SPHSC Alumni Stories

Ali Dykhouse

Name: Cristina Pappas
Program: Master of Science in Medical Speech-Language Pathology
Year graduated: 2011

Cristina Pappas graduated from the UW in 2011 with a Master of Science in Medical Speech-Language Pathology. In this interview, she talks about her clinical experience in the program and how it helped her land a career as a speech-language pathologist at Kindering, one of the three largest early intervention centers in the nation.

Can you tell us a bit about your educational and professional background?

I went to the University of Arizona and received a Bachelor of Science in Speech, Language and Hearing Science. In 2008, I moved to Seattle to start the Med SLP program at the UW. I did my clinical fellowship at Kindering and continue to work there today. Kindering is a neurodevelopmental clinic serving children birth to 3 years old with a variety of developmental delays and disabilities. I currently do evaluations and speech-language and feeding therapy in different settings, including my clients’ homes and day cares, our clinic and within a toddler preschool program.

Why did you choose the University of Washington master’s program?

When I was applying for grad schools, I knew I wanted to stay on the West Coast. At the time, the UW program was ranked fifth in the nation and it had a focus on medical settings, which intrigued me. I had also heard wonderful things about Seattle, so I decided to apply.

Once I was accepted into the UW program, I visited and met with a professor and a few clinical supervisors. They were interesting, informative and really friendly. The graduate student coordinator for the department drove me around and showed me the highlights of campus, including the graduate student housing options. I then observed a class and noticed how engaged the students were in the discussion. I asked them about their experiences in the program and they had nothing but positive things to say. The UW faculty members went above and beyond what the faculty members had done during my visits at other graduate schools. As a result of this great visit and the cherry blossoms blooming in the Quad, I was sold.

Why did you decide to take a speech-language pathology program with a medical focus versus a general SLP program?

I have always had an interest in the sciences, specifically in medical settings, which is why I was particularly interested when I saw that the Med SLP program was an option. This interest increased during my visit to UW, when I learned that the Med SLP students had coursework and clinical experiences (both at the UW and offsite) that were tailored to medical settings.

How did the clinical rotations in the program help you advance your career or shape your goals?

During my clinical rotations at the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic, I worked with children with receptive and expressive language impairments, social-communication disorders and literacy delays. I also worked with adults who had suffered from strokes, head injuries and anoxic brain injuries. These experiences confirmed that I wanted to focus in pediatrics, rather than with adults, as I had always had a passion for working with children.

I found that the offsite rotations that the UW coordinated for me were especially helpful in shaping my career path and related goals. They gave me perspective on the life of a working SLP, as well as different patient populations and settings. My first offsite experience at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital involved a combination of assessment and treatment in the outpatient and inpatient acute units. I discovered that I preferred the outpatient setting because it gave me more opportunities to do therapy and develop relationships with the patients and their families.

My second offsite rotation was at Kindering, where I was given the chance to specialize in working with clients birth to 3 years old. In contrast with my experience at Mary Bridge, I found that I really loved focusing on infants and toddlers as opposed to elementary-aged children and adolescents. At the end of my rotation, they offered to take me on as a clinical fellow which led to the start of my career as a pediatric SLP.

Were there opportunities to work with other students in groups?

We had group projects in some of our classes that required us to collaborate on papers and presentations. We also had several opportunities to team during our clinical rotations. These included initial assessments, social skills and literacy groups and communication groups with adults with neurological impairments. These different interactions, along with observing my peers, provided valuable insight. They prepared me for my current job, where I often do group evaluations and co-treatments.

What did you enjoy most about clinical training?

The clinical training experiences gave me the opportunity to apply the academic knowledge I had gained in the classroom to actual clients and their families.
How did your training in evidence-based practice help prepare you to make determinations about the types of treatments and procedures you use and practice?

How did your training in evidence-based practice help prepare you to make determinations about the types of treatments and procedures you use and practice? How have you applied your EBP training to what you do now?

Throughout our graduate program we frequently discussed the topic of evidence-based practice (EBP), i.e., the practice of considering research, clinical experience and the values of the patient and his/her family when making clinical decisions. We had an EBP class during the second year of school, during which I learned how to conduct and interpret research in an efficient but thorough manner. The knowledge taken from this course and others has helped me individualize my treatment with each family and inform my clinical decisions, making my practice more effective.

Can you tell us about the quality of the professors and supervisors you worked with during your clinical rotations?

In my experience, the faculty at the UW as well as my offsite supervisors had not only strong academic backgrounds, but also diverse clinical experiences in the practice of speech-language pathology. Their experiences gave them the ability to guide me on how to help my clients more effectively. The faculty and supervisors I worked with taught me not just rote facts, but more importantly how to problem solve and apply the knowledge I had learned in the classroom.

Was there a sense of community within your cohort?

Graduate school was a stressful and intense experience, but my classmates made it manageable and enjoyable. I connected with everyone not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level. I formed strong bonds with many of my classmates and continue to maintain friendships with them.

Many students move to Seattle to attend the Med SLP program. What do you like best about Seattle?

After spending 22 years in Arizona, the climate change was a difficult transition for me. However, I have learned to appreciate all four seasons, year-round greenery, tall trees and lakes. Seattle is a really vibrant and diverse city. It has something to offer for everyone, especially for young professionals. I like that it offers city life and a variety of outdoor opportunities. I have also learned that Seattle and its surrounding suburbs are known for their “therapy community,” with several clinics and hospitals throughout the area, which is helpful when looking for a job!