SLH Sciences at NY Neurogenic SLP & Yeshiva University (feat. Marissa Barrera)
Alumni Aloud Episode 68
Marissa Barrera received her PhD from the GC’s Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences program. She is the owner of New York Neurogenic Speech-Language Pathology P.C., as well as the Program Director of Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Medical Speech Language Pathology.
In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Marissa tells us about bridging clinical and educational experiences in speech language sciences, how she founded her own private practice, and her experience in higher ed admin positions.
VOICE OVER: This is Alumni Aloud, a podcast by Graduate Center students for Graduate Center students. In each episode we talk with a GC graduate about their career path, the ins and outs of their current position, and the career advice they have for students. This series is sponsored by the Graduate Center’s Office of Career Planning & Professional Development.
CARLY BATIST, HOST: I’m Carly Batist, a PhD candidate in Biological Anthropology here at the Graduate Center. I interviewed Dr. Marissa Barrera, who received her PhD from the GC’s Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences program. She is the owner of New York Neurogenic Speech-Language Pathology P.C., as well as the Program Director of Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Medical Speech Language Pathology. In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Marissa tells us about bridging clinical and educational experiences in speech language sciences, how she founded her own private practice, and her experience in higher ed admin positions. Going back to the beginning, you initially started out as a speech pathologist after you did a master’s in that. Correct?
MARISSA BARRERA, GUEST: Yep I still am a speech pathologist. I completed my master’s degree, which is the entry level degree necessary to become a speech language pathologist at Teachers College at Columbia University. And immediately after finishing my clinical fellowship or actually during that time of completing my clinical fellowship I applied to the PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center so I was on to the next step pretty soon after entering the field.
BATIST: Yeah. What made you want to continue on to the PhD?
BARRERA: Few different reasons. One, I always knew I wanted to teach and to be in academia. And the field requires to have at least 50% of the coursework in higher education be taught by PhD or EdD faculty so having a PhD or an EdD is an incredibly powerful tool for being in academia, job advancement and many other aspects of serving our field and serving the next generation of students, so that was one part. And the second part is that I always knew I was going to hopefully expand and you know, I have a private practice and I’ve had for many years. I had a private practice even at the time that I went to the GC. And I believe sometimes there can be a benefit of having a doctorate when you’re leading a business. It’s certainly not a requirement, but I think it can be beneficial to certain families and to certain people in the community.
They just may appreciate the additional education that the owner or director of the Program has decided to take upon themselves. So that was the second reason. And the third thing was that my mom was in healthcare and I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. And I wasn’t sure if it was going to be medical school, which was something I very much considered, or something in the PhD/EdD world. And this was the best fit for me for being able to do the best I can by achieving a terminal degree in my chosen field. And feeling like I had more patient contact and more client contact on a day-to-day basis, then if I had gone to medical school. So there were a few different reasons that all kind of served different parts of my personality and my ambitions.
BATIST: Yeah and it seems like PhD programs specifically and speech language hearing science are fairly rare across the across the country, seems like a very specialized program. Is that right?
BARRERA: Yes, so we are clinicians by trade. So there is no need for speech language pathologist to obtain a PhD or EdD in order to practice in our field, serving individuals with communication, swallowing and cognitive disorders from cradle to grave. It doesn’t give us higher reimbursement from insurance companies, it doesn’t do anything for us in that capacity. And we’re a fee for service provider right, that’s how it works. We see clients, we see patients and we bill patients or their insurance companies. So there’s no reason to do that. Truly to be in research, like I said, some of us who are entrepreneurial in nature and those who aspire to be in academia, it’s a must. And you touched upon a really interesting topic, because there was a paucity or lack thereof PhD/EdD-trained individuals for a very, very long time in speech pathology. And our accreditation at the Masters level requires at least 51% have PhD/EdD faculty in speech language hearing sciences, or a closely associated degree, perhaps psychology, social work.
So there are not enough people to keep up with meeting those mandates. As somebody who is a program director and leads her institution’s graduate program in medically-focused Speech Language Pathology, one of the hardest things I have is recruiting qualified PhD/EdD faculty. Many people have chosen an alternative route to advance themselves in their learning, but it doesn’t meet the requirements for higher education. Over the last I’d say 15 years, clinical doctorates are increasingly popular in I would say the healthcare sciences. It’s lovely for individuals who choose that route, but it doesn’t meet the needs that we need in higher education.
BATIST: Gotcha ok. And while you were doing the PhD, as you mentioned, you had a private practice and you were also teaching. Why did you want to have feet in both doors and how do you think being in them simultaneously fed into one another?
BARRERA: Absolutely, so I’m always one for multitasking. *laughs* Even in my graduate work at Columbia University, I was working at the School of Public Health as a research manager. So that’s sort of the nature of who I am is being diverse in the opportunities that I’ve presented to myself over the last 15, 20 years of my life. But at the GC specifically, I have a bit of a niche and that’s you know multiple sclerosis in adults with neurological conditions. And there’s very few speech pathologists who’ve chosen that particular route, so I felt very passionate about making sure that I was not losing sight of my clinical skills and that repertoire of skills that are essential for serving our clients and not losing track of who I was as a health care provider. So I wanted to expand and I did. At the time I was at the GC, at one point I had four offices.
So I was doing that, and then I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to teach at some of our larger CUNY partners in very well-established graduate programs for speech pathology. And that was really a huge stepping stone and I’m so grateful for that. So I taught at Hunter College for several years and then I was at Lehman College. All of this served as a major stepping stone for where I am now. Which is the Program Director and Associate Professor at Yeshiva University’s graduate program in Speech Language Pathology, which is a medically focused program. And I feel very blessed that I was recruited out of the GC because I was a medically-focused speech pathologist to create a program that was very much my passion project working with more medically complex cases and things that were incredibly multidisciplinary in nature. And all of this has been very much due to the experiences that I was able to achieve while at the GC.
BATIST: Absolutely, that’s awesome. So switching more into the private practice side of things. You got into, like you said, a kind of entrepreneurial space and you founded one of them?
BARRERA: I am the founder and owner of New York Neurogenic Speech Language Pathology, which is a private practice that really focuses on treating patients who have acquired neurological conditions, mostly adults. And it really allows us to do something that’s a little bit more specialized and something that we can do with a high level of personalization because personalized medicine is so important. And I’ve never lost sight of having that private practice, even though I don’t treat as much as I used to. I have a wonderful team, all of people who might have trained through Graduate Center, through my affiliations with Hunter and Lehman and many other CUNY programs. I’ve trained, hired and now they are a part of serving that passion project.
BATIST: That’s awesome, full cycle!
BARRERA: Today even at Yeshiva’s graduate program, I’m frequently in contact with my colleagues who have graduated from the program. And I have several adjuncts who are my friends and colleagues from the GC and I’ve written articles, done research projects. Another great GC alum, Dr. Barbara O’Connor Wells, and I have some other exciting books coming out that we’ve collaborated with, along with many, many other GC people. We’re just two of probably four in that group. There’s lots of collaborations and friendships that exceed outside of the GC even when we’re gone.
BATIST: That’s awesome, we love to hear that! Were you starting the private practice on your own or were you working with someone to bring it up?
BARRERA: Nope. That was myself and 500 bucks in my pocket that I had saved up all during my clinical fellowship. And I started small with a small room that I rented just for myself to work with clients in a neutral space. And I was very fortunate to be associated with many, many great organizations. For many years I’ve been a part of the National MS Society and the Consortiums for Multiple Sclerosis Care. And word kind of grew that there was this young woman who was really passionate about individualizing treatment plans and had a very rehabilitation medicine perspective. The one thing about myself and even my time at the GC is that, even though I’m a proud SLP, I definitely merge the world of rehabilitation medicine. PT, OT, SLP and respiratory care. So important to have that interprofessional practice and not only model it to our students but to live it in day-to-day life to be authentic. So they liked that approach, and then the next thing I knew I hired an alum of Lehman who’s been with me 15 years now. Still with me and the two of us started doing our thing and then the next thing I know at one point, we had eight speech pathologists across those four offices. So yeah it just kind of grew on its own very organically.
BATIST: What advice would you give someone, not necessarily even just the SLH grads, but anyone who’s thinking about starting their own company, marketing a product that they made during their PhD, that kind of entrepreneurial route. What’s something you wish someone told you before it all happened?
BARRERA: You have to do your research. You know when you open up a business it’s like giving birth to a baby. It has its own identity, it has a tax ID. You are responsible for every aspect of that organization from super important stuff like the taxes and the filings and all that but also the smaller things like having the proper things in the waiting room. When you run out of toilet paper, it’s your problem when you’re the business owner. *laughs* It seems so silly but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to run to Duane Reade because we didn’t have whatever supply we needed. It’s a part of owning a business and a business doesn’t sleep. So you have to make sure that you have the passion and the willingness to nurture and support and to be responsible and accountable for all aspects of your business. Even if you didn’t do something, it’s your responsibility to resolve or to work through any situations. And especially in patient service fields like ourselves, it’s very, very important that you carry yourself with confidence, that you stay true and authentic, no exaggeration of outcomes. You really want to make sure that you’re poised to communicate about the skills and services that you’re offering.
BATIST: Absolutely. And you had mentioned you were doing tele-health before it became a necessity in the past year. Why did you decide to do that? It seems like it was a fairly novel concept at the time.
BARRERA: It was and I think a lot of that goes back to what my niche is—largely practicing in MS care and Parkinson’s and a few other things that are a little bit more specialized. Being a part of some of those national organizations, I’ve had an opportunity to present and talk and to share my approaches to rehabilitation medicine. People kind of heard about me and they would ask to have a consultation. We could talk collaboratively, we could provide suggestions, we could try to hook them up with things. And then some clients I was legitimately able to provide tele-health to. So it kind of happened out of the niche and my talking engagements.
BATIST: Given that you have experienced in all of these different arenas, what do you think the work culture is like in these different spaces? And how are they maybe similar or different in terms of like teams you work on or autonomy that you have and things like that.
BARRERA: I think there is a similarity across my clinical work culture and my academic work culture because both of those areas of my life are still very much outcome driven right. So in the private practice it’s all about improving quality of life, improving patient outcomes; high morals, high ethics, just doing every everything we can to give our patients something back that they, in our case have likely lost or has changed as a result of the presence of neurological conditions. In academia we’re also outcome driven. Our students are our outcome. Making sure they’re prepared for licensure and certification, passing the required tests to obtain those things, obtaining clinical externships and affiliations so they can obtain the hours necessary. So it’s all very similar that it’s always about outcomes and even in academia it’s incredibly personalized.
The program that I’ve developed at Yeshiva University has that same kind of personalized medicine approach that we have at New York Neurogenic Speech Pathology. But we apply it to the advisement and the way that we treat our students. It’s been very successful and it’s often in our exit interviews, it’s one of the things that our students appreciate, is the way that we personalize the way that we help them achieve their individual goals. So I think there’s a lot of similarities, at least in my world. That might not be the same for everyone. And perhaps that comes with me being autonomous and being able to serve as the supervisor and the owner of my practice and kind of setting that work culture and choosing people who share that philosophy. And also in the process of picking the people who serve on our faculty and serve as our adjuncts. And I feel like GC has a lot of those types of individuals in general, which is why I always go back to looking to collaborate with GC alum because they very easily fit into that work culture both clinically and academically.
BATIST: Right, right. Did you ever consider a more strictly research position?
BARRERA: For me it was always about being able to bring clinical aspects of our field to higher education. And that’s important. And in fact everybody who works with me in the graduate program at Yeshiva has a 20% release per week to be clinically active. We didn’t want to create an academic ivory tower. We didn’t want to create a situation where people weren’t still clinically relevant. Medicine, healthcare, rules, insurances, evidence-based practice is changing every day and I needed people who wanted to be in the trenches in the field and bring that into the classroom. Because for many students, they’re not going to do their PhD or EdD, so this is a real opportunity to show them how they can incorporate evidence-based medicine and practice into day-to-day clinical life. So pure research was never for me, it was always creating this hybrid universe.
BATIST: How do you think like current GC students could potentially shape their dissertation experience or externships or internships that they do to fit a more clinical role or a more research focused role? What are the opportunities for them to get in the trenches?
BARRERA: So I think the first thing is if you want to do something hybrid like myself, I think it’s important to be transparent to the program that you’re considering to work with. I would really think, and I can’t promise, but I would really think that most program directors, people like myself and department chairs, would feel encouraged by somebody wanting to have one foot at least in that clinical world. There’s so much value. It doesn’t take away from anything. You know in academia our schedules are very, very unique, to say the least, so I think there is definitely the opportunity to do both, and to do both well. So I think it’s being transparent and saying, this is the reason why I want to do this, because I really think it’s going to best serve my patients. And I can bring those anecdotes and what’s really happening and it helps keep our program relevant. And that’s so important to our accrediting bodies in the world of SLP. That’s the first step, and also just finding like-minded individuals or finding programs that share similar philosophies.
There is such a shortage of individuals who meet those requirements for higher education related to our field, so you have that power to look for the program that meets the work culture that’s important to you. And if that’s being both a clinician and somebody in higher ed and using evidence-based research and the research as the foundations for that, you very well may be able to find it. Because you look at HigherEd.com and you will see quite literally any week there’s anywhere from 10 to 15 faculty positions being posted. The best thing I ever did was invest in my PhD. Not only for me personally, because that was a personal goal, but I never knew how powerful it would really be in my career. It’s a great, great investment and I couldn’t imagine a better place than the GC.
I think I think that the graduate program in our field is one of GC’s maybe kind of best kept secrets. I mean we’re not small, people know the GC and they know it’s a strong program. But I think, maybe within the local GC people might not realize the caliber of researchers that that have come through the GC. I will say, if you have a PhD or an EdD in speech pathology or related field there are so many job opportunities for you. I understand that speech language hearing sciences may be an anomaly but in our world, in our hub, so many jobs in the PhD world for speech language hearing sciences.
BATIST: I wish it could be that way for other programs! Is there a broader international community around this?
BARRERA: Absolutely. So you know just recently, I was doing a clinical training for Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a part of that you know…it’s a little different, accreditation is a very local thing to our country and every university and every country have some different rules and regulations, but many opportunities. I’ve also have collaborated with the European University of Cyprus. But yes, if you’re interested in taking this globally, there are opportunities for you and it’s just going to depend a little bit about which of those opportunities speak to you and your family. y
BATIST: A lot of GC students tend to be international students as well. So now that you’ve kind of been on the other side of higher ed admin being the program director, what would you say is the biggest difference between shifting to those more admin positions versus the more traditional professor teaching courses type thing?
BARRERA: So I get to wear both hats, a little bit, because at Nova I’m not the program director. So I take down my boss hat and it’s good because I’m there to teach and serve my students. That’s somewhat fun and liberating for me. *laughs* Many of them know I have other roles and it’s not a secret. I think that’s nice to be able to have that. I still teach at YU. It’s very important that I continue to have contact with the students regularly each semester. I think it’s different to be in administration. I think it’s also important to realize that, even though we’re in administration, my philosophy is that we’re not different than the faculty. We are part of the faculty. We just happen to be the one that’s responsible for certain aspects of the program or reporting back to certain agencies and organizations regarding the success and challenges of the program, the growth and the development of the program.
I think what makes me largely successful at Yeshiva is the fact that I’m a business woman and had an entrepreneurial spirit. No formal education, never took a business class. Just a natural drive to want to be in management. So I think that’s really important. And the most important thing is being approachable. It’s so important for us to be approachable to our students. To understand our role, but to be approachable because authority doesn’t have to be untouchable. So being organized, being flexible are all really important characteristics associated with being an administrator. And just like treating clinically, I think it’s important that you still keep your foot in those academic trenches.
BATIST: Yeah absolutely. So kind of wrapping up here, as a maybe forward-thinking question. Are there any new areas, given the pandemic or different scientific evidence that’s come about that has made you excited about a particular aspect of your field in the coming years, whether driven by the pandemic or not?
BARRERA: Sure, so I think there’s going to be a lot of research and perhaps adjustments to clinical practice because of the pandemic. Last April, I was very fortunate to be interviewed by CBS regarding the role of speech pathology in patients who are on ventilators for a prolonged period of time. That’s an aspect of speech language pathology that many people might not realize. The changes in cognition, the prolonged ventilator use, how are we rehabilitating persons post-COVID. When I started my career, we had a handful of post-polio patients, which is the most similar thing I can draw a comparison between. There were similarities in these post-polio patients and now long-haulers with COVID. So I think there’ll be a lot of innovation.
For me in particular, I’ve very much always been driven by modalities. And that’s the use of neuromuscular electrical stimulation, ultrasound, surface electromyography and something called kinesio-taping. I’m really passionate about getting these techniques into the hands of speech pathologists because they help us sometimes measure outcomes in the case of surface electromyography. An ultrasound–it’s non-invasive, it’s something we can do to take a peek to see what’s going on, it provides biofeedback. I’m using a lot of these techniques with our patients to get them excited about technology.
And AI. AI and speech language hearing science go hand in hand. I’ve done a little work with Google’s Project Euphoria, which is collecting voice samples for patients who have different changes in their communication. So when they speak with Alexa and other AI droids, if you will, that their voices will be better understood. So I think making technology accessible to patients is a big place for additional innovation.
BATIST, VOICE OVER: That’s a wrap for this episode of Alumni Aloud. I want to thank Marissa for sharing her experience as a private practice owner and graduate school program director. Remember to stay tuned for more episodes of Alumni Aloud, published every 2 weeks during the fall and spring semesters. Subscribe on Google or Apple and you’ll automatically be notified of new episodes. Also check out our Twitter and career planning website at cuny.is/careerplan for more updates from our office or to make appointments with our career counselors. Thanks for listening!