story by Claire Miller
Hanna Whitehead (M.S. ’20) knew she wanted to work at a skilled nursing facility after graduation.
She completed an internship at a similar facility while working on her master’s degree in the College of Education & Human Development’s communication sciences and disorders program and wanted to find a similar position once she earned her degree.
“I met many mentor clinicians who helped lead me to the right career path for me,” she said. “I still keep up with my mentors now and their advice is invaluable.”
Whitehead joined the North Decatur Health and Rehabilitation Center staff in September, working with patients who have suffered from strokes, dementia and other diagnoses to improve their cognitive communication, language and swallowing.
In the last few months, she’s also seen patients who are recovering from COVID-19 and adapted her schedule to see them at the end of the day to prevent exposure to other patients.
Whitehead also had to adjust her therapy skills to adapt to changing conditions for COVID patients.
“I couldn’t bring any materials to the COVID unit, so I committed a few speech activities to memory and changed them for each session,” she explained. “I had to be more mindful of patient oxygen levels during therapy, especially swallowing therapy, and I evaluated patients to assess their cognitive communication skills for possible changes in mental status.”
Her work as a speech-language pathologist is rewarding, particularly when she sees patients improve over time.
“It’s always so bittersweet to see my patients leave – I’m happy because I know they have all the tools they need to be successful at home, but I do miss working with them,” she said. “It’s also rewarding when I’m able to upgrade a patient from a soft diet to a regular one because they’ve learned specific strategies to increase safety when swallowing.”
Whitehead was named the center’s Employee of the Month in December and she’s grateful that her colleagues recognized her efforts early in her tenure there.
“To me, it meant that I had chosen the right place to work and my hard work was not going unnoticed,” she said.
For more information about the communication sciences and disorders programs, visit https://education.gsu.edu/csd.