Studying wasn’t a straightforward journey for graduating University of Canberra student Michelle Sofo, but receiving her Master of Speech Pathology on Tuesday tells a story of determination and resilience.
Michelle describes herself as a ‘lifetime student’ of UC, after completing a Bachelor of Social Science and a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) in 2004, and rounding out her studies with a Doctor of Philosophy in 2007.
She then settled into life as a public servant, until a career change came on the cards in 2018, and she joined the inaugural cohort of UC’s commencing Master of Speech Pathology.
“Both of my children were NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] participants, as they had each been diagnosed with a speech delay, so I was attending weekly speech therapy appointments with them,” she says.
“I fell in love with the work. I admired the speech therapists they were working with and decided I wanted to contribute to the world in the same way.”
She had originally enrolled to study as a full-time student in the course but moved to part-time when her son fell ill – extending the two-year master’s degree into three.
For flexibility during her degree, Michelle completed all of the theory units during her first two years, completing three internships in her final year.
She completed her first internship with Treehouse Queanbeyan Special Needs Group, working with children with a range of disabilities and diagnoses.
She then split her second internship between The Canberra Hospital and the Adult Speech Pathology Clinic at UC and completed her third internship with UC’s Paediatric Speech Pathology Clinic.
Michelle came up against a range of challenges during her study but says the support she received from UC during that time was a game changer.
“While I was studying, my son commenced oncology treatment at Westmead Children’s Hospital, my husband was then diagnosed with cancer, and I was caring for my daughter who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” she says.
“At one point, the uni organised for me to sit one of my clinical exams while I was at Westmead Hospital with my son.
“I also needed to take a six-week break while on one of my placements – I think it was not only the practical support provided by the program, but the encouragement and emotional support that got me across the line.”
This week’s graduation ceremony will also see celebrations by Michelle’s peers from the inaugural cohort of the degree, who completed their full-time studies in 2019, but were unable to attend a formal ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since receiving her qualification, Michelle has opened her own business – Capital Diagnostic Speech Pathology – offering diagnostic assessments to clients across Canberra.
She has also recently been appointed to a position at the Canberra Development Clinic, where she spends one day a week working alongside two paediatricians, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, providing assessments and treatment recommendations for children with a range of diagnoses.
While she is now working solely with children, Michelle says her decision to go down that path wasn’t always clear cut.
“I was quite torn during my placements because I also loved the work with adults that I did, but it is quite difficult to get work in that area,” she says.
“Also, from my own experience, it took us almost nine months to get a speech assessment for my daughter, so I want to help families get more timely access to assessment information and provide them with strategies to start their therapy journey.”
In Australia, patients can wait up to 12 months to see a speech pathologist. The University of Canberra welcomed its first cohort of students pursuing the master’s program in 2018, with all students employed on graduation.
Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health, Professor Michelle Lincoln said UC was proud to be creating job-ready graduates for such a sought-after profession.
“With the graduation of our first group of students from the Masters of Speech Pathology, we are making an important contribution to the ACT and regional NSW speech pathology workforce,” she said.
“Recently, speech pathology has been identified as one of the most in demand and resilient health professions and we are proud to be able to offer students the opportunity to gain skills in this field.”
Michelle Sofo says she is proud to have joined the profession, which sees her making a real difference to the lives of those in her community.
“It is a gift to enjoy the work we do, and it’s an amazing feeling to go into a family’s home and work with them to improve their quality of life, not just for the child but for the whole family,” she says.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey for me through the degree, but the commitment of the staff helped me to stick with it.”
Words by Danielle Meddemmen, photos supplied.
The University of Canberra celebrates and congratulates the graduating class of 2021.
You have forged ahead in the face of unexpected challenges, grown in so many ways, and built strong foundations, for yourself and for others.
Many of you have taken steps into your industries of choice, to make your mark; others are building legacies on the postgraduate path.
We are so proud of you all.