Scoring a job as a new graduate can be difficult. In the field of Speech-Language Pathology, this can be especially true for recent graduates of an accredited program hoping to secure full-time employment in a hospital-based setting.
In fact, even the seasoned speech-language pathologist may find competition to be fierce for hospital positions. This is, in part, because job opportunities in schools and private practice settings usually exceed those in healthcare.
For the clinical fellow, things get a little bit trickier. In accordance to the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) requirements, clinical fellows must complete 9 months of supervised experience before becoming eligible for a Certificate of Clinical Competency (CCC).
In order to hire a clinical fellow, then, hiring managers must secure and provide adequate supervision to the new graduate.
In some cases, clinical fellows may be competing at a disadvantage to applicants who have similar, or even less experience, but have obtained their CCC’s. Whether or not the clinical fellow is able to score their dream job over other applicants may depend on many factors. It is likely, however, that the availability and expense of providing supervision is a weighted factor in the employers candidate selection.
Fellows aspiring to complete their supervised professional experience (SPE) in a hospital, then, should plan to demonstrate value to their prospective employer that will exceed the cost of mentorship and training.
The following are suggestions serving as a guide to gaining employment as a clinical fellow in the hospital setting.
“I want a Medical CFY,” – me, to me, as a recent graduate
1. Have Relevant Graduate Externships
This one is probably a no brainer. An ideal candidate is a candidate who is qualified for the job they are applying for.
Fortunately, most SLP graduate programs prepare students as well-rounded generalists rather than specialists. Unfortunately, this can be a double-edged sword.
On one hand, new graduates prepared as generalists are enabled the adequate skills and experience for careers in a variety of settings. On the other hand, new graduates prepared as generalists will be doning similar resumes to every other new graduate applying for the same job. In other words, a resume that reads “jack-of-all trades generalist” is not a stand-out application for a job requiring a narrow set of skills.
Students aspiring to work in the medical setting may benefit from expressing their interest in health-care to academic counselors and externship-site coordinators as early on in the program as possible. Doing so may increase the likelihood of gaining relevant opportunities where technical skills can be honed and polished.
Professional experience administering Modified Barium Swallow Studies (MBS), Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES), and/or working with low incidence and highly complex populations may prove to be useful, qualifying experience that can help candidates stand out.
In particular, the ability to administer whilst interpreting a Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBS) is a high-level skill fundamental to acute-care hospital work. It is also a rare skill not all speech-language pathologists have mastered.
2. Be Willing to Relocate
Smaller towns tend to have greater difficulty recruiting qualified health-care professionals. This can result in open positions remaining unfilled for extended periods of time. While it may not initially sound attractive to relocate to a place called Hazard, KY, where the population sits at around 4 thousand people, it may benefit your career to do so. Of course, this one might be tough for new graduates firmly rooted in a city or with families.
3. Be Flexible with Pay
Employers who are willing to pay top dollars for new graduates are typically those who expect new hires to hit the floor running. While being paid less than others from your cohort may be discouraging, it is important to consider that your employment package is greater than the value of salary alone.
Opportunities to learn and further develop skills should be considered as part of the whole offer. Think of it as another year of learning and gaining valuable professional expertise, except, this time, instead of paying to learn, you are paid to do the learning (Don’t worry, your graduate student loans will probably be paid off before you die).
4. Apply Directly To Hospital Sites
This is an important one that not every new graduate is aware of. Often times, the career opportunities advertised on job boards like Indeed are only a small percentage of available jobs.
In some cases, sites require companies pay in order to post open positions. Additional costs can deter employers from using third parties to augment their recruitment efforts.
Job boards may also prove to be unreliable. Just because a job is advertised does not mean it is available. Some third party sites may continue to advertise a job long after the position has been filled.
By scouring hospital sites and directly applying to their job postings, you may become aware of opportunities that are less heavily advertised. This may work to your benefit, as fewer candidates may applying for a single job because fewer people are aware the job exists. This ultimately means less competition for you.
Bonus points for visiting each hospital site frequently. In doing so, you are increasing the likelihood of being one of the first to know when a new job has been posted.
5. Further Your Qualifications
Okay, so you remember what I said about being a generalist? While you may not be able to control which externships you complete while enrolled in a graduate program, you can control how much continuing education and extra training you obtain after you complete your program (or while enrolled!).
Some viable options to help build your resume include taking extra courses during graduate school (e.g. elective courses in dysphagia, traumatic brain injury, trach/vent care, aphasia, etc.) and obtaining certifications through the MBSImP training or LSVT training.
Never underestimate the power of becoming a familiar face. A hirable person is often someone who is easy to work with. Generally speaking, recruiters want to hire someone who is likable and has integrity; the kind of person you would let hold your baby for a hot minute if you were in a bind and had to use both your hands simultaneously.
Your resume doesn’t exactly scream “top pick for baby-holding”, and lets be honest, it shouldn’t. This is why putting a face and personality to your resume is so incredibly important.
What is more is that by networking, you may learn of job opportunities that are not yet openly advertised. Through networking, you increase the likelihood of becoming a memorable contact for when an opportunity does present itself later.
7. Demonstrate Academic Excellence
This was a suggestion I found when researching for this article on one of the SLP Facebook groups I belong to. I won’t touch too much on this one, because if you were one of the lucky ones able to secure a spot in a graduate program, I will also presume you have a track record of obtaining above mediocre grades.
Go to class, learn, develop competencies. Having a 4.0 might set you a part from other candidates, but also, maybe not. This will depend on what is important to those hiring you.
If anything, I promise your future will not be completely ruined by receiving an A-.
8. Wait It Out
This is one a previous supervisor suggested to me when I expressed my interest to her in obtaining a medical position following graduation. She explained that the process of gaining a medical CFY might be difficult, but would not be impossible, lest I was willing to “wait it out”.
In her opinion, it was better to continue to do steps 1-7 until securing my dream position, than to take a CFY in an alternative setting and attempt to transition into my dream job following completion of my fellowship year.
Keep in mind, like many of these points, this was only one supervisors opinion and therefore is not the ultimate truth. While obtaining a medical CFY may be the easiest and most comfortable routes to a medical career, it absolutely is not the only one. Transitioning after your CFY can be done.
If you do chose to wait it out until you obtain a medical position, I recommend setting a clear timeline for yourself. If your situation is anything like mine, your family will tire of always obligingly buying your popcorn at the movie theatre and, after so much time, you will tire of living in your parents basement. Figure out how much time it will take until you anticipate reaching that ‘tire’ point and plan to diligently work towards your goal until then.