Job Title: Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Alberta, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Why She’s Top 40: She uses a supportive approach to help individuals and families affected by aphasia, and encourages students in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine to do the same
Andrea Ruelling has helped countless individuals and families navigate the widespread emotional, physical and societal impacts of aphasia, a condition caused by brain injury that changes a person’s ability to speak, understand language and/or read and write.
“If you have a friend who breaks their leg, you can still visit with them. But it’s really challenging when you lose – in some respects – the essence of who you are because you can’t communicate. A lot of people lose their support networks because of it,” she says.
To help individuals and families better navigate the varying effects of aphasia, Ruelling co-founded the Alberta Aphasia Camp, the first of its kind in Western Canada. Each September, the camp hosts dozens of individuals affected by aphasia for a recreational and therapeutic weekend away.
As a speech language pathologist, Ruelling takes a comprehensive approach to care, which means considering family members, caregivers and personal goals in treatment plans. “I try to see clients not just as someone with a disorder that only I need to fix,” she says. “Friends and family also play a role in the recovery. I might spend a couple of hours a week with someone, but their families see them the rest of the time, so it’s important to take a look at each person’s greater situation.”
Now, as an educator, Ruelling encourages the next generation of speech language pathologists to take a similar approach to their practises. Each year, she coordinates and supervises an in-class clinic that allows students to work directly with clients with communication disorders.
“I remember doing my masters and I spent all my time studying and reading,” she says. “The clinic helps students stay motivated during what can be a very challenging two-year program. It’s a reminder of why they’re in this; to help people.”