May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM). To celebrate, we’re introducing you to a few of our speech-language pathologists (SLP). Today, meet Jessica Pressel.
Why did you decide to become a SLP?
As I examined my strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and interests, I realized at a young age that one day my future career would involve helping others in some capacity. I have always felt that in helping others improve their quality of life, I have found myself flourishing. I suppose that the idea of speech-language pathology was introduced to me within my own family. My grandfather was a doctor of speech-language pathology, a professor at Hofstra University, and a leader in his community. Since I had known about and researched the profession, I felt confident that it fit my needs and abilities early on. Entering my freshman year at the University of Maryland, I declared my major as Hearing and Speech Science.
What is the most exciting part about your job?
There are so many exciting parts of my job! Building relationships with patients and staff, helping people learn to regain independence during some of the most challenging times in their lives… I would have to say one of the most exciting things is seeing people accomplish what others thought impossible. Whether it’s saying “I love you” for the first time after a traumatic event or taking a first bite of food after a stroke, it always inspires and excites me to see people achieve these amazing feats.
Do you have a particular experience or patient that made an impact on your life?
When I was a new clinician working at a sub-acute rehabilitation center, I had a patient there who truly demonstrated the meaning of that old phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” When I began working with her, she had recently had a stroke. Having known this woman during prior admissions to the facility before her stroke, I knew what an outgoing, sensitive, artistic, and unique person she was. The stroke had left her with profound speech and language deficits, unable to communicate even the most basic of needs. She was frustrated and angry and, at times, completely inconsolable. As we worked together, she once again began to blossom. Months and months of tiring hard work went by and finally she started to see tremendous gains in her speech. Later, as we were sitting chatting about a new Brad Pitt movie, I found myself simply amazed at how this woman persevered to regain her voice, which was so much of her spunky personality. To this day, when I see or experience a situation that seems impossible or too big to take on, I remember that there’s no feat too large to take on, and giving up is not an option.
How would you describe your job to someone that doesn’t know anything about speech therapy?
Usually the first thing people do is comment about knowing someone with a stutter or asking about a child who has difficulty pronouncing their “R’s.” There are in fact many roles and settings that speech-language pathologists work in, all skilled and unique. Working in an acute rehab setting here at Magee, I evaluate and treat people with a variety of medical diagnoses including stroke, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury. I work with an interdisciplinary team of professionals to help our patients regain the ability to speak, communicate, eat and drink, and utilize “thinking skills” like memory, after a medical event. We utilize researched-based practices to improve the independence and quality of life of others. Often, we act as a source of education, counseling, and guidance for patients’ families so that they can better help their loved ones.