One of the many highlights of being an audiologist or speech-language pathologist is the vast array of settings we can work in. But, how do you pick?
No matter what part of the CSD journey you’re in—even if you think you already know what setting you like best—now’s the perfect time to explore all of your options. And volunteering is a great way to dip your toes in the water! It allows you to explore new settings, expand your professional network, and contribute to the community.
Where Can I Volunteer?
No matter what setting you’re interested in, you can almost always find an opportunity to learn from audiologists or SLPs on staff:
- Early intervention, preschool, and K-12 schools
- Colleges and universities
- Residential and nonresidential healthcare facilities
- Private practice
- Corporate settings
- Local, state, and federal government agencies
How Do I Start?
Volunteers are always in high demand and opportunities are in arms reach! To start, check with the Community Resource Center on your campus. They partner with organizations and foundations in your area to provide you with a vast array of opportunities to explore. Volunteer coordinators can help you figure out an organization’s expectations, if a background check is required, and answer any questions or concerns you might have.
If you’re a distance learning student—that’s okay! Links to organization are usually listed on the Community Resource Center’s website.
What Should I Consider When Researching Volunteer Opportunities?
Think about your schedule … and the schedule of the setting you’re hoping to volunteer in. For example, schools and hospitals may require you to complete a background check, attend orientations, or volunteer during specific time commitments. Or maybe it’s the end of the school year and SLPs are trying to wrap things up. The first time I registered to volunteer at a school, it was right before they started their end-of-year standardized testing and summer break was right around the corner. I had to wait for the new school year to really get involved.
Ultimately, it’s important for you to not to bite off more than you can chew. Volunteering is meant to be a fun and fulfilling experience—not stressful. So, plan accordingly and don’t let setbacks stop you!
But, I Already Know What Setting I Want to Work In…
Before I started volunteering, I was dead set on working in the schools setting. I loved seeing kids’ progress each day—they soak up information like sponges! I was looking forward to working one-on-one with kids who need a bit of extra help.
But then, I shadowed a clinician at a rehabilitation center. It absolutely changed my perspective. It was incredible to observe and learn from geriatric patients who suffered from strokes that impaired their speech, language, and swallowing. I got to witness their wins after pushing through the lows, speak with them as they waited for treatment, and transported them back to their room post-treatment. Watching their progress each week and having this tiny role in their progress was truly inspiring.
Expanding your horizons forces you to escape your comfort zone and try something new. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself into an unfamiliar environment, but it can open your eyes to a passion you didn’t even know existed.
I’m So Busy … Is Volunteering Really Worth It?
Making connections with professionals during your undergrad years is imperative. They’ll be able to attest to your character and perhaps write you strong letters of recommendation in the future—like when you’re applying to grad schools. Professionals love to see your enthusiasm and they want to see you succeed!
Volunteer opportunities may also open other doors … like scholarships. The local hospital system I’ll be volunteering in offers scholarships for volunteers who may later provide service to their hospital. So not only will I be gaining volunteer experience and making professional connections, there’s also a potential opportunity to tackle grad school tuition costs!
The Many Benefits of Volunteering
At the end of the day, volunteering allows you to:
- Learn from professionals first-hand
- Gain real-life experience
- Open your mind to other settings and/or populations
- Expand your professional network
- Become an integral part of your community
The impact volunteering can make on you and others is undeniable. So, get out of your comfort zone and don’t be dead set on a particular setting before you’ve really had the opportunity to experience them all!