I'm finding it hard to believe that my tenure at "clinic" is nearing it's finish. Sooner than I know it, I will be taking all the skills I've learned in that alternate-reality of a second home and attempt to apply them in that "real world" I keep hearing about.
What I refer to as "clinic" is the Communications Clinic of my University. As a first-year Masters student heading for a degree as a speech pathologist, I spend the vast majority of my time either at the clinic or preparing for my time at clinic. Clinic comprises a total-immersion approach to training us 38 would-bes in the multitudinous and extremely variable populations of people to whom we could or will attend to once we are graduated and certified.
Clinic has tested me. Tested all of us, I believe. It is a scant percentage of our credit load, but requires energy and ambition, hard-work and ingenuity on a regular basis. I have reached unprecedented lows and highs of pride as a direct result of the demands put to me from my clinical schedule. In the short period of nine-plus months, I have learned how to assess, diagnose, and treat the speech and language aspects of individuals ranging in age from infant to geriatric with countless different disorder types ranging from traumatic brain injury, to stroke, Parkinson's Disease, fetal alcohol syndrome, Autism, nerve damage, dyslexia, language impairments, to name but a few.
When I realized this was the path I wanted to pursue, I truly had no idea how much we were expected to know and how different the paths open before me would be. I could take this degree and work with infant children and their families on developmental issues; I could work at a hospital teaching post- coma patients how to swallow and eat again. I could work in a rehab facility teaching folks with brain-injuries how to read, and reason, and be appropriate again. I could work in a school with a caseload as wide as the sea and children with disorders as varied as snowflakes. It seems there is no end to the variety and choice and opportunity for learning something new every day along the way.
Grad school has kicked my butt just a bit, and clinic is where the hardest hours have been spent. Learning how to trust yourself enough to feel confident and competent with someone else's happiness and success at your nascent fingertips is not the simplest of journeys. This experience has humbled and encouraged me. I feel ready for the real world but look back and can easily see a time when I was not. I still have the sense that I have learned enough to only get me through the tip of that proverbial iceberg, but I also know that this is something I need to continue to grow and learn and feel the heft of my efforts. Challenge is a necessary factor in life if you expect yourself to grow outward and upward.
It's ironic to me that the place where I have learned so much, and faced so many internal personal battles, is as ugly as our clinic. Outdated and slated to be replaced this very fall (right after I am finished with it, of course), the clinic carpets are stained beyond belief, its white walls ridden with marks of unknown origin, and its lights garish in all their florescent glory. More than often, though, I find myself not noticing this. Not noticing and thinking more about the people who have aided me in my crazy trip through these past few semesters. My classmates and supervisors and above all my clients. Patient and supportive and challenging me at every turn, this world has changed me. Indelibly.