2022 International Neonatal Therapy Week Feature Interview: Connected by a Shared Vision in South Africa

It’s fascinating how like-minded neonatal therapists are from around the world. We are truly connected by a shared vision!

For International Neonatal Therapy Week (INTW) we had a chance to conduct a written interview with Sammy Hammond, a speech-language pathologist from Cape Town, South Africa. Sammy was a recipient of NANT’s International Scholarship and attended NANT 12 this past April. We had an opportunity to meet Sammy in person and learn more about her NICU practice, clinical aspirations and how the NANT community supports her work.

Name: Sammy Hammond, B. SLP (Stell.), SACLC (Wits)
Discipline/Credentials: SLP & South African Certified Lactation Consultant
Workplace: Private practice (hospital and outpatients)
Location: Cape Town, South Africa

Here is the conversation we recently shared with Sammy:

How did you become interested in the NICU?
I never knew or even heard about NICUs until I was 18 years old. When I was considering studying to become a speech language pathologist (SLP), I did some shadowing/work experience with an SLP in my hometown. This SLP took me into a small NICU at the local private hospital where I observed her providing feeding intervention to a neonate. When I left the hospital that day, I decided that I wanted to work in NICUs supporting neonates and their families. I remember immediately calling my parents to tell them I had found the career I wished to pursue. My goal throughout my studies was therefore to become a neonatal therapist.

What initiatives are you working on right now?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of “red tape” when working in a private hospital in South Africa. Although my colleagues and I would love to start many initiatives, we have to implement things very slowly and only with approval from the governing body.

Currently, I am doing a lot of in-service training with the nursing staff. This training is focused on neonatal feeding; particularly positioning in feeds, paced bottle feeding, and cue-based feeding.

We’re also working on having our breastfeeding area re-allocated back, as it was taken away by management during the COVID pandemic. This area functions to allow a quiet and private space for Mommies to breastfeed their infant or express.

Something I am hugely passionate about and really want to start targeting in South Africa is neonatal training of undergraduate students. Unlike in the USA, South Africa doesn’t have a neonatal mentorship program. Therefore, many new graduates like the idea of neonatal therapy but have no formal training or mentoring in this area. My goal is to contact all universities in South Africa and encourage them to implement NICU-focused learning, mentoring, or blocks into their curriculum.

What made you decide to become a Member of NANT?
What better place to get the latest research, support, and community for a neonatal therapist! Neonatal therapy is a very new area in South Africa, and therefore there are limited resources and support available for us here. Being a NANT member has provided me with access to the latest research, neonatal online training, as well as member support. It allows me to expand my knowledge by learning from and connecting with other NANT members from around the world. By becoming a NANT member, I feel like I am connected and always learning.

If therapists around the globe are reading this, what would you tell them about your experience of belonging to this community?
If you are involved in neonatal therapy or wanting to practice in the field of neonatal therapy, I would highly recommend belonging to NANT. Whether you are in a first or third world country, a newly qualified therapist or have been in practice for many years, the NANT community has something for everyone. Being part of the NANT community allows you to learn from each other as well as the experts in the field of neonatal therapy. If I am unsure or want to double-check something, I find it so helpful to either email one of the experts or ask on the NANT Facebook group. Plenty of resources and discussions are available, so I never feel alone or in the “deep end”. The Facebook group also assists when wanting to get advice about policies and initiatives and how to implement them in your NICU.

You received one of NANT’s International Scholarships to attend the in-person conference in 2022. What was the most valuable part of that experience?
The whole experience was so valuable to me! In South Africa, we have very limited access to neonatal learning and resources. Therefore, receiving a scholarship for the NANT in-person conference was a dream come true. The research, the presenters, delegates, and the exhibition stands were all incredible. To be able to learn and connect with so many therapists with the same interests and work as myself was so valuable. I was able to ask questions, share ideas, and gain knowledge of how to implement things in NICUs in South Africa.

The content of the NANT conference, as well as being able to connect in-person with the experts in the field of neonatal therapy, was priceless.

Without the international NANT scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to attend such an incredible conference. My passion and drive for neonatal therapy in South Africa increased even more after attending.

           Sue Ludwig, Sammy Hammond, and Chrysty Sturdivant at NANT 12

We have so much to learn from our international Members. What do you want the world to know about the practice of neonatal speech therapy in South Africa?
Neonatal therapy is still very new in South Africa. Unfortunately, limited undergraduate learning and mentoring are offered with regards to neonatal therapy in South Africa. Therefore, therapists who wish to pursue a career in the field of neonatal therapy need to use their own initiative to further their studying and knowledge through post-graduate courses, which are mostly offered overseas and are extremely expensive for South Africans. Having said that, there is still a massive need for neonatal therapists in South Africa. Slowly but surely, we are starting to gain recognition and acceptance in NICUs whereby neonatologists and pediatricians understand the need and value of a neonatal therapist in the NICU #watchthisspace!

Thank you, Sammy, for your dedication and efforts to advance neonatal therapy in South Africa. Your unique perspective and skills as a neonatal therapist are an asset to your multidisciplinary team and will undoubtedly elevate the care provided to infants and families in your region. We are grateful for your professional advocacy and ongoing collaboration with our NANT community — And will definitely be cheering for you from afar!


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