Sisters Joan Dobard and Lora Backes share the speech-language pathology profession.
Name: Joan Dobard, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist in Alexandria, La.
Name: Lora Backes, ME, CCC-SLP
Title: Assistant professor and clinical supervisor of the Valdosta State University Speech and Hearing Clinic in Valdosta, Ga.
Sibling relationships come in all shapes and sizes—close, distant, loving, loathing, competitive (usually a combination of all of the above). In many instances, siblings are hybrid friends and family, but for sisters Joan Dobard and Lora Backes there is yet another layer. They are also professional peers.
"Yeah, when people meet us at the same time and realize we're both speech-language pathologists they always kind of chuckle," says Backes.
The sisters grew up the youngest two of five children in the traditionally Catholic Stephens family in Baton Rouge, La. The Stephens kids were so spread out in age that when Joan, the youngest, was born, Lora remembers her mother having to hire a babysitter for the infant so that her mother could attend the oldest daughter's wedding.
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Stephens had many responsibilities keeping track of five children. When Joan, an intelligent and curious child, came along, her mother handed over the activity of book reading to Lora, who was nine years older.
"I loved books and wouldn't let Lora skip pages," Joan recalls. "She would read book after book each night just to get me to go to sleep."
As the girls grew older, they remained close despite their age difference. Joan watched Lora practice piano and eventually took it up herself. Meanwhile, Lora made sure to include Joan in whatever she was doing. When Lora went to Louisiana State University in 1978, she wasn't sure what career to pursue. She knew that she wanted to help others—a value that had been instilled during her 12 years of Catholic school, she says. But how? Then one day a friend in the audiology program invited her to visit the LSU speech and hearing clinic.
The experience, Lora says, was eye-opening. "The professors were so open and welcoming, and it was just so amazing to me to see that working with these patients could make such a difference in their lives." A week later, she enrolled in the speech-language pathology program and graduated in 1983.
A mere three years later, in 1986, Joan was in her first year at LSU to pursue dentistry. But after her first college-level chemistry class, she knew she had to "reevaluate," so to speak. Even though Lora had suggested she check out the speech-language program, Joan wasn't convinced.
"I knew Lora had really liked it, but I was young and I kept saying I wanted to do my own thing," Joan recalls. "But then she talked me into going to her school to observe her. I did and enjoyed it. I signed up for introduction to communication disorders and after that I was hooked. I liked that the profession was a way to help people. Plus it incorporated language, psychology and even music—all things I was interested in. I was so happy to find something that I loved!"
Today Joan, who still lives in Louisiana, has three part-time jobs: in the public schools' child search program, a long-term acute-care facility and an acute-care hospital. Lora, on the other hand, is an assistant professor at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga., and a clinical supervisor for the on-campus speech and hearing clinic. Although the two live more than 600 miles apart, they are still close and see each other often by going to regional and national conferences together. They call each other for professional advice or to share ideas about cases or clients.
Belonging to the same profession adds a whole new dimension to their relationship, Joan says.
"Being in the same profession gives us another way to relate," she says. "We would be close anyway, but sharing the field of speech-language pathology adds another facet to our relationship."