The following is a case study of Jolané Kotzé, a Speech Therapist based in Cape Town, South Africa.
We really glad to have you on board and merges to pick your wisdom around private practice, and especially your experience as a speech therapist. So maybe to kick it off, tell us a little bit about yourself, and more importantly, what made you actually become a speech therapist, because I’m always curious to know that.
What made you become a Speech Therapist?
I’m a private speech therapist, and am also a lecturer and clinical supervisor at a university because I like doing both practice and academics a little bit.
When I first started studying speech therapy, I had absolutely no idea what I was studying. I always wanted to become a doctor and I think in my 12th year, I just realized that blood isn’t for me. So I realized that was not gonna work. So I literally picked up a booklet from the University of Stellenbosch and I sort of gazed through it and I saw of course speech therapy, and I saw that this course combines all of the things that I’m really passionate about, which is language, and biology and physiology. And so I applied and I got accepted, and I’m not looking back at all.
Was there someone in your childhood that inspired you to go into medicine?
Absolutely not, so both my parents are not in medicine, and they are more in admin and IT and so my dad was really hoping I was going into IT, but that didn’t happen. But I think, this sort of feeling that you want to be something more and be a part of something bigger, is something that was really fostered by my parents, they are both people that are exactly like that.
I grew up in a house where everyone was always welcome and they always took on people as their children, I say, “Oh it always seems like I just got more sisters and brothers that way.” So I think in that way, they really shaped the person that I am and that sort of translates to the type of therapists that I am.
When did you make the decision to become a speech therapist, were you still in school or did you choose when you went to varsity?
I think it’s something that my parents really instilled in me was the fact that I should go study after school, they weren’t really strict about it. But it was something that they felt empowers you to do great in the world. So once I got to grade 12, and I had to apply to university, I had to quickly make a decision about what it’s what it’s going to be. So I think it’s always a little bit sad that it happens at that age where you’re still finding yourself and not sure exactly who you are in the first place and what you want to become. But I think it worked out great for me.
I think it’s because, I know myself quite well, and I knew what my strengths were, and I was trying to find something that’s going to match my strengths, instead of just doing something that I feel I have to, and I know, it’s not something I’m going to enjoy. So I think when I had to think back and someone told me in grade 12, I was going to become a speech therapist, I would laugh, because I don’t know what that was at that point.
The advice I have for children that have to make that decision, or teens not children, it’s just play to your strengths. And you can always go somewhere from it, you can always be doing like what you’re doing at that point, I’m going a different direction in the same type of field, and you already have some experience and qualification after your name, which is very important today.
What is your view on the comserve (community service) year that healthcare professionals have to do, and when did you decide to go into private practice?
I actually want to say that comserve, is a good thing, but at the same time, it’s a bad thing because it really shelters you from the harsh realities of unemployment and the harsh realities of limited opportunities.
When I came out of comserve, I was always blown to the ground by the fact that they are so limited and jobs out there and oftentimes what happens is, after comserve speech therapists, occupational therapists, whatever it may be, end up working as a locum and oftentimes you get exploited because, you are a way for someone else to make money, in essence.
Luckily I ended up working for an amazing friend, she’s now a friend at that time, she was my employer, and I had an amazing opportunity, after two years of locuming for her to just be open and honest with her and say, you know, what, I’m living off of a salary that’s so inconsistent is really not working out for me, I want to do something more with you, I want you to be my mentor, I want you to guide me through this process, and then going into the partnership with it. And it ended up being amazing, we’ve been at it for two years, we are still growing.
So I think I just, want older therapists to just be more open and more open to helping younger therapists just get a foot in the door, because it’s really so difficult. You really don’t know that this is going to happen to you, because you come out of comserve, you think it’s going to be the same type of salary. And then the reality hits you.
The biggest thing I picked up from what you just said now is sometimes you probably have to be more insistent about what you want.
Absolutely, I think before you make the decision, if you are in an unhappy space, to just walk away and continue to a different unhappy space is just rather speak up and say, you know, this is my goals, will you be willing to come on board or you’ll be willing to be my mentor through this process, is there’s something else that we can work out in a different way. And then often you will find that there are people that are willing to do that. But if you don’t speak up in the first place, then obviously you won’t even know.
I have always liked that model of you come on as a locum and after a period there should be a natural transition into another model where both the new and the established practitioner benefit what do you think?
It’s so true what you are saying and I wonder why because it just makes so much more sense to pool resources and share expenses in a private practice, than trying to do it on your own and taking income from someone else in order to cover that. So I really don’t understand sometimes where there’s no sort of gradual going into something more like a partnership or pooling of resources instead of losing a locum getting a new one and just continuing the same way, every time, it’s also disruptive to a business if you continuously lose a speech therapist and get someone new, because like I mentioned, speech therapy is a long term process and having to disrupt that relationship the whole time is also not going to be conducive to therapy. So I wonder why people don’t think about it or do that often.
I think one thing that Marie my partner and I, said from the beginning or thing that she said to me, when I started, you know, going in a partnership with her was that a good name travels fast. I think we should shift our focus to building our name in terms of who we are as people and as therapists instead of trying to build our business. Being a therapist that encourages younger therapists, and is open to younger therapists, sharing your space, sharing your resources, and trying to mentor younger therapists, is going to reach much further than being the therapist that fights over territory, if that makes sense.
So for anyone that’s considering speech therapy, is there, something that you would tell them? How would they know?
I wish there was a book.
Speech therapy, is one of the Allied professions that maybe the least known to people who don’t need speech therapy, obviously. I once had a professor that said, “it’s a good thing if people don’t know what a speech therapist is, because then it means that I haven’t had seen one yet”.
So I think speech therapy, we must be honest, the course is intense. It’s not for the faint hearted. That’s why only 30 people get accepted each year, there’s a reason for it, because it has to be the strongest of people. That completes the course the end out.
But what I can say is that speech therapy is extremely fulfilling and if you feel like you have a passion for helping people and you enjoy languages, you enjoy medicine, then you will definitely find an area and switch, therapies to something that you really enjoy working in. I’m definitely always open to shadowing a speech therapist and see what they do every day, see if it’s something you can resonate with, but I think a lot of people know what speech therapists are and I would like to encourage them to go share that one and see if it’s something that they might be interested in.
Is it still common practice that speech therapists are also audiologists?
In the past that was one degree and then I think, I don’t know how many years ago, but it’s not very long ago that they changed it to two different degrees, because there’s just too much to cover.
And so you are still able to do, for example, speech therapy, and then do two extra years and do audiology and become both. But I find that unless you work in a government post where you need to do both, having a practice that does both is almost impossible, because you have to have all of the equipment for the audiology part and make sure that you actually make your money back because it’s very expensive. And at the same time be a speech therapist, which is more therapeutic than an audiologist is, so there are people who do that. And that’s very grateful. But I think it is like is they it’s really, it’s really in extreme cases, because it’s really difficult to keep both alive at the same time, in my opinion.
So from a private practice point of view, even with an amazing mentor like Marie, did you still have a lot to learn?
Definitely, I think something that I realized is that I’m not a businesswoman at all. It’s quite difficult to balance that if you feel like you’re called to help people, but at the same time, it’s something you have to make money from.
So I prepared my husband in advance when I started the private practice with Marie, that I’m probably not going to make a lot of money and that’s okay with me. But I think that is the thing that it’s a little bit difficult for me still is trying to find the balance between providing what my passion is to people and then also trying to be a businesswoman.
I’m trying to run my practice, like a business because that’s what it is, in essence, you have to make money from it, you have to be you have to prosper you have to grow somewhere so yeah, I think that’s the difficult part.
For me, I still tend to be very lenient when it comes to outstanding accounts, it’s not a conversation I like having at all with patients, because it does affect the therapeutic relationship to some extent. If you are the one providing your services and being so intensely involved in their lives, but also the one reminding them of their outstanding accounts it does have an effect somehow so I think that’s still a little bit difficult for me to navigate my way through.
Have you thought of getting an assistant or software that could possibly help you with dealing with the unpaid accounts and the admin?
I think at some point, I obviously realized that this can’t continue forever and you know, as we became parents, and we had more expenses, although we are very fortunate that my husband’s job is a well paying job, that I obviously have to bring something to the table as well.
I must be honest, I think that’s one of the most difficult parts of starting your practice is taking the little money that you have, and investing it in something like an assistant or something like, for example, your very nice MIKA, which I really wish one day we could have.
It’s difficult, like you say, when you aren’t trained in business, and don’t have a business background or even a business mindset and now you have to run your own practice. You always find reasons not to do it, you always find a reason not to invest in software or not to pay an assistant, because it’s still manageable, I can still do it myself.
Then you have to also measure up how much of your personal time that takes up and how much money you don’t get in a month, because you aren’t able to spend as much time as you should, on getting your money in and doing the accounts. So it is difficult, and I wish there was some sort of business, I want to say course for practitioners that really touches on subjects like this and helps you with decision making. I’m sure there are courses out there that do parts of it, but from someone in their own private practice , you know, sometimes it’s just makes more sense to buy another toy rather than paying for a course if that makes sense.
Coming to back to private practice is there something that we should have covered that we that we didn’t ask you or that you would think absolutely invaluable, from either speech therapists perspective or a student thinking of going into speech therapy?
I think it’s really important and its something that I’ve only now come to realize and learn about being an allied healthcare professional, is the fact that you have the right to say no, you have the right to say that at the moment, my cup is a little bit empty, and you can’t give from an empty cup.
So it’s okay to look after yourself, whether it’s physical or mental or financial issues. It’s okay to take time for yourself. My husband and I recently suffered big trauma and I think I was continuously so stressed about not being able to see my patients, but in actual fact, I’m just doing them a disservice by seeing them in the condition that I was in, so it’s better to just take some time and make sure that you take care of yourself first because you are the product that you give. So the product has to be whole and completely functioning on all aspects of functioning in order to be a good product. I think that’s something that I’m only now realizing and implementing. Your patients, and people, like your practice, don’t own you, you still own yourself, and you still have the right to look after yourself first.
It’s a very privileged position to be in to have the ability to be such an integral part of someone’s life. But it is true that you bring it home with you, if I’ve had a very bad day at work with a kiddo or something happened to their family, or, for example, something silly, like they got about a bad mark on an oral we’ve been working on quite hard in therapy, then I cry, because it’s sad, and I cry because I feel what they are feeling.
As a speech therapist, you are so emotionally involved the whole time that it is really important for you to realize when you don’t have the ability to do that fully, and to recharge yourself and go back when you are ready.
Contact Details for Jolané Kotzé
Mobile Number :: 0630552172
Practice Address :: 87 Borghorst Street Monte Vista Parow, South Africa
Email :: [email protected]