Alumni Stories

| 29 July 2022

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MS-SLP Alum Brings Music to the Profession


MS-SLP Alum Brings Music to the Profession usahs

Briona Daugherty’s (MS-SLP ’22) speech-language pathology (SLP) path began on board a cruise ship. Daugherty graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in theatrical performance. She studied opera and musical theater, originally wanting to be a touring singer for Broadway-style shows.

Briona Daugherty - MS-SLP ’22

Briona Daugherty – MS-SLP ’22

After spending time as a professional singer in Las Vegas and New York City, she began a career performing on cruise ships, including five years in China, Japan, Korea and Thailand. The longer she worked on cruise ships, the more she aided other vocalists in adjusting to life onboard. This included helping entertainment employees maintain their voices for more than two hours a night in a 2,000-seat theater. After witnessing entertainers experience vocal injuries and illness from overuse, she became interested in learning what was causing the injuries. Her goal was to help these singers recover faster and prevent future injuries.

“It’s so painful to see someone you know who worked for 15 years get a great contract and then see that colleague go home because of injuries. No one onboard really understood the injury or how to support it,” says Daugherty.

A year before the pandemic, she began taking prerequisites to become a speech-language pathologist. Then all contracts for cruise ship employees were put on hold due to COVID-19.

Daugherty decided to look for Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology programs that were taught virtually, which led her to USAHS. She explains that so much of a person’s identity in day-to-day life revolves around what they do for a living.

“It’s one of the first things people ask in introductions, and it’s what I think of myself when I look in the mirror. I remember going through the first two semesters of the program feeling like I wasn’t myself because who I was, was a singer, and not a grad student nor SLP yet,” says Daugherty.

“The University bent over backwards to help me get a vocal disorders placement because of my background. During my clinical experience, I started seeing professional vocalists. I felt like I belonged again. I knew exactly what they were dealing with in their injury, the fear of losing their livelihood and the pressures of the job, and for the first time in my life, I finally knew how to help them,” Daugherty exclaims.

Music in Therapy

While at USAHS, Daugherty enjoyed tinkering with using music in therapy. She found it difficult to find songs and books for young children featuring SLP target sounds.

“I remember looking for an /r/ book and was shocked because there was nothing available. So, I made a PowerPoint presentation and wrote the first draft of ‘Giraffe’s Rainy Birthday’ for therapy. Kids lose interest with lists of words, but with rhymes, songs and stories, they remember them.”

She knew her ideas were working when a parent reported that their three year-old child was singing the songs and quoting the limericks in the bathtub.

MS-SLP Alum Brings Music to the Profession-usahs

Since graduation, Daugherty has published five books in the ‘My Speech Pals’ series on Amazon for speech delay, apraxia, autism spectrum disorder and articulation. Tiggy the Turtle made #1 on the hot new Amazon picks list for speech-language pathology in its first week.

Clinical Facilitator and contributing faculty member Kathryn Flurry Mercer, MCD, CCC-SLP, says, “During my time supervising Briona in Virtual Clinic, I watched her merge her love for creating music with her passion for connecting with children. In a virtual setting, finding ways to motivate a toddler to practice speech sounds was beyond the typical in-person challenges. Her playful, engaging songs helped the children and their families practice speech sounds in a fun and approachable way. I can still remember the ‘Ticky Tack, Doggy Dog’ song.”

Says Daugherty, “Kathryn Mercer was my first mentor at USAHS, and she was the first one to say, ‘That was great; next time bring your ukulele.’ The University helped me realize that the type of SLP a cruise ship performer would end up looking like would be a little different and to not shy away from that. Once I fully accepted that as a part of a career, I took it and ran!”


The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program. Designed for working students, the MS-SLP is an online program with four required on-campus residencies on either the USAHS Austin or Dallas campus. The program offers two intakes per year, in January and September. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Prepare to make a difference in the lives of clients across the lifespan with a meaningful career in speech therapy! 

For students with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than communications sciences and disorders (CSD) or SLP and for students with a CSD or SLP degree whose undergraduate program did not include the required leveling coursework, we offer SLP leveling courses for completing the necessary prerequisites to enter the graduate program.

The Master of Science (M.S.) education program in Speech-Language Pathology {distance education} at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is a Candidate for Accreditation by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2200 Research Boulevard, #310, Rockville, MD 20850, 800-498-2071 or 301-296-5700. Candidacy is a “pre-accreditation” status with the CAA, awarded to developing or emerging programs for a maximum period of 5 years. 


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