Betty McMicken is a curious sort. That’s probably the reason she always asks “why?”
It’s a combination of that endless curiosity, her hard work and dedication as the main reasons she will receive the Honors of the American Speech and Hearing Association at the organization’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 20-22.
“This is as good as it gets,” said McMicken, an associate professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders. “It is for excellence in lifetime achievement, specifically in the areas of teaching, research, community service and professional expertise. You need to excel in all these areas and to have presented papers nationally and internationally, which I have done. There’s very few people that make it up to Honors.”
Some of her most recent and rewarding work has come about as the result of research involving congenital aglossia, a term applied to individuals born without a tongue. Up until approximately two years ago, there were only two known living individuals with the condition in the world. Today, because of McMicken, her assistant Kelly Rogers (who has congenital aglossia) and doctors in Brazil, there are now eight known cases.
Among the great many nominations letters supporting McMicken for this award, a common thread ran throughout.
“She lives to serve others. Her energy to advance the profession knows no bounds,” wrote Sharlene Goodman, the executive director at Newport Language and Speech Center. “She has changed the trajectory of the field in unique ways and has had an impact upon everyone who knows her and who has had the privilege of being in her care. She has changed the lives of students, clients and colleagues and continues to do so without losing a step.”
“Few among us do so much for so long driven solely by the need to understand and be of service,” wrote John C. Rosenbek, a professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Florida. “Those few have received the Association’s Honors. The award’s exalted status will only be further elevated by Dr. McMicken’s joining them. Best of all, Honors or not, she will continue to do what she has always done because it is not about her—it is about her students, patients, peers and profession.”
McMicken also admits to being a bit overwhelmed at the thought of receiving such an honor, simply because previous recipients were her mentors, the biggest and brightest names in the field.
“There are people who have taken me under their wing and so to join my mentors at this level is an overwhelming honor,” she said. “If I can make a difference like my mentors have for me, that would be a wonderful reward.”
McMicken noted that over the past 50 years the field of communicative disorders has expanded enormously into areas she could never have dreamed.
“We were always a neurologically-based profession and we always dealt with people with neurological injuries,” she said. “Now we have a better evidence base and understand far more than before so we can treat in a more efficacious manner. Part of that is research, part of that is clinical practice. Our field has expanded and of course grown, not only in medical necessity and credibility but in the services that we are able to offer.”
McMicken’s nearly five-decade-long career has included a speech and audiology internship at the West L.A. Veterans Administration Hospital in the 1960s, co-founding (with mentor Elizabeth Wallace) and directing the Orange County-based Newport Language and Speech Center in 1970, directing a speech and hearing program at Western Medical Center in Orange County for 20 years, and serving as the chair and full professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders at Cal State Los Angeles for seven years in the 1990s. In 1998, she became a part-time lecturer at CSULB, within a year was full-time, became an assistant professor in 2006 and is now an associate professor.
In addition she has worked tirelessly and included CSULB students in her efforts at the Los Angeles Mission/Anne Douglas Center and has been legendary actor Kirk Douglas’ personal speech therapist since 2007.
And while McMicken admits to at one time being a technology junkie, she said she gotten away from that, noting that some things in the therapeutic process will never change.
“Nothing can take the place of sitting across the desk from someone in need of help, watching them, listening to them, taking a thorough history and finding out who that person is,” she said. “Being a good clinician means being a good observer, seeing how a person functions, listening to the family, and finding out how the communication or swallowing disorder is affecting the family, in addition to the patient. These skills are the basis of a committed, exceptional clinician who can excel in the rehabilitation process.” Another thing that has never changed is her curious nature.
“One of the things that has always been one of my hallmarks, and annoyingly so to friends, is that I always want to know ‘why’?” she added. “I always want to know why something is happening, so I take that into my work and I try to get my students to always ask ‘why’?”