Friday Feature: Sensemillah Peters- Lewis M.S. CCC-SLP

Hey guys! I’m back with another feature. This series started out as being monthly but, I have reached out to individuals I greatly admired to be featured and the response has been amazing. I decided to turn my monthly feature into a weekly feature which I’m calling Friday Feature. Every Friday, I’ll be featuring individuals I admire and who are doing great work in their community.

Today’s feature is someone from my beautiful island of Antigua, someone I went to high school with. It is always a pleasure to feature someone from my Island. I love to see my peers working and achieving their goals. Now, Let’s meet today’s feature; Sensemillah Peters- Lewis

Sensemillah Peters-Lewis

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Currently I wear many hats. I am a mother first, Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), entrepreneur and Clinical Doctorate student. As an SLP I am responsible for diagnosing and treating various speech, language, communication and swallowing disorders in a variety of settings. I crave knowledge and you can find me looking for my next educational adventure, for the advancement of my skills. When I am not developing life altering plans in the middle of the night, you can find me listening to music, and most recently exploring the great outdoors. 

What is your current title and employer/school?

I am a Speech-Language Pathologist and the proud owner of start-up speech therapy company, SpeakEZ Theracare. I work fulltime for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (PK-5) in Charlotte, NC. I also work part-time for a Home Health Therapy company serving the 0-3 population, and a teletherapy company serving the school-aged population. 

What got you interested in your professional field?  How has your upbringing influenced your career aspirations?

My career path was hand-picked for me by my sister. Throughout high school it was my dream to become a pediatrician but after 3rd form and a lack of understanding in chemistry those dreams were shattered. My parents were adamant about my getting a college education because they didn’t have one, and to them it didn’t matter what it was. My sister, 15 years my senior, devised the plan and the rest was history. I was a successful college student with the ability to complete any coursework set before me, and I must finish anything I start. 

Were you knowledgeable of the Speech Pathology field before college (or post-high school)?

I did not understand the field of Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology prior to college. It was through my coursework, observations and clinical practicums where I began to scrape the surface. It wasn’t until I obtained a job as a paraprofessional working with children with disabilities, that I truly understood the role of an SLP. My next job as an SLPA provided more insight and knowledge. Being able to make such an impact in the lives of my clients and their families created the desire to be better, thus leading to my quest for always gaining more knowledge. 

What does a typical work day look like for someone in your position (or who has your responsibilities)?

My day begins with planning and preparation for the day’s scheduled therapy sessions. Therapy sessions are 30 minutes in length and are either individual or group, in a pull-out or push-in method. There are designated days for staff meetings and EC (exceptional children) meetings where we discuss “at risk” students, initial evaluations and re-evaluations. Some student might have their annual IEP (Individualized Education Plan) review meeting scheduled, which can take 45mins – 1 hour. 

After my workday, I drive to either a daycare center or client’s home to provide routine based interventions using the coaching model with parents and caregivers. If it’s a day for teletherapy clients, I provide that service from the comfort of my home office. 

Do you typically work individually or in a group?  Which do you prefer?

As an SLP I work as a part of a multidisciplinary team, working alongside teachers, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and ABA therapists to treat “the whole child”. However, I do provide services alone majority of the time. In early intervention, there are more opportunities to co-treat with other professionals. 

How does one become a certified speech pathologist? 

To become a certified SLP in the United States you must complete an undergraduate degree. If you have a Bachelors in a related field you must complete the prerequisites when applying to a Masters program. Some states allow you to work as an SLPA with an undergraduate degree under the direct supervision of a licensed SLP. It is a Graduate requirement to complete 350 clock hours of practicum experience across settings and disorders before you can apply for a conditional state license along with your clinical fellow (CF) from ASHA. During your CFY you must complete 9 months working fulltime demonstrating independence and competence for your supervisor to sign off on your documentation, making you eligible to receive your Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP). 

In what ways does your work contribute to the Healthcare and public health field?

Over the years we have moved from solely diagnosing and treating communication and swallowing disorders to providing education for early detection and prevention. We have been providing more education on causal factors and awareness regarding speech, language and swallowing. For example, we train staff in the nursing home to identify patients who are at risk for dysphagia, as well as provide education on proper oral hygiene to reduce the onset of oral dysphagia.

How do you think your schooling/training prepared you for your current position?

Without my academic foundation I would not be prepared for this job. I am grateful that there are many training opportunities available for all the disorders and should I choose to specialize, there are special interests’ groups that I can subscribe to. To maintain certification, I must complete 10 hours of continuing education courses each year, which allows me to remain abreast with new evidence-based practices within the field. As things change rapidly, I am able to keep up. 

How has professional networking and social capital affected your career aspirations/trajectory?

This field is filled with persons who understand that we are one community and many offer guidance to help you navigate through education, employment, training and starting your own private practice. We understand that we will never keep up with the demand, so there is no need for competition like some other fields. 

Were there challenges you faced to get where you are currently?

The only real challenge is working in a field with only 8% black people. I’m used to being the only POC in a room and at times it is difficult because no one else can relate to you. 

What has been a rewarding experience during your academic or professional journey?

The most rewarding experience for me thus far has been advocating for my client. I was the only member of the team that disagreed with the documented cognitive ability of my client, who was diagnosed with a progressive degenerative neurological disorder. I fought to get a trial with an eye-gaze speech generating device that allowed her to communicate with her family because she was not able to speak.

What are some skills or experiences that undergraduates interested in speech pathology should have going into your line of work?

Anyone interested in becoming an SLP should be compassionate, organized, detail oriented, critical thinker, and a team player. You must be able to relate to your colleagues and your clients/families. 

What job, grad school, or fellowship search tips do you have for undergraduates?

When applying for graduate school, understand that there is no difference in obtaining your degree from an Ivy league school or a “regular” university. It is the same degree and your skills and experiences will ultimately land you the job post-graduation. Ensure that your application packet is strong – good GPA, GRE scores (not needed by all schools) and a well written statement of the person. 

During your fellowship year it is important to choose a setting and a mentor who has the time to teach you, as this is the last time you will have some training and support before becoming a completely independent clinician. 

During your job search, ensure that you know what the going rate for your geographical area and setting are. We don’t normally get raises outside of the school district so discuss a rate change from CF to CCC. Employers tend to low ball new CFs and coming from grad school you may think $30/hr is great and it is not (speaking from my geographical location). 

What interviewing tips do you have for undergraduates?

Typically, undergraduates do not interview for employment, this comes upon completion of grad school. As a CF prepare yourself by learning something about the company, it shows that you are invested.  Ask your interviewer questions, even if you think your question is minor or unimportant. Discuss salary ranges, DO NOT go into that interview without an idea of your worth. Ask about paid training opportunities, incentives like ASHA and license reimbursement, and opportunities for advancement within the company. 

What advice do you have for undergraduates during their first month of working with a new employer?

As a CF, know that you are now in the real world, you are no longer a student. It will take some time to get acclimated to your setting, so do not rush through anything, take your time and learn the procedures of your building. If you are uncertain about anything, reach out to your supervisor or other SLPs. 

What is something you wish you knew while in college (or post-high school)?

I wish they spoke more candidly about the departmental politics, lack of advocacy, and insane productivity standards that are set by many companies. In many positions we are only as valuable as our billable hours, and the bottom line is all that matters. 

How important is work-life balance to you?

Self-care is extremely important in this field. We never stop thinking about our clients, and quite often take home work with us. Paperwork is endless and the least favorite part of our jobs. If you don’t follow a strict rule you will experience burnout rather quickly. 

What is something related to speech pathology that you would like to see improve upon over the next decade?

I would like to see more education and awareness to the public, for persons to truly understand our wide scope of practice.  I would also like to see more advocacy from our governing bodies to provide the much-needed support to clinicians. We advocate for our clients and families but there is no one to listen to our concerns and fight for us. 

A restaurant has named a dish after you; what is it and why?

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo – because I am sweet, sassy, spicy and filled with many different flavors. This translates to me being a trailblazer, smart, down-to-earth, professional, serious – able to adapt to any environment/situation. I possess numerous qualities that are usually found in different people. 

That’s all for now people! Be sure to check out Sensemillah on her Facebook page Sense Antiguan SLP She is also now accepting new clients at her virtual private practice SpeakEZ Theracare.

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