As an undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, Chelsea Carter shadowed a speech-language pathologist from an underrepresented background and realized a desire to pursue the same career. Today, the Mt. Airy, North Carolina, native is a second-year student in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences completing her master’s degree.

Chelsea Carter
Chelsea Carter

“I got to see a speech-language pathologist who looks like me,” Carter said. “She had similar interests, and she was also passionate about the field. So it made it seem like if I do it now, then more black SLPs and more minority SLPs are going to come into the profession.”

After the shadowing experience, Carter realized the lack of underrepresented minorities in the field of speech-language pathology, and she felt a need for more racial/ethnic representation.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, only eight percent of its members identify as a racial minority. Carter is especially interested in language and dialectal differences, which can vary depending on one’s race or ethnicity. She said she believes it’s important for patients to feel comfortable knowing that their therapists are aware of cultural and dialectal differences, especially when the profession is tied to language and communication.

“One of my goals is to be a bilingual therapist and speak Spanish,” Carter said. “It was hard thinking, ‘Let me go into this profession where a lot of the students don’t look like me,’ but I felt like it was a critical need to be a black SLP who wants to work with patients who are bilingual.”

As an undergraduate student, Carter completed the minor in speech and hearing sciences. She said her experience in the program led her to pursue more and learn more about the gap in representation. She said her hands-on experience during clinical rotations have given her the ability to apply what she’s learning in the classroom and to learn more form clinicians from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

“The program is challenging, but my favorite part is the clinical placements and working with patients. It just feels really good,” Carter said. “It just makes the career and all the work we have to do to become an SLP worth it,” Carter said. “I’m glad I joined this profession.”

Carter is the 2019-2020 Millicent Blair-Arnett Memorial Speech-Language Pathology scholar.

“It’s hard to work while being in the program, so it definitely helps pay for books,” Carter said. “It means everything.”

The Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences is one of seven housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences in UNC’s School of Medicine.

-Brooke Love, Communications Intern