Public Health Spotlight with Mona Gardner

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Hi, I'm Tanya!

Hey, hey! I’m back with another feature. I started the year with a goal to highlight individuals I admire and who are in some way connected to the public health field. It is one of my goals to get you to understand that public health intersects with all aspects of lives. Public health is not just about fighting and preventing disease. Where we live, the type of food we have access to, the type of access we have to healthcare is public health and plays an important role in our lives.

It is always a joy when you see your peers doing great things, which for me serves as motivation to keep following my heart and pursue the things I’m passionate about. This month’s feature grew up in Antigua and attended The Christ The King High School which is one of the most prestigious high school in Antigua, the other one being the Antigua Girls’ High school which I attended and we were seen as rivals lol. This feature has been in the works for months and I’m excited to finally share this post with you.

Let’s get to know Mona!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us about Chats Antigua.

My name is Mona Gardner, I am  a Speech and Language Pathologist by profession. I live on the beautiful island of Antigua and Barbuda. I’m a born again believer, a foodie and love travelling.   At the age of 25, after completing my studies abroad I returned home to  establish the Center for the Holistic Advancement of Therapeutic Services (CHATS).  CHATS- is Antigua’s premier speech-language therapy clinic. We began servicing persons with communication disorder in 2016. In 2018, we expanded our services and started an early intervention program for children with developmental disorders with special interest in Autism.

What got you interested in your professional field?  How has your upbringing influenced your career aspirations?

My younger brother is my inspiration! Growing up and seeing the many challenges (limited professional services, schools not being equipped to educate children with special needs)  my mother had raising  a child with a language learning disorder in Antigua sparked my interest in the field. 

Were you knowledgeable of the speech-language pathology field before college (or post-high school)?

Before leaving for university I was not aware of the specific terminology. Originally, I left for university with hopes of becoming an ear nose and throat specialist (ENT)- as this was the specialist mostly dealing with my brother at the time.  Then I was asked the important question, “are you interested in being a part of the intervention process of persons with communication disorders or you prefer to diagnose and send off?” I knew I wanted to play and active role in lives of persons living with communication disorders so I was then advised to shadow a SLP. I changed my major immediately!

For those who do not know what a speech-language pathologist is, briefly explain

A speech and language pathologist (SLP) is someone who prevents, evaluates, diagnoses and treats persons with communication and feeding disorders. SLPs often work as part of a collaborative, interdisciplinary team, which may include teachers, physicians, audiologists, psychologists, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, and rehabilitation counselors. Their skills allow them to secure jobs in both medical and educational settings.

Where did you start your career?

I started my career in private practice in Antigua, after completing my Bachelors in Biology in NJ, USA and my Masters in Speech Language Pathology in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Is there any specialty in this field?

Definitely, as a SLP the scope of practice is so wide that you often find persons specializing in specific a population,- for example: children versus adults, early intervention versus neurological disorder in adults, voice disorders versus stuttering, solely Autism- it all depends on the individual SLP.   

Tell us about your journey to becoming a speech-language pathologist.

After graduating from the Christ the King High School, I attended the Antigua State college for 1 year and then left for the USA to pursue my bachelors. I received my  Bachelor of Science, cum lade, in Biology, from the Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey and then  my Masters in Speech and Language Pathology with Distinction from The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad- a total of  7 years to complete. 

CHATS Antigua

What made you decide to start Chats Antigua?

Returning home to Antigua and going into private practice was always my goal from the onset. Especially knowing that I would be returning to an island where there was no resident SLP. 

What does a typical workday look like for someone in your position (or who has your responsibilities)?

BUSY! ☺ As an SLP our job requires A LOT of paperwork- recording of data to ensure we are able to track the progress of our clients in addition to  evaluation and progress reports. However, I’m not only a SLP, I’m also the director of CHATS- therefore, there is also the business side of things. As a small business operation most of the office duties fall on the director- therefore I  have to ensure that the day to day operations of the office is at an excellent standard, the book keeping and accounting…. And the list goes on. As a young entrepreneur I’m learning the art of balancing, prioritizing, pacing, and commanding my day. However, I truly believe to whom much is given much is required and I know I’m living out my purpose. God is teaching me to balance life and push on! Daily affirmations are also very important for me. 

Do you typically work individually or in a group?  Which do you prefer?

Currently,  I do both individual and group sessions. I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other- it’s the setting which is best to assist my clients in mastering their goals. 

In what ways does your work contribute to the field of public health?

Early detection, intervention and prevention of communication disorders is the aim of an SLP.  An SLP contributes to the field of public health by working to educate the relevant persons about communication disorder in hope to increase early detection and prevention. 

How do you think your schooling/training prepared you for your current position? 

I love this question! If I had to do it all over again I would take the exact route- bachelors in USA and Masters in Trinidad. I truly believe that receiving my clinical training from a university that understands the culture of where I would be residing was vital.  My program in Trinidad prepared me to work in a multifaceted environment. I was exposed to multiple work environments and populations which all prepared me to function on an island as the sole SLP.

How has professional networking and social capital affected your career aspirations/trajectory?

For me, it is  extremely important to connect to like-minded professionals. I attend yearly conferences in the USA to network and connect. I have learned so much through these experiences which have helped to shape my professional journey. I don’t know it all so it’s important for me to connect and build relationships with veterans in the field.  One of my mentors is based in Florida and I remember meeting her 2 years ago at a conference- to date she has offered so much advice, wisdom and clinical insight and my approach to therapy would never be the same! Connecting and networking has opened up numerous opportunities for me and I’m so grateful. 

Were there challenges you faced to get where you are currently?

Nothing good comes easy! But it was surely worth fighting for. Oh yes! there were most definitely challenges  and obstacles- direct me to the person who has never encountered them lol ☺

What has been a rewarding experience during your academic or professional journey?

Seeing my clients master their goals, seeing a parent/caregiver learn how to reach their loved one, discharging a child or adult  from therapy and seeing them be functional in society- all oh so rewarding! 

What are some skills or experiences that undergraduates in speech-language pathology should have going into your line of work?/ What are some suggestions/advice you would give to someone interested in this field?

Do your research!  Reach out to current SLPs and inquire about shadowing experiences. If you are able to work part-time seek job opportunities in the field (a receptionist in a private practice, volunteering in preschools)

What is something you wish you knew while in college (or post-high school)?

This may seem random lol  and it may not be applicable for someone living outside of the Caribbean – but now as a professional  I REALLY wish someone told me to get personal life insurance when I started working at the age of 18! It would be saving so much more money now! 

How important is work-life balance to you?

Honestly, this  was added to my vision board this year- ways to improve work-life balance. As being the only SLP on the island can feel overwhelming at times-so it is important for me to know where and how to draw the line. In addition, the job is physically dependent and can be exhausting at times- so it’s very important for me to take time for my personal self-care to be able to give my families the quality of service they require. 

What is something related to speech-language pathology that you would like to see improve upon over the next decade?

I would love to see the service offered in the public sector, as not all families are able to afford private fees. I would love to see more persons pursue degrees in the allied health field (occupational therapy, physical therapy, educational psychology) 

What are five interesting facts you would like us to know about the role of a speech-language pathologist?

  1. Speech therapy is not just about teaching someone how to talk- the scope of practice involves- Fluency, speech sound, language (verbal and written), cognition, voice, Resonance, Feeding and Swallowing, Auditory Habilitation/Rehabilitation

2. As an SLP we serve the entire lifespan from birth to geriatrics.

3. The person who assists in accent modification is called a SLP

4. The field is dominated by females- only about 5% of the workforce is male. When attending our annual convention in the USA- male restrooms are turned into female use.

5. 100% employment out of University. The service is in such high demand- As an SLP you can find a job anywhere in the world.

A restaurant has named a dish after you; what is it and why?

Marinara Potatoes- For the love of all things potatoes and pizza! 

Be sure to follow CHATS Antigua on Instagram and Facebook and check out their website

I hope you enjoyed this feature.

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