From working in home health to advising policymakers, Jessica Forbes shows how speech-language pathologists can use their expertise to influence change
With a cup of coffee in her hand and a dedication to service in her heart, Jessica Forbes worked on her dissertation from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. She slept for two hours before waking again to spend the day in a new role – not as a student, but as primary caregiver. While Jessica has worked as a speech-language pathologist in hundreds of patients’ homes and healthcare centers, caring for this patient — her father — shaped her the most.
“I’m so happy that I was his daughter and his caregiver,” said Jessica. “Even while doing my dissertation, I knew that I had a mission to serve him and that I was the most equipped person in this world to do so.”
Jessica’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, and the disease advanced in 2020 while she was completing her dissertation research on swallowing physiology through a fellowship at the University of Iowa. She returned home to care for him, applying her professional expertise to this new role. By his side each day, Jessica advocated for her father even as doctors doubted his abilities, especially his swallowing capabilities, which is a common symptom of Parkinson’s and a challenge that falls in the realm of Jessica’s research and professional expertise.
“I could have been in an altogether different profession and been no help to him, but I studied swallowing,” said Jessica. “Even on his last day, he might not have been able to walk, but he was eating and for that, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to care for him.”
Advocating for patients has been a driving force throughout Jessica’s career even before her father’s diagnosis. Becoming ASHA-certified more than a decade ago gave her the opportunity to do the work she always felt called to do.
“There was never a time when I thought of being a speech-language pathologist without my CCCs,” said Jessica. “My CCCs haven’t shaped my career — they are my career. ASHA certification encompasses all that I am and has opened so many doors.”
Jessica’s career and advocacy as a speech-language pathologist began in home health, where she worked with many patients recovering from strokes, helping them swallow and speak. She also saw the burden on their caregivers and a disconnect between care at the hospital and the home. Many caregivers did not receive adequate instructions for continuing care once family members were discharged. This reoccurring problem prompted Jessica to pursue a Ph.D. so she could gain more knowledge and resources to be part of the solution.
“When I think of patients, it’s not just from a place of theory,” said Jessica. “I’ve seen what patients and caregivers go through. It’s important that we, as healthcare professionals, see the human side and use our platform and voice to speak about it, so that policies reflect it.”
And that’s exactly what Jessica has done. Most recently, she became the first ever speech-language pathologist to be selected for the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences’ (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowship in its fifty-year history. In this new role, Jessica is working at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Small Business Program, which helps small businesses receive federal funding to commercialize tools or technology to better help patients.
Through the AAAS Fellowship, Jessica will be in the position to influence science-based policies, pulling from her years of experience, expertise in the field and the foundation of her CCCs, which have strengthened her confidence and authority as a leader and decision-maker.
“Having my CCCs is definitely a badge of honor,” said Jessica. “Even now, I’m interacting with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and when I get to share that I’ve had my CCCs for – I can proudly say a decade – it brings validity into the room.”
Jessica encourages more speech-language pathologists to dream big and think about how they can use their unique voice to better serve their patients and bring about change on any level. “Our field and our CCCs provide speech-language pathologists with the means to succeed,” said Jessica. “It’s about time we start to see ourselves in positions that we never thought were possible.”