During the pandemic, Casey Heffelfinger, MS ‘20, CCC-SLP
, has kept herself challenged by doing puzzles, which she admits has caused her to be on the receiving end of some razzing from her circle of friends.
But, when it came time to choose a career to pursue, that was an easier puzzle to solve for Heffelfinger.
Since the age of 12, she knew she wanted to someday go into the medical field, although she didn’t want to be a doctor or a nurse. So, as she continued along her educational path, Heffelfinger started to explore the professions of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology (SLP).
She eventually settled on the SLP profession and didn’t look back.
“The fact that speech therapy encompasses so much from the brain to swallowing disorders - it pretty much is the whole body,” she said. “I did my job career presentation on speech therapy and since then I’ve had my heart set on it.”
Originally from Blandon, Pennsylvania, which is near Reading, Heffelfinger followed in some family members’ footsteps and graduated from Temple University with a degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Science.
She has also always loved being in and around Philadelphia, so going from Temple to her top choice of medically based Salus University for the SLP graduate program was nearly seamless both educationally and personally. And, that led to yet another seamless transition from Salus into the professional world where two weeks before the pandemic hit in March 2020, she secured a job as a SLP in a skilled nursing facility in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. She also finished her clinical fellowship and received her Certification of Clinical Competence (CCC).
Certainly, graduating and securing a job during a pandemic presented some unique challenges for SLPs. For example, working in a nursing home, it’s common for SLPs to conduct group therapy sessions.
“I still have not been able to do a group therapy session because of the COVID restrictions,” said Heffelfinger. “And, doing functional activities with the patients has been curtailed. Things that really matter when they go home. I can’t really do therapy activities like that. We can’t go to the kitchen and practice cooking and cleaning and safety problem solving. Everything has to be done within their rooms.”
But the professional trial-under-fire may have a silver lining.
“I can’t bring in as many materials as I would like to into the rooms with the patients.” Heffelfinger said about the limited materials she can bring. “But I’ve had to be more creative during the pandemic and I think that’s made me a better therapist.”
Her love for Philadelphia figures into her future goals as well. A huge fan of all of the city’s professional sports teams, she would eventually like to move back into the city as her career progresses.
“I love the city; how historic it is. There is always something to do in the city, whether it’s a walk in a park or through Center City,” she said. “I love the sports scene and before the pandemic I liked to get to as many games as I could for all the teams. Right now, I’m partial to the Sixers, but I’ve always loved baseball and the Phillies have been my No. 1 team.”
Now that she’s been vaccinated and the COVID restrictions appear to be easing a bit, Heffelfinger hopes to get to Sixers and Phillies games, travel some and go back to eating in restaurants and doing some hiking. She may also put the puzzle-building on hold once outdoor activities pick up especially when the weather gets nicer.
The one thing she is sure of is that Salus was the right place for her to further her professional aspirations.
“My entire time there from being in class to the hands-on experiences in the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) to my externships, all prepared me for my job,” she said. “When I was at Salus, I can compare a lot of the patients I saw at SLI to the patients I have now, so that really helped prepare me.”