've gotten rejected from a job because it was between me and a CCC SLP, and they felt as though my experience was just not quite there. So, it's hard.

I started the process my last semester of grad school in February, and I didn't find the right fit until almost six months after graduation. I think my biggest piece of advice for everyone is don't settle for a job and don't give up. It's important to be happy where you're going to work every day, and working for a company and a supervisor who has the same values as you. Being friends with Kara, I found out through her how sometimes forcing a situation and being in a job that's not best for you makes it so much harder. So, she really taught me the value that while I was searching for employment. You may experience rejection. It doesn't mean you're not a great SLP. It just means that's not the best fit.

And, like Jaclyn, I was applying across the United States. I almost went to California, all of these places. I ended up staying in Pennsylvania, and I found a job that was perfect for me and what I was looking for. Overall, I would just say start early. Be really patient. Jobs take a very long time to get back to you. I've heard from jobs three months after I applied. It doesn't mean they're not interested. It just means that's how their HR is handling the process. So, just don't get down on yourself and be optimistic, and it will work out.

Bob Serianni
I think one of the interesting things, listening to your story, that I think about, is that I really value that you value where you work. This is a career. It's not a job. And this is your first job in that career. And I think that all of you really spent a lot of good time thinking about where is that best to launch me? So, I hope that the tools that we've given you through your graduate education really add to the personal attention that you've spent to your job hunting. 

I'd like to wrap these talks up with just sort of a fun question. We know that some of our listeners will be those who are interested in coming to grad school, hopefully Salus' grad school. But we really want them to hear that sort of one thing that you wish you knew before you started graduate school that you know now. What is your one piece of advice that you would give a prospective student on what to expect when you get into graduate school? 

Salus campus
Kara McCullough
I would say apply early to the program, like as soon as possible, and shadow as much as you can before starting. I wish I'd shadowed more and had a better grasp on what populations I wanted to work with upon starting grad school. I think the minimum shadowing hours is 25 hours. Maybe that has changed. But you should shoot for 50 to 100, maybe even more if you have the time or the opportunity. Not only will it set you apart from other applicants, but you'll have a better idea of what population you want to work with going in. Your coursework and practicum experience will most likely solidify whether you want to work with children or adults after graduation. But I think, if I could go back in time, I'd say setting a better foundation for myself before grad school would have helped me in different ways.

Nicole Duffy
If you're thinking about applying to a program, like Kara said, I recommend applying as soon as you can. And Salus does require an interview. So, I think it's beneficial to try to get your interview as soon as possible. And I recommend, no matter what university you're looking into, research the amazing professors and clinical educators that the school has so you can see the various types of clinical expertise and experience they can provide to you during your program. This will help you get a better understanding of what the program has to offer. And I think it's a great opportunity to see potential mentors that you want to set yourself up with and professors who you might need or want to guide you during your later courses of your graduate program.

Jaclyn Kolano
When you're applying to schools, I think the most important thing to think about is really what experience are you looking for. Are you really looking for that strong clinical experience? Or are you really interested in researching and that sort of side of the speech world? But, if you want that robust clinical experience from week one, then I would say that Salus is definitely the place for you. The clinic has a ridiculous amount of incredible resources that they're pretty much all new and they're all evidence-based. And there's really a supervisor for every specialty that will go great lengths to help you excel as a clinician.

Megan Schafer
One piece of advice would just be, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I went to undergraduate at Penn State, and I applied to Penn State hoping that I'd get in and be very comfortable and know the campus and everything. But, like I said, Salus was a great pick for me. If you want to feel like you're in a professional environment, this is a great place for you. It's a small school, but these graduate and doctoral programs remind you that you're starting your professional career during your time at Salus.

The amount of time and effort you spend into learning and growing into your current profession will only benefit you in the long run. It's going to make your transition smoother when you're entering this real world. We get thrown right into the clinic right away, but we look back and we're like, "Why were we scared for having four clients in one day?" And, at the end, we were all fighting over having more clients back to back. So, it's kind of cool to look back and reflect on how much we've grown, whether we look at it and realize, or it takes a little bit of time. But we all have grown tremendously.

Bob Serianni
Your stories tonight have really made me smile. It's so nice to see you as representatives of your class. You all are successful professionals now, and I'm so impressed. And I really think that you graduated in an unprecedented challenge. I'm glad to see that we're on the other side of it now. And I wish the four of you as much success as you can handle. I know you'll all find it.