People Speech & Language

Q&A with Clinical Speech Pathologist Megan Radder

photo of Radder family
Radder's family on a recent visit to St. Louis' Candy Cane Lane, from left: Megan, sons Liam and Owen, and husband Andrew Schuette.

Clinical Speech Pathologist Megan Radder finds her career a perfect way to combine her interests  in medicine and music. She celebrates voice every day by assisting patients in the Voice and Airway Center at Washington University School of Medicine.

How long have you been working for WashU ENT?

I started working in Oto in 2014 after earning my masters in speech-language pathology (SLP) from Indiana University. 

When did you develop an interest in becoming a speech-language pathologist?

I have always loved medicine. My dolls frequently had bandages and homemade IVs when I was a kid. I pursued music as a college student, earning a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Oberlin Conservatory and a master of music from Indiana University, Bloomington. I debated leaving music several times to become a nurse, and my life changed when a friend told me about a “Care of the Professional Voice” course that I took when I was getting my master’s in music. It married medicine and the voice for me, and I was sold.

Radder performs in the Romeo and Juliet Opera at the Southern Illinois University Music Festival in 2010.

You are a singing voice specialist. What does that mean?

I help singers rehabilitate their voices following injury and help them prevent future vocal injuries. This is typically done by increasing the person’s awareness of how they are using their vocal instrument through a series of exercises designed to take pressure off of the vocal folds. We make a lot of bizarre sounds – actually based on science – and the patient’s goal is to match the sound and feel when they transition to singing words. Other strategies such as resonance modification can help singers elevate certain frequencies to achieve a powerful sound without tension. 

photo of Bloom magazine cover featuring Megan Radder
Radder featured in a local Bloomington, IN publication during a 2006 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.

What do you find most challenging and most enjoyable about your work?

Over my seven years here, I have learned that people want and need to feel heard, but this can be difficult in the context of limited time in clinic and therapy. I have learned to validate people and relate their emotions and concerns to their diagnoses. When people don’t feel heard they don’t return, but sometimes we are behind and I know I could have done better to give someone the space they needed to have a good appointment. 

I enjoy working with patients and getting to know them in addition to learning new clinical and therapeutic skills every year. My “new” colleagues Jess and Grace have further expanded my skills and I am very grateful for them!

The motto for 2022 World Voice Day is “Lift your voice”. Why is that important to you, and how will you recognize/celebrate this special day?

The lift your voice campaign calls for us to “take back our vocal presence with a good quality voice that represents us and improves communication.”

This is relevant because I serve people to help give them voice. The concept is integral to my role within our department and involves not only improving the mechanics of how someone uses their voice but sometimes helping them gain the confidence to do so. I celebrate this daily at work alongside patients as they learn to control how they use their voices free of pain, tension, or vocal quality changes.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have a one and three-year-old, so free time feels nonexistent. I will try to get a quick run in over lunch at least once or twice a week at work and possibly squeeze one in on the weekends. I also love to read, but that is typically 2-3 pages a night before I fall asleep. It’s a running joke with my husband – it can take me a long time to finish a book that way. 

photo of Radder boys
Radder’s free time, sons Liam (left) and Owen, on a visit to St. Louis Botanical Gardens.

What is at the top of your bucket list, and why?

To be present with my kids. That may not sound like excitement for most, but I often try to live by what “Death Bed Megan” would want if I am lucky enough to reflect on my life at that time. While yes, I enjoy traveling and new experiences, a truly meaningful life for me lies in my relationships with my family and friends. Balancing two full-time careers with my husband and raising kids can be extremely difficult at times. I try to be grateful that I have two healthy children and when things feel too squeezed, to take deep breaths and just tell myself to be patient. I also acknowledge that life is a bunch of phases and that some of the things that stress me out now are what I will miss the most, like my kids cuddling in bed at night which leaves me sleep-deprived but blanketed in love.

Do you have a favorite movie?

One of my favorite movies is a documentary called On the Way to School (Netflix). It highlights how four groups  of young kids from all over the world get to school and follows them as they travel unthinkable distances (often alone or only with other kids). One of my favorite examples is a group of brothers, around ages 7-10, who push their 11-year-old brother in a “wheelchair” – a home-made plastic lawn chair connected to bike tires that go flat – through sand, rivers, and ditches for over an hour to bring him to school. The chair breaks down, they must fix it, and they argue over how to move him over obstacles. The documentary highlights how these kids must handle large responsibilities at an early age, are extremely independent, and value access to education to the point they will risk their lives for it. It shows me how remarkable people are and also how life experiences shape and mold who we become.