My Journey to Opening a Swallowing Therapy Center

Looking back over my speech pathology career the last 18 years, I never imagined that I would start my own private practice specializing in difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).   I’ve had the good fortune of working at some world-class facilities like the University of Colorado Hospital and Craig Hospital, and I have formed life-long friendships with many of my former co-workers.   So for most of my career, venturing out on my own never crossed my mind.   Why would I leave a stable job at a well-respected facility working with great people to enter the less certain world of private practice ownership?  To quote a song by Talking Heads, “How did I get here?”

I really enjoy being a speech pathologist. I always say that if I win the lottery someday I’d do this for free.  I love forming a relationship with a patient, determining exactly what sort of therapeutic intervention that particular patient needs to get better, and then partnering with the patient to help him or her recover as much as possible. I love the challenge of figuring out “what else can I do to facilitate recovery and progress for this patient?” I love that I learn something new with every patient I encounter, which is occasionally in the form of just learning more about myself.  But after 14 years of treating patients, I also felt an urge to do something more.

I also really love teaching and have snatched up every opportunity to do a presentation or lecture that has ever come my way (kind of odd, huh?).  So in 2007, I decided to put on the teaching hat full-time by becoming a Clinical Specialist for VitalStim Therapy.  This job allowed me to travel around all corners of the country meeting with fellow speech pathologists that treat dysphagia and offering instruction and coaching on how to best use VitalStim and sEMG to treat their patients.

A great perk of my job with VitalStim was that I was able to attend lots and lots of dysphagia conferences and talk with some of the best and brightest minds in the dysphagia field.   So the job that started off as a means of my teaching others really gave me a great opportunity to supercharge my own interest and knowledge about dysphagia.  Traveling around to different hospitals and rehab facilities also gave me a chance to see truly how many people are out there living with dysphagia who could benefit from therapy.  Even though I loved helping clinicians help patients, I realized I missed having patients of my own to work with and felt like there needed to be more clinicians out there offering the latest therapy techniques and equipment.

So, in January 2011 I decided to go back to my first love of treating patients and put all the new, exciting information I had learned about dysphagia therapy to good use by opening the Carter Swallowing Center.    While the journey has just begun, the first steps have been really exciting.    I’m excited that all the great new treatment tools and techniques I had an opportunity to learn about as a Clinical Specialist will all be available at one location.    And I’m excited about going back to learning something new every day from the patients I work with.   And most of all, I am off-the-chart excited about getting in there and helping some patients recover from dysphagia.

 photo courtesy of Gary Hudson Flickr Creative Commons License

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Author: Jennifer Carter

Jen is a Denver speech pathologist that specializes in providing treatment for swallowing difficulty (called dysphagia). She has provided speech therapy to patients for 18 years and opened the Carter Swallowing Center because of her passion for helping patients recover from swallowing problems.

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