I hired someone to protect my energy. Hiring an assistant to manage my calendar and email has made a massive difference in my business. I would just book calls constantly. To have someone protect my energy and limit the number of calls I can do some days, it’s fantastic. She can judge my energy levels and give me time to focus on the things that need to get done so that I’m always pushing the needle forward.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Theresa Richard.
Theresa Richard, M.A. CCC-SLP, BCS-S, is a board-certified specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders with a passion for helping other speech-language pathologists practice with evidence and compassion. Over the course of her career, she has developed several programs and projects to help promote use of evidence-based practices in easily accessible methods to meet the needs of speech-language pathologists worldwide.
In 2017, she created The Swallow Your Pride Podcast, which was launched with the intent of diving deeper into issues that speech-language pathologists face when working with patients with swallowing disorders. This podcast provides the latest evidence-based treatment strategies from top clinicians and researchers in the field.
She is also passionate about providing instrumental evaluations for her patients, which is why she created her own mobile FEES company, Mobile Dysphagia Diagnostics, the first-of-its-kind in New York State. Her experiences have motivated her to mentor other speech-language pathologists to open their own mobile FEES companies across the country through her programs, The FEES Biz Blueprint and the FEES Booster.
For several years in her career, Theresa felt alone on “dysphagia island.” She experienced significant difficulty trying to manage her caseload, find and understand the latest research, and maintain her role as a mother and wife, all while trying to find time to take care of herself. She can relate to feeling overworked and overwhelmed. This is why she created The Medical SLP Collective — a group designed to provide peer-reviewed evidence for clinicians by clinicians, that now has over four thousand members worldwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Iam a speech pathologist and board certified in swallowing disorders. My career as a Medical Speech Pathologist began back when I was working in nursing homes when I realized there was such a need for patients who had suffered strokes or sustained brain injuries among other conditions to have access to swallowing imaging. There were a few companies that would come out to the nursing homes, to do this imaging, which was much safer (and more efficient) than sending a patient to the hospital. This would be even more important today with covid-19 as you can’t easily transfer a critically ill patient from nursing or long term care homes to hospitals. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that there were mobile imaging companies that would come to nursing homes to do these procedures, and I was fascinated by this idea.
After six years working in nursing homes, my husband took a job in Las Vegas, and I told him — I’m going to find one of these mobile imaging companies to work for in Las Vegas. But when we arrived, I quickly realized that they didn’t exist. So I told my husband — “I’m going to start a business doing swallow studies here in Vegas.” So I proceeded to invest in business coaching, the equipment I needed, and I started the company from there.
We lived in Las Vegas for two years, and when I got pregnant, I wanted to be closer to family, so we came back to New York. While my initial thought was that I would have a ton of competition to go up against with my company, I quickly realized, no one was offering services of this kind in New York either. So I started up my company again in New York and continued to meet so many people in the field that didn’t even realize why the tests we were conducting were necessary. Even doctors weren’t aware of the importance.
I realized that more people needed to talk about swallowing disorders and have access to information, so I began blogging and presenting research as to why patients need an instrumental assessment such as FEES. When I started blogging, I assumed a few people would read my posts and pass them along. I didn’t have huge expectations, but suddenly, my posts became extremely popular. One post, “Don’t Be a Sip, Sip, Done SLP”, had over 30,000 views in 24 hours.
Over the next few months, I began to discover how time-consuming it was and thought — “I should start a podcast!” We could talk about important topics in the field of swallowing disorders, and I could bring on amazing guests, researchers and clinicians. You know, the types of guests who have had their work published and maybe despite publishing their work, it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. It became so clear to me; we need to be passing this knowledge on to our patients. If we can share and support each other, we can all benefit.
My Podcast, Swallow Your Pride, reached 1M downloads in less than two years, and I came to a conclusion, there was a need for more specialized knowledge. That is when I created my membership site, The Medical SLP Collective, to provide resources and support to others in my field. I began working with researchers and clinicians who could write the material we source out to members every week, always ensuring the content was extremely relevant. Yes, we can pull research studies from 10–20 years ago, but we also need to look at what newer studies are showing. Especially when covid-19 hit, there are so many unknowns. So we’re continually trying to pull resources and references on how to treat patients and of course, support front line workers who are hands-on with these patients.
To help with this, we recently began offering covid support calls once a week, for these front line workers. We do not record calls, so members can speak openly about what they are experiencing. It’s all very heavy, what they see every day. So these support calls allow us to work together to brainstorm on how we can help them source things like PPE or how we can work collaboratively with the doctors and nurses to preserve PPE. We talk about how their work environments have changed and how these life-changing assessments are received during these challenging times. These procedures still need to be completed, so how can we still do them? It’s an opportunity for everyone to share what they’re doing in their hospitals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
It was when I started publishing the blog posts about swallowing disorders. I assumed a few people would read them, MAYBE a hundred people. But when I had 30,000 views on that one post, I realized that people were craving more knowledge. From there, I started the podcast and again with that, I had no idea how popular it would become.
What I’ve learned most is that people want easy ways to consume things. People are thirsty for knowledge, especially in the medical field. There are so many things changing every day. It’s virtually impossible to keep your nose in every single journal or research paper. We need to have a platform to provide digestible bites of information in a very clinically relevant way, and I didn’t realize how much of a need there was for that.
Once I started the membership site, I was consistently surprised at how many people would reach out to let me know how valuable they find the information to be. Now, it makes sense. One of the biggest things we’re missing out on in the medical field is a constant support system. Each of us needs continuous feedback and support from our colleagues across the country. We need someone to ask: “How are you doing?” “How do you feel about this new research?” “How are you implementing these new findings into your practice?” We thrive on having a constant support system and feedback loop.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One mistake I made very early on was assuming that there were many companies out there offering swallowing studies. I assumed this was something everyone had access to and that it was something all doctors were ordering for their patients. It wasn’t until I began to dive into looking for these services that I discovered not only where there many states where no one was offering mobile assessments; many doctors, administrators, and clinicians didn’t know or understand the importance of these tests.
That was very eye-opening for me, so going forward in my career, I made sure to always be very calculated in what I do with my patients. I get constant feedback first before I go all-in on anything. If I’m thinking about launching something or creating something, I test the waters. I will poll my audience. Then, I’ll design and base my product around their feedback.
In many ways, it feels like the opposite of what most entrepreneurs and business owners do. Many entrepreneurs assume they know what their clients want and deliver goods or services without asking first. In my line of work, our clients are our patients, and their health and care are in our hands. I need to be calculated.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt, the one person who helped me get to where I am today would be my husband. If I go back to the very beginning, when I first decided that I wanted to start this company, my husband said, why don’t you talk to my dad. He was always starting businesses and was full of knowledge.
So I spoke to my father-in-law, and he said: “It’s going to be hard, but you’ll never regret starting your own company and making an impact all on your own.” That advice was all I needed, but I soon discovered it would be a $50,000 investment to get my business off the ground. When I told my husband this, he pointed out that $50,000 was his whole salary for the year and asked if I thought we should take a chance that required that big of an investment.”
Of course, I said: “Yes, I do.” We still talk about that conversation to this day and how I spent an entire year’s worth of his salary to get this company off the ground. And even to this day, I continue to invest in many things to grow my business, including several business mentors every year. Mentors and coaches are significant investments, but they are so critical to me. How can I know what I’m doing wrong in my business or how I can do better, without support from mentors and my community? Still to this day, every time I make a big financial investment, my husband trusts and supports me. And I’m so very grateful for that.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I love our field. I love our profession. We help people to eat and drink safely again. I can’t think of something else so crucial to someone’s well being. Eating and drinking is such a social act. You go out for dinner with friends. You have wine with your friends. Eating and drinking are so fundamental to everyone’s life.
That’s what we do. We help people that have had these life-altering conditions, strokes and brain injuries; we rehab them back to their quality of life before that. Researchers are doing incredible work, but so much of that information is not passed on to clinicians. We owe it to our patients to know the best strategies, the exercises we need them to do to get them back to their old self faster and safer. I strive to ensure that clinicians are using evidence-based practice and using the latest and greatest evidence to get their patients back to eating and drinking.
When I look at how I have expanded to business and career consulting, one thing lighting me up these days is helping other colleagues break out of imposter syndrome. Many of us often ask ourselves: “Do I know what I’m doing?” “Do I have enough education?” “Did I get high enough grades in grad school to be doing this?”
I feel fortunate to get to help clinicians understand how incredibly brilliant they are and to realize that they have the tools they need to succeed right in front of them. Sure, not every doctor will know how to treat every issue that will arise, but they know where to access the information or guidance they need to do so. I love helping clinicians break out of that shell. I love helping them start their private practice and then to hear later the stories of how many patients’ lives they have changed. Imagine helping patients who thought they were sentenced to a feeding tube for the remainder of their life, learn to eat and drink normally again. It’s gratifying work.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1.I don’t watch TV. Whenever I think about watching TV, I ask myself: “Why would I watch someone on TV achieving and living out their dreams instead of working on my own.” That one question is all I need to channel my attention and energy into doing something that will benefit my wellness and my business.
2. I do read a lot of books. There are so many incredible mentors, coaches, successful entrepreneurs that have written books and memoirs. So much of the advice I get is from the books I read who were written by people who have done it before me.
3. I believe in working out for mental wellness. Entrepreneurship is such a mental game; you must workout to keep your mind sharp. Last year, I focused on my health because I know if I’m healthy, strong and fit then my business is healthy, strong, and fit. If I’m not well enough and healthy enough to run my business, then it’s not running.
4. I don’t have email on my phone. I also don’t have access to any of my work platforms on my phone. My assistants can text me and get me if they need me, but taking email off my phone was the most liberating thing I ever did. It was so hard, but it’s been very freeing for my sanity.
5. I hired someone to protect my energy. Hiring an assistant to manage my calendar and email has made a massive difference in my business. I would just book calls constantly. To have someone protect my energy and limit the number of calls I can do some days, it’s fantastic. She can judge my energy levels and give me time to focus on the things that need to get done so that I’m always pushing the needle forward.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to start a movement where medical professionals can truly realize the power and impact they can create in patients’ lives. Sometimes we hold ourselves back, and we have these limiting beliefs. We battle with imposter syndrome. We think we’re not the smartest.
But there is something to be said about getting out of your way. You went through the schooling; you continue to take continuing education credits. You are good enough, and you can make an impact. But it begins with talking to your patients like they are a family member. Sure, you can easily recommend an exercise or prescribe them medication but ask yourself — is that how you would want one of your family members treated if they were in your patient’s shoes? The more we treat our patients as though they are our family members, the more benefit they will get from us.
I would also love to see a world where more medical professionals have membership sites, like what I have created with our Medical SLP Collective, to provide them with constant feedback, mentorship and support. So many of these professions can be lonely. You’re in the office by yourself. You can’t bounce ideas off your colleagues. Sometimes it takes a collective to identify how to treat a patient. If everyone had this, we’d have stronger outcomes for our patients, and it would save a lot of healthcare dollars. All too often, we see patients bouncing to multiple doctors in search of a proper diagnosis or treatment plan. If medical professionals were showing up in a more supportive environment, patients might not need to get several different opinions.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Just get started. When I look back on my career, I think about how much I’ve accomplished in the last 5–6 years. It’s all because I started and then just kept going. I just kept taking the next step and doing the next thing. When I was beginning, I never could have imagined I’d employ over 40 contractors working on the various aspects of my business. I started by asking myself: “What can I do today to help my patients and my colleagues?” Today, I’ve not only helped my patients and colleagues, but I have created opportunities for so many others too along the way. That is something that I am very proud of.
2. Start with one thing every day. When I wrote my first blog post, I had zero expectations. I just started writing and sharing information. Next thing I knew, I had 30,000 views in 24 hours on a post about swallowing disorders. What!?! The podcast was the next thing to follow and eventually the Membership Site, but it all started by doing just one thing: writing a blog post, followed by another, and another.
3. Feel the fear and do it anyway. It might be scary to put yourself out there, but the number of people you will help will outweigh the fear.
4. People are going to judge you no matter what. I don’t take anyone’s judgement or criticism that isn’t doing exactly what I’m also doing, seriously. Unless you’re putting yourself out there, creating products, and coaching and unless they’re doing things the same way as I am, they’re not allowed to criticize.
5. Invest in mentors and coaches. So many people get stuck because they think they can’t afford a coach. If you’re ready to do the work, it’s worth investing in them. Sure, you might think it’s hard to spend if you don’t have the money, but there are creative ways to make it work for you.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is such a huge touchpoint for healthcare professionals and medical professionals. The saying we can’t pour from an empty cup is genuine in our line of work. If you’re not keeping your mental health in check, there is no way that you can help your patients. We work with very critically sick patients, some will die, and you need to be able to support the family. It’s emotionally draining. But you have to be able to protect your mental health throughout all of this. You need to stay sharp so that you can take those experiences and learn from them and help the next patient.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!