April 1, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Much of my interest in the field of speech-language pathology can be traced back to my cousin, Jonathan,” says Frances Medley, a Master of Communication Disorders (MCD) student in the Arnold School’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD). “Jonathan began every type of therapy and early intervention available when his parents and pediatricians became concerned because he wasn’t meeting typical milestones, including speech, during his first year.”
Medley attended a few of her cousin’s speech therapy sessions and was fascinated. She was impressed that they helped him not only to communicate with his family but with feeding and other skills as well. Finally, at six years of age, Jonathan was diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by an array of physical and neurological challenges as well as developmental delays. Most patients with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome do not develop speech.
Jonathan is now 10 years old. Though his speech is limited, his therapy has empowered him to better communicate with some words as well as through nonverbal methods. His mother recently attended a conference for children who have Pitt Hopkins Syndrome and learned about some new research demonstrating that children with this condition can learn to communicate through a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
This type of innovative research instills hope in families like Medley’s and provides her with inspiration for her career in the field of speech-language pathology. It’s also a cornerstone of the COMD department’s approach to educating their students. “We aren’t just educating future clinicians,” says COMD Chair Kenn Apel. “Our approach is to teach our students to become clinical-scientists, so that they are always looking for ways to integrate the latest evidence-based research into their patient interactions.”
It’s a philosophy that Medley has embraced throughout her program and one that she will continue when she becomes a clinical-scientist. “I want to make sure that I am well prepared for my career and have the knowledge I need to provide the very best for my patients,” she says.
The West Columbia-native’s professional journey began with a bachelor’s degree in education from Clemson University. Since her 2010 graduation, Medley has been teaching third grade in Lexington. Her full-time job is one reason the Arnold School’s MCD program, which she began in 2013, appealed to her.
“USC is a very well respected program in the speech-language pathology profession, and I wanted to make sure that the program I attended would prepare me for my future career and help open doors,” she says. “I also love teaching and wasn’t quite ready to step out of the classroom so the distance learning program that COMD offers was perfect. It has allowed me to continue my teaching career while working towards my future.”
The MCD degree is one of two master’s degree paths offered by the COMD department. The other is the Master of Speech-Language Pathology (MSP) degree. Both master’s degrees prepare students for careers in speech-language pathology through comprehensive coursework and significant clinical experiences. And both degrees are equally challenging, requiring significant academic, clinical and personal commitment to be successful. The MCD degree curriculum has been structured to be part-time, with academic instruction offered through distance learning, in-person components, and technology-supported live interactions as an alternative to the full-time MSP degree that is offered only to students who must participate locally.
While balancing a full-time job with her graduate studies has been challenging, Medley says that the experience has been very rewarding. “Because of the flexibility of a distance learning program I’ve been able to continue teaching full time and even got married in the middle of the semester!” she explains. “We were able to use technology to help the program seem less like a distance learning situation. Through video chats and discussion boards, we get to know our classmates and professors. The professors work hard to be available for us—even if that means phone conferences at night to discuss challenging concepts.” Her own hard work has clearly paid off as Medley recently received the 2016 Outstanding Student Award in Communication Sciences and Disorders for the Master of Communication Disorders.
After her August graduation, Medley plans to work with children who have language delays. “Part of working with children who have language delays is educating their parents on how to interact and play with them in a way that overloads them with language and provides good language models for them,” she says. She is also interested in learning sign language so that she is fully equipped to work with children who are hearing impaired. And, of course, she plans to keep her scientific mindset—continuously seeking out and incorporating the latest research.
For future students, whether they take the distance learning or traditional route, Medley believes it’s important to have passion for the field and a willingness to put in the work. “If you’re going to be effective and impact people in a positive way, you have to have a passion for it. That passion will sustain you through the hard days and nights and help you stay focused,” she says. “As for role models, my parents both have an incredible work ethic. They have shown me that dedication and discipline are important and that if you’re going to do something, you do it all the way—never do anything halfway.”