Since graduating with her MS in Communicative Sciences and Disorders in 2016, NYU CSD alum Wendy Liang now works as a medical speech-language pathologist (SLP) and swallowing disorders specialist for one of the largest health systems in Texas.
While working with patients with head and neck cancer, Wendy discovered a lack of educational resources about these diagnoses – and saw first-hand how access to this information improved patients’ health outcomes. This inspired Wendy to found Burgundy & White, a nonprofit that aims to promote survivorship and continued care for individuals and families impacted by head and neck cancer through an educational platform.
We connected with Wendy to learn more about the organization and her advice for aspiring speech-language pathologists.
Can you explain where the name Burgundy & White comes from?
The name Burgundy & White comes from the two colors of the head and neck cancer awareness ribbon. Our goal is to embody the meaning and spirit of the ribbon by bringing awareness to the disease and providing support and resources to the head and neck cancer community.
I’d love to hear more about what inspired you to found the organization.
As a medical SLP and swallowing disorders specialist, I assess and treat patients with varying diagnoses across the lifespan, including patients with head and neck cancer. These patients often work with large interdisciplinary teams throughout their treatment, which is a blessing. But, they often experience confusion, feel overwhelmed, and have questions about the many facets of their care.
Witnessing first-hand this huge need for increased education and accessible resources, I took the initiative to collaborate with my fellow SLP colleagues and created a nonprofit platform that would function as an all-in-one resource for the community – to support and inform patients and caregivers during and after treatment.
Our educational platform provides access to free online resources, including answers to common questions that have been important to patients along their journeys, thoughtful summaries of peer-reviewed publications, podcasts, and news stories, questions patients may want to keep in mind when visiting the doctor, and lists of local and national support groups and organizations.
Can you think of a particular success story/meaningful moment that demonstrates what Burgundy & White is all about?
In April 2021, Burgundy & White held its first virtual symposium, which featured an interdisciplinary panel of speakers with medical and/or research backgrounds ranging from otolaryngology, oral surgery, engineering, and speech pathology, and a keynote speaker sharing his personal cancer survivorship experience. The symposium was a huge success – with 250 virtual attendees from 22 different countries! Guests were a combination of medical SLPs, students, patients, and community members. Our success and reach with this event inspired us to host more virtual education opportunities in the future and work even harder to grow our organization’s outreach and offerings.
Are there any lessons learned or experiences from your NYU education that you carry into your work today?
The master of science in Communication Sciences and Disorders at NYU offered many opportunities to engage with the community and learn outside the classroom. I was a member of the graduate-level NYU Interprofessional Education Group (IPEG), representing speech pathology within a large group of students in the medical school, dental program, rehabilitation services program, nursing, social work, and dietitian/nutrition programs. Looking back, I feel that my initial passion and interest in interdisciplinary care and education began with IPEG.
I started to learn how it can be difficult for patients to ask questions when they are given a diagnosis because they simply don’t know what to ask.
During my time within the program, I also participated in two research labs. It was definitely unconventional to join more than one lab, but I was very interested in research and wanted to contribute to two particular areas within speech pathology. I completed a thesis with Dr. Tara McAllister’s Biofeedback Intervention Technology for Speech Lab and assisted with the development of her speech therapy app. I honed in on my passion for interdisciplinary work and developed an interest in therapeutic technology during my time at her lab.
I was also a research assistant in Dr. Sonja Molfenter’s NYU Swallowing Research Lab. While collecting and analyzing data with the lab, I cultivated my interest in medical speech pathology, particularly with individuals with dysphagia. And through her lab, I was able to meet Dr. Cathy Lazarus, who offered an observation opportunity to work with the head and neck cancer population. I started to learn how it can be difficult for patients to ask questions when they are given a diagnosis because they simply don’t know what to ask. Ultimately, it is our duty as health care providers to inform and guide patients through decision-making throughout their care. Providing resources and the support of a community that understands how daunting a cancer diagnosis can be is part of that duty, and that is what I strive to accomplish with Burgundy & White.
What advice would you give to an aspiring SLP in the CSD program?
My parents immigrated from China in the late 1980s and settled in Brooklyn. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and now work in Texas. I learned at home and in school how to be culturally compassionate and responsible as a contributing member of today’s larger diverse society. I would encourage aspiring SLPs in the NYU CSD program to learn, experience, and work with different cultures and backgrounds. It served me well as I went on to found Burgundy & White (in Texas!) and in my practice as a medical SLP.
Another piece of advice is to make time to experience and learn the different aspects of the field – shadow many SLPs and get experience in a variety of settings. The NYU CSD academic courses helped me build a great fundamental knowledge of the clinical work that this profession entails. But, ultimately it was up to me to reach out and learn outside the classroom (and advocate for new roles/opportunities that did not yet exist!) It’s the best way to get a sense of what focus and setting interests you. Reach out to and talk with clinicians to get a better understanding of the job beyond academics.
Finally, do not underestimate your role as a counselor! No matter which area within speech-language pathology you are passionate about, we are always patient advocates first. And with that role comes a fair amount of patient counseling and education.
What are your goals for the future of Burgundy & White?
Our future goals are to collaborate with global patient advocacy communities, develop a discussion portal on our website, improve our fundraising, accounting, and tech services, and of course maybe one day provide remuneration for our board members and staff (we’re all volunteers at this time!). If you are interested in learning more and/or helping with our cause email me at email@example.com!
Visit the Burgundy & White website and follow the organization on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
About the MS in CSD
Communicative Sciences and Disorders
665 Broadway, 9th floor
New York, NY 10012