Updated: Feb 6
My mission is to see the unicorn within others at their most vulnerable times, so that they are empowered and encouraged to be a better version of themselves! I achieve this by being a dancer, communication/swallowing expert and an aspiring surgeon. I have a strong clinical and research background in health and disease, and am devoted to clinical research and medical education. This is evident from my devotion into studying Medicine and actively learning about my specific areas of interest, such as surgery and dysphagia. I have gained insights into designing and conducting clinical research with our team, from a research assistant to completing my MSc dissertation and presenting them in conferences!
I love meeting and working with people around the world! These experiences expand my perspectives and allow me to learn from others’ stories! The combination of both took me globally, from North America to Europe, Asia, and Australia. During this time, I had the privilege to crosspaths with others’ journeys who also inspired mine. Indeed, I met one of the most influential mentors when I was in Hong Kong! I will never forget the light bulb moment when I listened to how Dr Kenny discussed surgical risks with one of his elderly patients! Not only did he involve the patient into the decision making process, he also explained it from the patient’s perspective. On top of his clinical duties, Dr Kenny has also been highly involved in teaching and research. It was him who inspired me to excel in the three areas--clinical, research, and education--in order to devote myself fully into the world of health and disease!
Keeping up-to-date knowledge with the constantly changing guidelines and new areas of discoveries take a huge chunk of my time! However, our patients consistently serve as a motivation. I want to keep learning so that we can guide and empower our patients and families by involving them in their care, and have a right to voice what matters to them now and in the future. It is absolutely important for me to support our patients to remain in control and function as people, for as much as they can.
What has your journey been like to become a ST?
Unprecedented: During my career journey, I have always been working towards my mission to become a doctor. However, it was during my gap year that my knowledge in healthcare professionals expanded! One of the many things that I have learnt was the noun ‘speech and language therapist’ (ST). I was continuously surprised by its meaning considering how its name does not accurately capture the variety of roles and specialisms that STs have! Eventually, I was completely drawn into the profession. My journey in speech and language therapy has brought me to many opened doors, which allowed me to grow in ways that I have never expected.
Expansionary: I was able to develop in multiple aspects since I started my journey in speech and language therapy. I was able to develop my clinical skills by putting theory into practice; developing critical analysis skills; and being involved in medical education! I have also been challenged in other ways as an NQT! For instance, how to navigate communication in challenging situations, how to design holistic treatment plans for people with multiple comorbidities and advanced care planning. I reflected upon each case and each of them brought me new insights in life.
Humbling: Being in a field where we teach people how to regain their swallowing and communication functions reminded me to never take anything for granted! I have been really blessed everyday in which my patients have unconditionally shared their journeys with me. My life would not be complete without them.
What excites you most about ST?
Patients’ & families’ appreciation: Do you know what makes my day? All the big, overwhelming moments when my patients/families send me emails like ‘Thank you for being MY ST. I learnt a lot from you’; or tell me things like ‘I wish I could see you everyday!’, 'We don't want to lose you'. All of them shared a piece of their journey with me, which collectively built mine. I’m forever humbled.
Sharing vulnerable moments with our MDT: One of the many things that I love working at an acute medical setting is that I am constantly surrounded by our multidisciplinary team members! They always bring the best out of me and together we deliver a positive and warming environment to our patients! I still recall there was a week when I was off, and on my return, the MDT members said ‘Where have you been? We missed your laugh!’. This moment made me realize how I hone the reputation to bring joy to our team. Furthermore, I caught myself feeling additionally rewarded when I am the person that others approached when our team needed help. Being able to share the vulnerability others are experiencing is an immense privilege. As the wards get busier, I hope that I will continue to prioritize others needs and allow them to feel listened to. As a team, we share many great memories and many stressful moments in a place where the extremes of life happen all at once. So proud to say that I come to work everyday for my team and patients!
Rare neurological conditions and their pathology: As a neurology ST, I had the privilege to encounter some of the rare conditions such as Wolfram, superficial siderosis and Fahr’s syndrome. Coming from a medical background, I am naturally passionate about the pathology, available evidence, and its impact on communication and/or swallowing, which in turn allows me to educate our patients! This has been really rewarding to be part of our patients journey, and learn about their diagnoses and experiences together! Occasionally, we may also discuss advanced wishes about their care. I often tell our patients why I am worried. It is a truly humbling and privileged experience to learn that patients feel empowered and to hear what they want, even when the disease may be progressive in nature. I will never forget how a patient of mine, J. who had a mask-like expression, ended one of our conversations with, ‘Are you still worried about me?’ and gave me a big smile when I said, ‘Not so much now!’
Why did you want to create ST.Links?
Advocating: When I was completing pre-med, the only health care professional I knew was Doctors. It was until my time when I was a research assistant in Head and Neck cancer, in which we were working in collaboration with a team of radiographers, surgeons, nurses, doctors, and … STs - that I started to gain an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of STs! STs in this research was highly involved in assessing and diagnosing dysphagia using a wide range of instrumental assessments. This ultimately inspired me into dysphagia. As I gained more clinical experiences in ST, I became more and more passionate about what we do! I am still amazed by the patience and the forever-learning attitude demonstrated by our profession. WIth this in mind, I believe that our profession deserves to be known and respected globally!
Did you know that STs get to directly see how others swallow with X-Rays (i.e. VFSS)?
Did you know that STs are one of the most creative professions in designing personalized treatments? (i.e. if the child loves spongebob, STs will be able to create any spongebob related resources to motivate the child in completing his homework!)
Did you know that STs work with a wide range of medication diagnoses such as dementia, parkinson’s, oesophageal cancer, asthma, stroke, Bell’s palsy and so much more?
Did you know that STs work with a wide range of age spectrum--from newborns to pre-schoolers, school-aged, teenagers, adults, elderly, and end-of-life care?
Mentoring: I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without the kindness of many others. It was since my first mentor in Medicine, that I felt like I have a strong obligation to pay it forward when I can. I wish that everyone who we have the opportunity to meet will walk away feeling more confident and prepared to succeed in their personal and professional development. I hope to do this by sharing my journey and reflections with you. On top of that, I am most excited about gaining insights and learning from each and everyone of us!
Networking: Soon after I've graduated, I wasn’t quite sure where to seek support for my job applications and my NQTs. Because I was the only B5 in our team, it was difficult to find a peer who was able to relate to my experiences and feelings. It was during which time that I noted the gap, and wish I would be able to create a safe space for others to ask any questions [no stupid questions] and just share what they are going through as a NQT! Here, we aim to create a community where you feel supported with your professional goals and gain the best ‘tips’ from us who have been through similar things!
What are you most excited about re: ST.Links?
I’m excited to see us grow! and just excited to see where #ST.Links will take us- knowledge and network wise!
If you want to learn more about us, feel free to read our vision and mission statement here!
What do you wish you knew before/during/after ST ?
These are some questions/thoughts I had in different stages of my career!
As an aspiring ST:
What do STs actually do on a day to day basis
What do STs use to ax swallowing
What are the differences between teachers vs STs
As a student ST:
How do we write-up and publish our research successfully?
How do we gain more clinical experiences in dysphagia to strengthen our portfolio?
How do we deliver bad news to patients/families/parents?
Don’t be discouraged to apply to adult ST jobs even when others said it’s hard
Your first job doesn’t determine your career specialty
As a NQT:
What kind of evidence do we gather for our NQT competencies?
I’m feeling stressed and lost. How are other NQTs feeling?
Patients that I’m seeing are so different from those who I’ve learnt in university. How do we set functional and meaningful goals? What would other STs do?
What are ST’s roles in palliative care?
Who inspires you? Why?
Dr. Kenny- who I told you about earlier!
&... My doggo, the love of my life!
Sweetie Christine grew up with me since 2001! He taught me kindness and unconditional love. Sweetie guards and advocates for the people he loves. He always shares his favourite toys and snacks, including those he recently met. When others hurt him, Sweetie never bites back and always approaches again with his unreserved and opened heart. He is patient, kind, and cares without an ounce of selfishness.
Sweetie is always supportive and never holds me back from my dreams. Seeing the impact Sweetie has on people around him inspired me to do the same.
I aim to carry on his legacy through mentoring and direct patient care.
If we get to meet, feel free to say Hi to Sweetie! His little paw is printed on my ring which I wear everyday!
How has coming from a multicultural background been beneficial to being a ST?
Adaptability: Travelling from one country to another challenges my flexibility and adaptability to the maximum potential. This skill has allowed me to adapt and settle quickly in a spectrum of settings (eg hyperacute setting to community/neurorehab settings) and managing different families and patients (eg adapting my language, my therapy resources, and goals). During my time travelling, I also had the opportunity to practice in different healthcare systems. My awareness has allowed me to compare and identify the gaps among different systems, and contribute to service delivery pathways accordingly.
Cultural sensitivity: My awareness of some norms and cultural practices allow me to open a lot of interesting topics with our patients and team members, which in turn facilitated with rapport building. For instance, did you know that in greece, tilting the head from left to right means ‘Yes’; while tilting head up and back means ‘No’? Therefore, body language should be interpreted in caution when assessing reliable yes/no in the context of communication difficulties. Other examples may include respecting cultural beliefs and preferences (e.g. feeding herbs via NGT or availability of modified IDDSI Level 4 Jain diet) in regards to dysphagia management.
Relatedness: Many patients have shared their amazing life stories with me! This includes their religion and cultural practices and many travelling stories! We were able to share our experiences and lessons with each other. I think coming from a multicultural environment allows my patients to feel more relatable, which in turn allows them to share their emotional difficulties with me. I do not take this for granted, and am eternally grateful for that.
Do reach out to us if you have any other questions: email@example.com
Thank you for reading,
Claudia Kate Au-Yeung
18th Aug 2020