After graduating from a great university and having done multiple hospital internships, I thought obtaining a clinical fellowship position at a top university hospital would be a breeze. I imagined myself walking the sterile halls in my white coat, pockets full of tongue depressors, helping patients one swallow study at a time. To my dismay, no one seemed to want a clinical fellow. After applying to dozens of hospitals, I finally got an outpatient position at a teaching hospital with frequent cross-coverage in the acute and acute rehabilitation units.

On the first day of my long awaited clinical fellowship year, I arrived with my clothes freshly pressed, hair actually kemp, gung-ho to begin my career. However, I was immediately hit with my first challenge: 80% of my caseload would be Spanish speaking only. I mean, how in the world was I supposed to explain the Mendelsohn Maneuver in Spanish? That day I vowed not to let language prevent me from providing the best service to my patients. So I went home and spent hours writing scripts for all my evaluations and treatments. In the beginning, my patients appeared puzzled when I would often recommend liquidos espejos (mirror liquids) instead of liquidos espesos (thickened liquids). However, with the help of translators, hours of preparation, google translate by my side, and very understanding and appreciative patients and families, I became more proficient each day.

But the most challenging, oftentimes discouraging, yet motivating thing I have come to realize is just how much I have yet to learn. To be honest, I thought I did know everything. My entire clinical fellowship experience was humbling, to say the least. To grow, I can’t be afraid of asking questions and must be proactive in my learning.

So, now what? In the next phase of my career, I hope to constantly remember the advice of my former instructors. First, understand why you do what you do. Don’t just do what someone tells you. Research it and make well-informed clinical decisions. Second, stay current. Challenge yourself to read at least one research article a week.