Name: David Ford, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist at private otolaryngology practice Straka & McQuone
Hometown: Sewickley, Pa.
When you combine a newly certified speech-language pathologist with the spirit of an entrepreneur, who do you get? David Ford knew early on in his undergraduate speech-language studies that he really wanted to work with voice patients, but he also knew it was a small niche. So what did he do to make it happen? Create a job.
After graduating from Duquesne University with his master's degree in speech-language pathology, Ford moved to Oregon for a fellowship at the Northwest Clinic for Voice and Swallowing at Oregon Health & Sciences University. During his fellowship, he worked with a diverse population of patients with ear, nose and throat issues and head and neck cancer; participated in voice and swallowing-related in-services; and developed a research project under the guidance of fellowship faculty. Bolstered by his experience, he moved back to his home town of Sewickley, Pa., to shop his services to ear, nose and throat specialists ... not that they knew they were looking for an SLP, mind you.
"The model I'd worked with during my fellowship was brilliant and I knew the model would succeed in my home town where there was an underserved population," he says. "I just had to let them know."
It took three months of knocking on doors, but eventually he was so convincing that the practice of Straka & McQuone snatched him up. In fact, the practice had been considering hiring an SLP a few years earlier, and Ford's explanation of what SLPs do helped push them over the line. They even gave him a brand new office.
"I was a little surprised and part of me felt like I was pitching the field, but I knew it was a good fit for them," Ford says. "I basically explained to them the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach, in terms of providing the best patient care, improving clinic flow and generating revenue. I knew that having an SLP was going to eventually make their jobs easier."
For all the conviction he has today, Ford had no idea what an SLP was or did before he went to college. The suggestion of a "pretty girl" in one of his freshman-year classes that he check out the speech-language pathology program opened his eyes. She explained to him he'd be the "only guy" in the program. Although Ford admits that might have given him the incentive to step through the door the first time, it was when he learned there was a possibility to work with voices that he decided to stay. An avid participant in musical theatre, he thought that being able to help treat voices would be a good blend of a profession with his personal passion.
"The voice has always intrigued me," he says. "I knew a little from singing, voice instruction, and tips and techniques I picked up from fellow performers, but I wanted to know the science behind how voice is produced. I know firsthand that performers need to, but often don't, take care of their voices. Whether it's your profession, your hobby or simply the ability to carry on a meaningful conversation and convey emotion, voice is incredibly important. It amazes me that an anatomic or physiologic difference can hinder such things, and getting to help people like this is incredibly rewarding."
Ford says he especially enjoys working with a variety of voice patients, including some performers and professional voice users, and being able to maintain his outside theater interests (he's auditioning for some upcoming summer roles). But that's not all. He now has his sights on pursuing his doctorate while he works, with the goal of teaching.
"I got to teach a bit during my fellowship and found that I really liked it," he says. "I liked connecting with students and working in clinics. I'm going to get it started and see how it goes."
As for his decision to take a few classes in a field that is predominantly filled with women, he says even though it didn't quite turn out the way he initially imagined it, it all worked out in the end.
"Really, being a guy in the speech field is a good thing. I think it differentiated me in a good way when I was trying to find a job," he says. "Plus, being immersed in graduate studies surrounded by women has given me valuable perspective. I'm one of the girls now: They've beaten me down and built me up to be the sensitive, affable guy I am today."