Published on September 29th, 2014


Careers in Communication Health: Where Will Your Degree Take You? (Part One)

By Nicole Chatelain, Communications Specialist, SAC.
This article was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of  Student Speak.

You’ve already made the decision to become a communication health professional, but do you know where you want to work after graduation? We’re pleased to introduce “Careers in Communication Health”, a new three-part Student Speak series designed to give you a glimpse into real-life careers in speech-language pathology and audiology across different settings. Part One, below, looks at what it’s like to work in a medical setting as a hospital-based clinician. 

When we think of communication health professionals working in a hospital environment, we tend to picture an audiologist evaluating a patient’s cochlear implant in a hearing clinic or an S-LP providing speech therapy to a young child in an outpatient treatment centre. But what many people might not realize is that communication health professionals in hospitals offer a high volume of acute care inpatient services as well, making them a crucial component of health-care teams. So what can you expect if you choose to work in a hospital environment?

The professionals we interviewed all agreed that, above all, you need to be prepared for anything. “You have to be very independent and very flexible,” says Valentine Weber, S-LP(C), from the Montreal Neurological Hospital. “Every day is a surprise.”

And that, she assures us, is one of the best parts of the job. Working in a hospital is a great option for young professionals looking for variety. “In one day, I can go from working with infant ABRs [auditory brainstem responses], to the operating room, to seeing older kids with hearing aids,” says Vicky Papaioannou, Aud(C), from Toronto’s SickKids Hospital.

Of course, the diverse workload is not without its challenges. Indira Mike, S-LP(C), of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre cautions that the caseload demands can be an obstacle. “Patients may be struggling with the impairment, the diagnosis, the difficulty … some need a lot more support than others. When you have 15 patients waiting for you it’s hard to say ‘I’d love to talk to you, but I have to run.'”

And Weber notes that the busy environment and high turnover in hospitals impact patient follow-up. “What’s hard is that we see patients in the acute stage of their illness and then we don’t see them again, so we get little feedback about what they’ve become and what therapy has done for them. We don’t get to see their progress. That’s a difficult aspect of it.”

However, Papaioannou believes that hectic hospital settings can present young clinicians with a great advantage for growth. “Ask questions! We have many audiologists here and we all ask each other questions, even with 10-15 years’ experience. The more things you can see, the more clinicians you observe, the more patients you interact with, the better prepared you’ll be.” Asking questions, she notes, also keeps you open to learning new ways of doing things; the diverse workload you’ll find in a hospital is a great catalyst for lifelong learning: “For every question you ask there are probably three more you didn’t think to ask. You can learn from every experience, every patient.”

Students might be surprised to learn that hospital work also involves a significant amount of bureaucracy and administration. “What I didn’t think about is that there is quite a bit of paperwork,” says Weber. “You have to apply for equipment, apply for rehab, apply for this, apply for that … [there’s] a lot of office work [that] you have to do.” But Weber doesn’t find this frustrating (“I find it restful, actually!”) since the administrative side of things can provide downtime after a busy day of intense therapy or acute care counselling.

Counselling is especially important to hospital-based work, particularly with regards to inpatient care. Papaioannou notes that she’s helped young patients that have lost their hearing due to tragic circumstances, such as cancer or motor vehicle accidents. Although it can be difficult work at times, it’s well worth it. “The children just brighten my day, whether it’s my own patients or others, the funny things they say, the stories they tell … children can do so much.”

Weber, who works primarily with adults, sees the value in the counselling she provides to patients and their families, too. “I wanted to be in the ‘helping profession’ and that aspect is exactly as I thought it would be,” she says.

If you’re wondering what qualities a recent graduate should bring with them to a hospital, Papaioannou reminds us that communication health delivery is, first and foremost, a customer-service profession. “We really are there for the public and we would do well to remember that. We need to make sure patients and clients are happy, especially when there’s a direct cost to the family. We need to go into an interaction thinking [about service] rather than just saying ‘well, I’m the expert.'”

Not sure if a medical setting is right for you? Mike tells us that anyone who loves a challenge is well-suited to hospital work. “I would suggest that if they’re really interested in medical conditions and diagnostic work, if they want to continually challenge themselves … I think they’ll find this as rewarding as I have.”

Stay tuned for Part Two in our “Careers in Communication Health” series, which will focus on communication health professionals in an educational setting. Special thanks go to the following individuals for their assistance with Part One:

Indira Mike, M.Sc., S-LP(C)
Clinical Service Leader, Speech-Language Pathology Adult Services, Health Sciences Centre (Winnipeg, MB)

Vicky Papaioannou, M.Cl.Sc., Aud(C)
Audiology Practice Leader and Associate Director of the Cochlear Implant Program, SickKids Hospital (Toronto, ON)

Valentine Weber, M.Sc.(A), S-LP(C)
Speech-Language Pathologist, McGill University Health Centre, Montreal Neurological Hospital (Montreal, QC)


Nicole Chatelain
SAC Communications Specialist

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