Enhancing the Gift
Seeking leadership, research appraisal skills and mentorship to better care for patients, one SLP outlines why she chose to pursue a clinical doctorate.
July 22, 2013
Samantha Procaccini was first introduced to speech-language pathology in high school during a part-time job for a neurodevelopment pediatrician. The Princeton, NJ, native met an SLP there who worked with children with speech and language delays, and from that point on Procaccini was hooked.
"When I saw the ability to make a difference in a child's life and work with a family one-on-one, I thought what a gift to help someone communicate or swallow."
However, after beginning her career in speech-language pathology she realized she wanted and needed more.
"I began to love medical speech pathology," Procaccini, CScD, CCC-SLP, realized during her first job in a small community hospital in New Jersey. "I headed various projects, created policy and procedures and organized inservices for physicians.
"I wanted to provide leadership but I also wanted to advance my clinical education to continue to work with patients," she told ADVANCE. "I wanted to be a critical appraiser of research and apply it to patient care. I felt I needed more advanced education and because of my age, I was 26 then, I was looking for more mentorship."
Procaccini found everything she wanted in a post-master's clinical doctorate in SLP at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Communication Science and Disorders, Pittsburgh.
A Passion for SLP
"I looked into other doctorates, but loved the idea of a clinically focused degree that would allow me to continue to work with patients," said Procaccini, who began the 3-year University of Pittsburgh program in 2008. "Once I was actually in the program I started to hone in on my loves. I took course work in clinical teaching and realized I loved teaching newly graduated students."
The decision to pursue a doctorate required her to "put my personal life on hold" including moving to Pittsburgh away from family and friends in Princeton.
"It's a requirement at Pitt that you work part-time while taking courses," she said. "I worked throughout my 3 years in the program; which was the whole point: to be able to take clinical experiences and cases and apply them to the coursework you're doing."
One of the crucial benefits of her doctorate is the mentorship relationships she has forged. "I still keep in touch with faculty at Pitt, especially Paula Leslie [PhD, associate professor in the Department of Communication Science & Disorders] who has been a great mentor to me," Proccacini said. "She encourages me to seek out other projects such as being part of the Dysphagia Program Committee for the 2013 ASHA convention."
After graduation in 2011, Procaccini worked part-time in three different settings, including in an area acute care hospital (a job she continues to maintain) and at California University of Pennsylvania in California, PA, about 37 miles outside of Pittsburgh. She was offered a full-time job at the university in 2012, becoming adjunct faculty/clinic director in the Communication Disorders Department. This fall she will become full-time assistant professor/clinic director at the university.
At CalU she teaches graduate SLP students, as well as sees patients and supervises 28 students as they assess patients in the university's Speech and Hearing Clinic. The clinic, open Monday through Thursday, typically cares for about 30 patients of all ages.
"Some of the initial interests I had I'm able to pursue in this position," Procaccini said. "We're starting to change clinical documentation and protocols in the clinic."
To that effort, Procaccini and two other professors applied and received a Highmark Healthcare Academic Program grant for almost $5,000 through the Pennsylvania Department of Education to convert the clinic to electronic health records. "The switch from paper to electronic will help with our collaboration with hospital speech pathologists who already are doing everything electronically."
She also teaches speech courses to undergraduates and observes and critiques masters and undergraduate students in the clinic.
After the years of work, the expense of tuition and the sacrifice of suspending a social life to go to school, Procaccini said it was worth it. And by the way, putting her life on hold didn't prevent her from having a life as soon as she graduated. "It's funny, once I graduated from the doctorate program my personal life fell into place." Among other things, Procaccini got married in May.
"The doctorate provided me with the ability to critically analyze research to apply to different cases, to be more competent in these cases and a better team player and to be able to do clinical teaching and supervision," she said. "In my doctorate program I completed a practicum and course work in clinical teaching; you don't get these courses in a master's program.
"Not all my goals are met yet, but I'm getting there," Procaccini says enthusiastically. "Mentorship, advanced clinical education, the ability to have more in terms of leadership, spearheading projects; my degree has met that criteria. I'm still in the process of learning and need to accomplish a lot more.
"I do know I would not have been able to have this position if I didn't have a clinical doctorate degree. It has really contributed to my ability to practice speech-language pathology."
Gail O. Guterl is a freelance writer.