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Faculty Spotlight: Kimberly Hales, MS, CCC-SLP

Kimberly Hales, MS, CCC-SLP, is on a mission to serve the underserved, in Utah and worldwide. Today she’s an assistant clinical professor with the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, based in the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. But she’s just as comfortable hopping on a plane and heading to Blanding or Oaxaca to help rural communities find their voice.  Hales is the clinical supervisor for a departmental program providing services to Utah Navajo reservations, and she volunteers as a co-faculty member for a learning abroad service opportunity in Mexico. We caught up with her shortly after she returned from Oaxaca to learn more about her drive to give back.

Kim Hales Serving in Oaxaca
                Hales (L) and a student conducting an assessment on a service trip to Oaxaca, Mexico 

How did you get into the world of speech language pathology and what did your educational path look like?

“When I went to college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I heard about this field, and it captured a lot of my interests. I was interested in language, voice and medicine, so I thought this was a good fit. My sister had also received speech therapy as a child, and I remember that.  I took the intro class, and I kept taking classes and got the degree. It’s a very broad field so there’s a lot of room to find your interest. I like working with people and the feeling of being able to help them.”


Tell me how long you’ve been with the College of Health and your areas of expertise

“I have been with the College since 2016. I work a lot with bilingual language development—I worked in New York City for a while and got a bilingual extension to my license. That drove me to keep on that path, and my caseload is pretty broad today. I work with children quite a bit, child language disorders, apraxia, and kids with autism.”


How did you get involved serving as the clinical supervisor for reservation areas in Blanding?

“The clinic director approached me because she knows I love to travel and get different experiences. She thought it would be a good fit for me. They have a telehealth contract with the Utah Navajo Health System and arranged for me to fly down with a student once a semester to do in-person assessments. After that we schedule appointments and see them for an eight-week block on a virtual platform.

For very young children, we’re doing a lot of parent training for ways that they can augment learning in the home. We see adults who’ve had strokes, so we teach them word finding strategies and programs that they can continue to use. We try to prioritize what they can continue to work on after the eight-week block is over.

It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned a lot about the Navajo culture, and I’ve been able to take down more students than before—they’ve all just raved about it. It affects the way you think about communication and plan your therapy when you’re exposed to different cultural perspectives.”


How did you get involved in traveling to Oaxaca?

 Another professor in our department, Dr. Rob Kraemer, is really into bilingual language development and he’d started this program with the Learning Abroad Program at the U. He’d made some contacts with an organization down there and they said they’d love speech and hearing screenings at the clinic. When I found out about this, I ran over and volunteered to help. I’m fluent in Spanish and love to use it, so I volunteered to be a co-faculty member. All University students are welcome to join us, but most are involved in a health-related field.

We travel down for eight days over fall break. Once we arrive in Oaxaca, students take language classes in the morning, then in the afternoons we go to work in the clinics. Community members can come into different rooms and get hearing screenings or speech and language screenings. Then we write up our results and try to help connect them with local resources for hearing aids or speech services.

We’ve been twice now, and the plan is to continue to go every year. It’s a very popular service and maybe it will expand to other areas in Mexico at some point. The trip also really broadens our students’ understanding; it opens their eyes to what’s going on in the world and the resources we have available here.”


Do you have any memories that stand out from this service?

 “This morning we were working with a client from Blanding, a stroke victim in his 70s who has trouble finding words. We’ve been giving him strategies and seeing him for five weeks now. He commented today that the strategies have helped him so much—he’s getting less frustrated, which helps him get his thoughts out more easily.

During our first trip to Oaxaca, we had a child come in with a hole in the top of his mouth after a repaired cleft palate. Speech was really difficult for him, but we gave his parents some resources and helped connect them with a local organization. This year his dad brought him back and he was much easier to understand, his parents have done a lot of the work we suggested, and they feel much more empowered.”


Why do you think serving our community and the underserved is so important?

“I feel like we should all be able to get access to help when we need it. We’re all trying to do our best, we’re all trying to help our families and live a good life. If I have access to resources that can help other people, it’s important to me to be able to share those. It just makes me a better person—it broadens my views and helps me be more well-rounded and compassionate.”


What does more health, less medicine mean to you?

“I think it looks at addressing your life and lifestyle before it becomes a problem. Take care of yourself and those around you, get exercise, eat right, and maintain healthy practices with your mental health and social relationships. Stress and getting too locked into one thing can exacerbate problems. Medicine is there and it’s good, but if you can maintain a balanced life, it can prevent some of the illnesses and conditions that require medical interventions.”