Christine O'Hara

Christine O’Hara graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in English and a minor in Theatre in 2004. She was the 2003 recipient of the KY English Speaking Union Scholarship to study abroad at Oxford University where she studied Shakespeare and Jane Austen. She received her M.S. in Communication Disorders from University of Louisville in 2008 and is a Speech-Language Pathologist. Christine also enjoys performing with various local theatre companies. She lives and works in Louisville, KY.

What other majors/minors/tracks did you have beyond English?

The idea of a Creative Writing track was introduced my senior year, so while I wasn’t able to declare it I took every creative writing class Prof. Smock offered, as well as Playwriting through the theatre department. I took enough theatre classes to be a double major but that wasn’t an option. I was also a Brown Scholar, which was a fantastic experience. Through that program I was introduced to a variety of cultures and experiences I would not have had otherwise. After graduation I was looking into MFA programs for playwriting and dramaturgy when my grandmother ended up in speech therapy following surgery. I found her therapy sessions fascinating and decided that was my calling.

What is your current job?

I am a Speech-Language Pathologist. I provide home health therapy services to adults that are unable to leave the home for care. I work with patients with a variety of illnesses and disorders, including but not limited to stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s, brain injury, brain tumor, and head and neck cancer. My treatments include addressing auditory and reading comprehension, verbal and written expression, attention, memory, problem-solving, oral motor skills, and swallow therapy, also known as dysphagia therapy. I focus a lot on cognitive and linguistic skills as well. My goal is to keep my patients safe and healthy so they can remain in their homes for as long as possible. Sometimes that means being able to read and comprehend a medication label and recall the dose and time to take it so the patient can safely administer their own meds. Sometimes therapy addresses word retrieval skills so that a patient can recall the names of loved ones. I also cover on-call needs at a local hospital one weekend a month. This keeps my acute/critical care skill set sharp.

In what ways was your degree valuable in preparing for your career?

My English degree taught me time management, attention to detail, appreciation of linguistic style, critical analysis skills, and how to write thoughtful and intelligent documents. Every day I write evaluation and treatment summaries. These go in the patients’ permanent medical chart, they get reviewed by doctors and insurance companies. While I may not use the same style of language I preferred in my poetry and creative writing classes, and I have to be more concise than an 8-10 page essay, I have the language skills necessary to paint a picture of the patient’s condition and their progress towards goals. In my profession “if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen” so I need to be able to make it very clear what goes on during my sessions. It’s a balance of writing a summary with proper medical detail and complexity, but in a way that a non Speech Pathologist can comprehend.

What was your favorite experience as an English major?

I can’t possibly pick just one! Winning the English Speaking Competition and studying at Exeter College at Oxford was absolutely a highlight. I was fortunate enough not only to win but also then to get my top two picks for classes, studies in Shakespeare performance and Jane Austen. It was a magical summer! And I had the support of the entire English department faculty through the process, wishing me well, giving me advice, and setting up mock-interviews to prepare. I never would have even pursued the opportunity if it weren’t’ for the urging of Prof. Smock to apply. He even threatened to put a hold on my registration for one of his classes until I applied for the scholarship!

I submitted to Ariel every year and was President my senior year. I loved those meetings; both the regular meetings where we sat around reading what we’d written and the submission and planning meetings for the publications. Any day I got to discuss literature with Dr. Gatton was a treat.

I really and truly loved the moments outside of class quietly reading in one of my favorite spots on campus or getting into lively discussions with friends about our interpretations of what we were reading that semester. I loved the intimacy of a small department. When you have a professor for multiple classes they really get to know you as a person. The relationships I built with my professors truly fostered my growth as a person and a scholar.

Any advice for current majors or those considering an English degree?

Read anything and everything. Read what you love. Read what challenges you and makes you uncomfortable. Find a mentor, someone you can go to for extra help and guidance. Take advantage of office hours. That’s one thing I’ll never regret doing. My creative writing style didn’t always translate well into essay format, and I met with a professor multiple times over the course of my junior year to address this issue. She put me through some very uncomfortable work but it paid off. I wouldn’t be as effective at my current career if I hadn’t put the work in on my writing skills.

Also, don’t compare yourself to other English majors. I remember being upset after one on my lit classes with Dr. Gatton freshman year. I hadn’t read anything on the syllabus and several classmates had read some of the material in high school. I assumed this meant I was behind or a “bad English major” as I called myself. He told me, in his wonderful Dr. G way, that that was nonsense, to be excited to read all new material, and that we will all learn from each other’s experiences and interpretations. So, have no fears. Come as you are and have a wonderful time!