We recently sat down with Rachel Homza, M.S., CCC-SLP, to dive into her background and experience, clinical approach, inspiration for becoming a speech therapist, and more. You can read more about Rachel Homza here.
Can you spend a few minutes talking about your experience and background as a speech therapist?
I graduated from the University of Florida with my B.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and the University of South Florida with my M.S. in Speech Language Pathology. Since earning my Master’s degree in 2015, I have worked with a variety of pediatric patients ranging in age from 0-21 in a variety of settings, including multi-disciplinary outpatient clinics, preschools, prescribed pediatric extended care facilities (PPECs), private/charter schools, and in homes.
Why did you decide to become a speech therapist?
During my freshman year in college, I knew I liked science and was skilled with language. I was pretty sure I wanted to go into a medical field, but was having a hard time connecting what I was learning in my crowded Calculus lectures to anything I would ever use in a job. So I spoke with some older students, and started talking about their majors and career paths. The happy ones indicated that each of their classes were applicable to what they would eventually need in their career - and they were all planning on becoming speech-language pathologists (SLPs). It sounded like the perfect marriage of science and language, and a fulfilling career for me.
I decided then that I would start observing SLPs on the job to make sure it was right for me. The first observation I did was in a large hospital. I observed mainly NICU infants, but one patient in particular taught me a lot that day. A teenager, non-verbal and in a wheelchair, arrived for a swallow study, having multiple seizures on the way to the appointment. He had a G-tube and no medical records, so his new caregiver had been providing all his nutrition via his tube. He was receiving a swallow study to see what kind of foods he could safely eat by mouth, if anything.
The SLP explained to him, as she would explain to anyone else, that he needed to do his best to swallow the thick and chalky barium in order to hopefully be able to eat something by mouth on a regular basis. As the assessment progressed, the SLP increased the complexity of each texture, and we discovered that his swallow function was perfectly intact. The teenager was able to leave with his caregiver knowing he could eat anything by mouth.
This patient taught me a few things: 1) If I could impact quality of life this way in the field of speech-language pathology, I would would be extremely fulfilled in my career, and 2) It also drove home the fact that a person’s appearance, mobility, or ability to speak has no bearing on cognitive function or drive to communicate.
What areas of speech-language pathology interest you most?
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), literacy, bilingualism, and early intervention.
What part of your job do you find most enjoyable?
I really enjoy empowering parents and caregivers to implement strategies for speech and language development at home and throughout daily interactions with their children.
Among all the clients you’ve taught throughout your career, is there a particular success story that stands out in your mind?
Yes! There was a child I started with who had severely low speech intelligibility and used only a few words in one-word utterances. She relied mostly on pointing, gesturing, and some signs to communicate basic needs. I advocated for this school-aged child to get a speech generating device. Once she received her own “talker,” she was so excited that she refused to let me hold it so I could model for her! She became a confident communicator so quickly, and even increased her verbal speech as a result, occasionally using 4-word utterances the last time I saw her.
How do you assess and monitor your clients’ progress?
It is always in relation to the patient’s goals, which are always different. I do enjoy taking a step back from the goals occasionally to see: Is this person able to communicate with more people in their community? Are we having fewer communication breakdowns? Can they now order a meal at a restaurant? Can they have a conversation with their grandparents on the phone? Are they participating in games with their peers on the playground?
What attracted you to online speech therapy?
Like many others, my first experience with teletherapy was during the mandatory COVID-19 shutdown. I was stressed from all that was going on in the world, but also excited for a new challenge. I eventually realized success with parent coaching and increased attendance. Some of my more severe cases surprised me with their increased engagement with online versus in person services.
What are your hobbies or passions outside of speech therapy?
I love being outdoors and enjoying nature. I’m a big fan of the entire animal kingdom, volunteering with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and a local cat rescue. I have two adorable cats: Duncan and Daphne. I am currently on my town’s Playground Advisory Committee, where I have been educating and advocating with the goal of installing a communication board on the new playground. I hope to raise money for other accessibility features so that everyone can enjoy this great space. In addition, I like all kinds of art and have a big closet dedicated to my creative endeavors. I practice yoga, like reading, love musical theater, and long to travel again!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am very grateful for this opportunity and for the families I'm working with at Expressable!