Published on September 14, 2016
Pleased to post an interview with Starr Cookman, CCC-SLP, voice pathologist/singing voice specialist. She can sing mean blues! #fellowshipofthelarynx #laryngology #frysade #voicerehab #singingvoicespecialist #voice
TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach? What is your main patient population?
SC: I’m a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, University of Connecticut Health in Farmington, CT. Ours is an outpatient professional voice clinic with a dedicated laryngologist and three speech pathologists with state-of-the-art acoustic, aerodynamic and surgical technology. I exclusively evaluate and treat disorders of the larynx resulting in communication and/or respiratory dysfunction.
TVF: Where did you complete your education/training in voice?
SC: In undergrad, I studied voice science as part of an honors project with Jenny Hoit and Tom Hixon at the University of Arizona. My graduate degree was earned at the University of Iowa where I completed the Vocology track and basically won the mentor lottery by having the privilege of learning from Kittie Verdolini, Ingo Titze, Michael Karnell, and Linda Carroll, among many other brilliant professors. Upon completion of the degree, I had over 300 supervised patient contact hours in voice alone and multiple semester-long courses related directly to voice disorders.
TVF: What motivated you to dedicate yourself to the field of voice?
SC: A passion for singing, science and people.
TVF: What comes to your mind as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary voice disorders?
SC: I’m pre-occupied with the absurdity that exists in the insurance industry with regard to voice disorders. I feel that a performer with a vocal fold injury is no different than a runner’s bum knee or a golfer’s aching shoulder. Unfortunately, the vocal fold injury and the speech therapy required to treat it is often excluded from health insurance plans whereas physical therapy for the dysfunctioning body parts of the amateur athlete are in the “safe zone” for reimbursement. To allow insurance companies to belittle the livelihood of a performer by refusing to insure the recovery of that performer’s most important asset is born from ignorance and maintained through financially motivated refusal of reason. As a field, we have the tools and knowledge to help our performers and we now must turn our collective efforts toward keeping our services covered by third-party payers. Otherwise, voice rehabilitation may firmly and tragically become an elective out-of-pocket service available only to those with the means to afford it.
TVF: Do you have research interests?
SC: Unfortunately, my current position does not support release time for research. If it did, however, I would pursue cross clinical efficacy studies for the treatment of muscle tension dysphonia with speech therapy. This type of research is absolutely essential when building a case for reimbursement.
TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
SC: I would like to take my magic wand and dispel the myth that some people are singers and others are not. The human voice is made to create a variety of sounds and we, as a society, appear to try to narrow vocal expression into an “acceptable” range and thereby stunt its dynamic and expressive nature. Singing is a birthright and I believe that vocal exploration and expression is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
TVF: What is your most memorable voice case?
SC: The functional dysphonia/aphonia cases always seem to lodge themselves in my memory, perhaps because the change is so dramatic and the patients are so grateful. One in particular was a tough fix (1.5 hours), who, in the midst of laryngeal massage, spoke her first words in nine months which were “Alleluia, praise Jesus, he gave me my voice back!” Hmmm…
TVF: Do you have a vocal pet peeve?
SC: Yes...when people attribute my hard work to Jesus! LOL!
TVF: As a voice pathologist/educator/researcher, what keeps you on your toes?
SC: My patients. I see each patient with laryngeal malfunction as a novel set of circumstances leading to an unwanted outcome. My privilege is to reorganize a multitude of variables and facilitate healing. To do this, I am fully present with that patient, integrating information to determine his or her road map to recovery and overcome anticipated or real self-imposed change-resistant behavior.
TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of laryngology/Vocology/voice rehabilitation?
SC: I would love to see further developments in tissue engineering as well as injectable replacements for the superficial lamina propria. For voice therapy, we need therapeutic efficacy data worthy of inclusion in the Cochrane report. I would love to see our training requirements become standardized with better opportunities for speech pathology graduate students to get graduate level courses in voice disorder evaluation and treatment, instrumentation for voice analysis, pedagogical considerations for singers and actors, acoustics and laryngeal dissection.
TVF: What advice would you like to give to the general populace about voice care?
SC: Seems like advice to avoid inhaling marijuana smoke would be timely. Also, I’m a big advocate of helping individuals identify and heed early warning signs of vocal overuse.
TVF: Who are your favorite singers?
SC: I would like to highlight Martin Sexton, singer/songwriter/guitarist. I love how he paints vigorously from his entire vocal palate. My all-time favorite, though, is Ella Fitzgerald. I love her vocal timbre, tonality, interpretation, flexibility and phrasing.
TVF: What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
SC: There are so many things that I don’t know where to start. Making music with my children, getting a grateful hug from a patient, looking up through trees to blue sky while tubing on the river that runs through my town, experiencing novelty…the more absurd the better, super tasty food, black and white photographs of dancers caught mid-flight, piña coladas, oh...and getting caught in the rain.