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Arnold School of Public Health


August graduate leverages COMD research and clinical placement opportunities to find ideal career

October 28, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Hannah Patten originally came to Carolina to major in dance. The 17-year ballet veteran performed with the USC Ballet Company for her first two years as an undergraduate before shifting her focus to another lifelong passion: working with children who have special needs.

“My mother teaches special education, and I always enjoyed working with children with special needs,” says the Gainesville, Ga. native who ended up changing her major to English. “She encouraged me to consider being a speech-language pathologist, so I took some introductory courses and became fascinated with the field of communication sciences and disorders. I liked that the field allowed me to incorporate my love for reading and writing while working with special needs populations.”

Before she had even graduated from UofSC with her bachelor’s degree, Patten had already begun working with Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD) Assistant Professor Suzanne Adlof in her South Carolina Research on Language and Literacy Lab (SCROLL), where Patten used a Magellan Scholarship to help Adlof research word leaning in school-age children with dyslexia and specific language impairment. 

The combination of clinical and research experience incorporated into the Master of Speech Language Pathology program was very attractive to me, and I knew that I would receive a great training to become a speech-language pathologist here.

-Hannah Patten, Master of Speech Pathology Graduate

Patten later presented her research findings at the annual convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association while she was still an undergraduate. She also co-authored a related paper that will soon appear in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Patten’s research served as a pilot study for a larger research project by SCROLL, which examined word learning profiles in children with dyslexia and specific language impairment—a study that she continued working on throughout her master’s program and one that led to additional presentations at national and international conferences.  

“Dr. Adlof has played a very important role in my education, and the huge amount of opportunities I gained working in her lab, as well as the support and mentorship that I received, led me to continue attending USC for my master’s degree,” says Patten. “The combination of clinical and research experience incorporated into the Master of Speech Pathology program was very attractive to me, and I knew that I would receive a great training to become a speech-language pathologist here.”

Through her coursework and clinical placements during her master’s program, Patten also became interested in medical speech pathology. She found this area of COMD so engaging that she chose to continue gaining experience in medical speech pathology for her clinical fellowship after her August graduation and would like to pursue a career in acute care.  

“I am currently working in acute care, inpatient rehabilitation, and outpatient therapy with adults who have speech, language, and swallowing deficits at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia,” says Patten. “I am most interested in acute care and dysphagia, and a large portion of my fellowship focuses on treating patients with head and/or neck cancer and neurogenic disorders. I enjoy treating adult and pediatric patients with dysphagia in acute care and hope to become a Board Certified Swallowing Specialist one day.”

The clinical and research faculty of the program are incredibly knowledgeable, and I would advise any student to take advantage of their experience and expertise while in the program.

-Hannah Patten, Master of Speech Pathology Graduate

Though not directly related to speech-language pathology, Patten believes her passion for practicing and teaching yoga has been helpful in providing clinical therapy, which often involves helping patients relax. Another key to Patten’s success? Choosing the right program.

“The clinical and research faculty of the program are incredibly knowledgeable, and I would advise any student to take advantage of their experience and expertise while in the program,” she says. In addition to finding a principal mentor in Adlof, Patten also discovered mentors in the clinical supervisors that the COMD department connected her with through clinical placements. For example, Jennifer Pace was instrumental in sparking Patten’s interest in dysphagia and acute care during her placement at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center during her master’s program—so much so that Patten has returned to the Center to complete her clinical fellowship with Pace.

She also credits clinical supervisor Dana Marek (Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.) with helping her confirm she would like to work in a hospital setting. Sheila McBrayer, her clinical supervisor for her final placement at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, provided the support Patten needed to feel independent as a clinician while also teaching her about pediatric acute care.

In addition to comprehensive coursework taught by world-class faculty, the department’s emphasis on providing exceptional research and clinical opportunities for students has become a hallmark of the program’s success. COMD research laboratories range from literacy and language to speech perception to neuroscience. Another major attraction for students is the network of partnerships with clinical sites that the department has built over its nearly 50-year history. In addition to a supervised practicum at COMD’s state-of-the-art USC Speech and Hearing Research Center, students have opportunities to gain professional experiences at more than 600 external clinical sites throughout the state and the country.