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Arnold School of Public Health

Speech-language pathology assistant completes master’s from Canada through distance education program

August 5, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

Becoming a speech-language pathologist appealed to Rachel Chan for two reasons. Like many professionals in the field, she had seen speech therapy make a difference in the life of a loved one (for Chan, it was her brother) and their family members. She also has a deep fascination with anatomy and physiology.

“Speech-language pathology was very enticing because there’s a whole medical side to the field,” Chan says. “I particularly loved learning about swallowing mechanics and have been enjoying the real-life practical opportunities to work with this population in my placements through my master's program.”

Those clinical placements saw the Toronto, Canada native traveling to the United States to work in rehabilitation, hospital and elementary school settings in North and South Carolina. She found working with older adults to be particularly rewarding and would like to specialize in helping patients who have dysphagia (i.e., swallowing difficulties).

These were not her first experiences in the field, however. Knowing that she wanted to be a speech-language pathologist, Chan studied rehabilitation sciences in her honors program at the University of Western Ontario. She then earned a graduate certificate from Durham College to become a communicative disorders assistant.

Chan has spent the past four years gaining experience in the field with a private clinic and a publicly-funded preschool program at a local hospital. The Arnold School’s Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology – Distance Education program (offered through the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD)) made it possible for Chan to continue working while pursuing a graduate degree. She was particularly grateful for the opportunity to apply what she was learning at her day job – making the integrated learning even more impactful.

The program also connected Chan with mentors, such as COMD clinical assistant professor and graduate director Elizabeth Barnes and clinical associate professor Caryn Melvin.

“I can’t give enough thanks to my practicum and internship supervisors, who have been incredible mentors and models of what I aspire to be,” Chan says of the individuals she worked with during clinical rotations. “From the program, Dr. Barnes and Dr. Melvin have been exceptional educators and instructors that are truly invested in their students’ education and growth as clinicians. They not only excel at teaching the academic side, but also dig deep into the heart of what a career in speech and language pathology looks like. All the faculty at UofSC have such drive and heart, it has been a pleasure to be taught by them.”

After graduating in August, Chan will begin her clinical fellowship – preferably in an acute care setting working with patients who have dysphagia. Long term, she would consider earning a doctoral degree to help prepare the next generation of speech-language pathologists.

“It’s also a goal of mine to help bridge the gap in speech services for families and individuals whose first language may not be English,” Chan says. “I’m hoping that my skills with other languages, which include Cantonese and Mandarin, can spread awareness and create more access to speech services for the Chinese community that exists in the greater Toronto area.”

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