Meet Wendy LeBorgne, PhD, CCC-SLP
In the area of voice pathology, vocal wellness, and vocal athletics, Dr. Wendy LeBorgne is crushing it.
In her recent Ted Talk , Vocal Branding: How Your Voice Shapes Your Communication Image, she shares that, “your voice is like your thumbprint or your facial features. It is unique and authentically you… Your voice is your calling card and it is the most important element in your personal brand”. Dr. Wendy is a renowned voice pathologist and singing voice specialist who works with vocal athletes (actors, singers) and executive speakers (CEOs, political leaders, coaches) on improving vocal wellness as well as preventing and recovering from vocal injury.
I learned about Dr. Wendy’s inspiring career path through a good friend and grad school classmate, Emily. Emily was a unique member of our graduate class, as she earned her undergraduate degree in musical theater and spent some time traveling the country as an actress. Her own experience as a vocal athlete drove her to speech pathology, and ultimately landed her an internship beneath an expert in the area, Dr. Wendy! I am so glad that Emily connected me with Dr. Wendy because her (speech) path is an inspiring example of how we can marry passion with practice through this profession.
Her path: Through her 20 year career as a voice pathologist, Dr. LeBorgne has served as the clinical director of two incredible private practice voice centers (ProVoice Center & BBIVAR, both located in OH). She presents nationally and internationally on the professional voice, vocal wellness, and vocal athletics. She also holds an adjunct professor position at Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music as a Voice Consultant for the actors and singers at CCM as well as teaching undergraduate and doctoral level coursework in vocal pedagogy. Speech-language pathology wasn’t always her dream job. Dr. Wendy completed her B.F.A. in Musical Theater from Shenandoah Conservatory, with plans to perform on Broadway. However, her course changed and she earned both her masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Cincinnati in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She has published research in multiple international journals and most recently co-authored The Vocal Athlete, a text and workbook. Dr. Wendy works with vocal athletes who can be seen on Broadway, TV, opera stages, cruise ships, film, and music tours around the world.
“My best advice for a CF is to learn as much as you can, even if it’s not potentially your dream placement. With some of the more niche areas of speech pathology, clinical fellowships are few and far between… But, in any fellowship, tap into the expertise of whatever mentor or fellowship advisor you have. So many things can cross over and apply in many different aspects.” – Dr. Wendy LeBorgne
*Many of my interviewees have responded via email, however I was lucky enough to talk with Dr. LeBorgne on the phone. Yes, her voice is amazing. Check out our chat:
Mallory: What advice would you give to a new graduate who is about to start their clinical fellowship (CF)?
Wendy: The biggest thing is to learn as much as you can, even if it’s not potentially your dream placement. With some of the more niche areas of speech pathology, clinical fellowships are few and far between. You might not get the one that you really want. But, in any fellowship, tap into the expertise of whatever mentor or fellowship advisor you have. Glean any bit of knowledge you can from them. So many things can cross over and apply in many different aspects.
Mallory: That’s definitely true. Where did you complete your CF?
Wendy: I completed my CF here at the Blaine Block Institute of Voice Analysis in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Stemple was my mentor and boss for the first 13 years of my career. When he moved into an academic position, I took over the clinical practice.
Mallory: Was voice therapy always what you knew you wanted to do?
Wendy: Once I went into speech pathology, yes. But, my undergraduate degree was actually in musical theater and I performed professionally. My dad was a physical therapist and my sister is a physical therapist, and I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an actress for the rest of my life. 25 years ago, there was not a voice specialty, certainly not with vocal athletes. But I saw this from the PT side of things and tried to figure out how to make this my course. I feel lucky to marry my passion with my skill set and hopefully create a career that remains interesting and invigorating.
Mallory: Wow, so you must have credibility from your clients having your own history in theater?
Wendy: Yeah, it definitely provides some common language and understanding of the demands of the profession.
Mallory: What is one belief, habit, or routine that has significantly impacted your life?
Wendy: Well, this is outside the clinic, but for me it is really some daily, focused meditation. Even just ten minutes on productivity and focus. We live in this crazy, hectic world and being able to spend ten minutes focusing in the mornings before I start my day has helped me find balance. We live in a career field where there is majority women compared to men. We end up balancing being a mom, wife, as well as a career driven individual. I can’t say it’s different for a man, but I think it holds a different stigma. So, being able to find some balance becomes really important.
Mallory: I love that. Meditation is so important, but hard to conquer! What book do you most frequently recommend, or is there a book that has greatly impacted your life?
Wendy: I listen to a lot of audio books with my commute time, so my goal is to try to do a book every two weeks. A clinical book that I think is really important in the voice world is Clinical Voice Pathology, a seminal book by Stemple. It has been pivotal in my life. For a book that is not speech pathology based…One of the books I like a lot right now is called The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry. It’s a great book on thinking outside the box and how we make that happen. Another good book is called Forgetting To Be Afraid by Wendy Davis, a senator in Texas. It was a really interesting book.
Mallory: And you’ve written a book yourself, right?
Wendy: Ah yes, The Vocal Athlete. That book changed my life too, but for a different reason. It was a labor of love. We are actually getting ready to do a second edition.
Mallory: What is your favorite failure?
Wendy: Well, I don’t know that this is a failure, but failing to become a professional Broadway performer changed the course of my life. I don’t know that this was a failure so much as a pivot in my world. I performed professionally from the age of three up through college, so maybe in my mind it seemed like a failure that I wasn’t going to go to New York and try to make it on Broadway, and rather switch and do something different. So, in my mind, maybe that was a failure. Clinically, I see failures when people don’t get better in the way we expect them to. This makes me a better clinician because it forces me to think outside the box and go research more. This happens all the time. Early in my career, learning from the things that did and did not work made me a better clinician. Instead of doing the same route things you learned in graduate school, if you find they’re not working, switch it up.
Mallory: Wow, I love how you shared about your dream to be on Broadway, because even though you didn’t reach that goal, you still ended up finding your passion and being super successful.
Wendy: Yeah, I’m still on Broadway. Just not in the way I expected it to be. I have clients in almost every show on Broadway right now.
Mallory: That’s amazing. What areas in the field do you see the most opportunity for growth?
Wendy: Honestly, I think the aging population. Our society is aging, yet staying incredibly active members of society for much longer in our lives. There is so much room for growth there. Another area of growth may be basic clinical research in areas related to exercise physiology as it applies to the respiratory and phonation mechanism. We seem to be a little bit behind our PT colleagues in what we know and how we see things.
Mallory: What are some bad recommendations you hear in your area of expertise?
Wendy: Oh my gosh, I was laughing talking about this question yesterday. One of the worst things is that so many of my clients are on my Facebook page and I’ll see someone post, “Hey, I have a cold. What should I do?”, just sort of a random Facebook post. And, the amount of erroneous information that people spew on social media with no context… I mean, I saved one of these threads and it was everything from “slice and onion and put it on your feet to suck the toxins out” to “hot toddies” to just stupid stuff. And they’re so specific, like “gargle with half a slice of ginger, grated on the grain for 37 seconds”. It gets so specific. It’s unbelievable. The reality is, nothing you gargle gets anywhere near your vocal folds. The onion thing I had to look up. One of my favorite chapters to write in my book was about the myths and truths. Like, where do people get the idea that gargling is good for your throat when it never goes there? So, actually, in some Chinese medicine, a belief is that toxins come through your feet. So, there is some basis to this onion on your feet thing. But, it’s kind of like the telephone game. What was maybe the actual initial intent has gotten so skewed over the course of time and the telephone game that it’s now, “take half an onion, slice it, put it next your bed with your socks off, and that will cure your sore throat”. Unsubstantial claims online are unbelievable to me. Not just online, but all over the board.
Mallory: Seriously, especially in a time when so many people seek social media for information. So, what are your recommendations to the average person in terms of the best things to do for vocal health?
Wendy: Just like in physical fitness, the best way to not get injured is preventative wellness. So, whatever that means to you. For an athlete, you want to hydrate. There’s nothing different. You need to hydrate to keep your body healthy. You need to exercise on a regular basis. That’s physical exercise and that’s vocal exercise. You don’t want to go out and run five miles without training for it, even though when you’re young you probably can. The older you get, the less that feels good to your body. Similarly, you don’t want to sing for 2-3 hours at a choir rehearsal when that’s all the singing you do for the whole week. So, just consistent training and understanding, when and if you’re injured, that you don’t always have to push through and think the show must go on. There are times when I think we should take some time out to not further injure the system. I am much more about preventative wellness than clean up. We all have vocal accidents, but if I can do preventative things to minimize those things, then that’s what I strive for.
Mallory: Certainly; I think that holds true for a lot of areas in life. So, I know you talked about your shift from theater to speech pathology, but was there another notable shift or turn in your career that impacted your professional journey?
Wendy: I think there have definitely been some pivotal people in my life. During my undergrad in musical theater, I happened to take a course in vocal pedagogy and health with Dr. Janette Ogg. That course probably gave me the impetus to make that leap, not go to New York, and instead pursue a career in speech pathology. And then I came out here to the University of Cincinnati and my advisor, Linda Lee, happened to be good friends with Dr. Joseph Stemple. She introduced me to him, and he took me under his wing. He was so kind, taught me, pushed me, and changed the course of my life. There have been multiple people in my life that have been turning points as well as places that have allowed me to move forward. I think that, without mentors, this would be really hard to do. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people in my life who have been very gracious in sharing their knowledge and wisdom with me. I could name lists and lists of people in the world who do that, especially as we live in this world of “me too” right now. I am so grateful for the amazing mentors and amazing men in my life who have really pushed and enhanced me. I feel super fortunate.
Mallory: I totally agree. Mentorship is so important, and actually the main reason I decided to start this blog. I think learning from leaders in the field like yourself will be valuable for clinicians like me who are just getting started. Thank you so much for participating!