1. Tell us a little about your experience in the RSD program.
I entered the RSD program in the Fall of 2001. I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the RSD program that reflected how rehabilitation specialists work in the ‘real world’, the breath and depth of experts in neurorehabilitation and the inherent flexibility the course program afforded. I had a specific interest in understanding how the brain circuits respond to neurologic injury and rehabilitation and was able to take the majority of my classes from the neuroscience department in the medical school. In addition, I had great interest in epidemiology and biostatistics and was able to tailor a program that included over 18 credits from the school of Public Health. My degree was truly designed to fit specific research needs and interests, something not offered in a lot of other doctoral courses. I really loved being in classes with non-speech language pathologists such as physical therapists, social workers and physicians and feel this broadened my perspective and ways of thinking and answering critical clinical and research questions.
2. What types of jobs or activities have you engaged in since graduation? And how does the training in the RSD program contribute to those activities?
Following my PhD graduation, I completed a clinical fellowship at Shands Hospital. I then embarked on a four-year post-doctoral fellowship in Neuroscience at the McKnight Brain Institute that was funded by the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). This was an amazing learning experience and was honestly like getting a second PhD in another field. In the Fall of 2010, I joined the Faculty at the University of South Florida in Tampa where I am currently joint appointed in the departments of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Neurology. In my current role I teach the masters Speech Language Pathology students (Dysphagia, Medical Speech-Language Pathology) and at the Doctoral level (Grant writing and Research Design). In addition, I mentor research students at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral level.
My research is in the applied and basic science of neurogenic speech and swallowing disorders in neurodegenerative disease with an emphasis in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The mission of my research laboratory is to improve swallowing function, reduce morbidity and mortality, and improve quality of life in individuals suffering from devastating neurologic diseases and has focused on the development of novel and effective therapies aimed at improving swallowing function in both animal models and human clinical trials. Work in the lab is currently funded by the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD), and the University of South Florida Center for Research and Innovation.
My time at the University of Florida was extremely valuable for preparing me for life as an academician and the competitive nature of obtaining funding, preparing and submitting publications and for working with a diverse group of health professionals. Due to the true interdisciplinary nature of the RSD program, I had excellent role models extending outside my own department, something not typical of a traditional doctoral program. For example, Drs Andrea Behrman and Dena Howland from Physical Therapy and Neuroscience respectively were amazing female role models to me who serve on the RSD faculty. Both were great teachers, scientists, published extensively and were successful in obtaining external funding. My favorite class was actually Dr. Behrmans’ Plasticity for Rehabilitation Specialists class. Without question, however, the most memorable Professor and mentor to me during the RSD program was Neurologist Dr. Michael Okun. He really lit a fire in my belly to be curious, hungry and relentless in my pursuit of knowledge. Dr. Okun was an inspiration to me on how to be a great teacher, mentor, clinician scientist, and on how to care and advocate for our patients who sometimes have no voice. These are lessons that I hold onto and use today in my role as a Professor at USF. I look back at my time in the RSD program with very fond memories and feel very fortunate to have received such a unique and multi-faceted training from world class faculty.