Bridgewater was by far my favorite institution because of the professors. They were outstanding. They cared about us.
Rachel Best, ’06, attended two colleges before transferring to Bridgewater State. But it was Bridgewater that altered the trajectory of her career.
Best planned to pursue an education degree until during orientation, when she discovered the communication disorders program.
“Bridgewater was by far my favorite institution because of the professors,” said Best, who credited Dr. Sandra Ciocci with encouraging her to pursue a career in speech therapy. “They were outstanding. They cared about us.”
Now Best runs her own clinic called Small Steps Therapy and was recently named Health Care Services Woman to Watch by the Providence Business News. Her growing business provides speech, feeding, and pediatric occupational therapy services at three Massachusetts and Rhode Island locations. She plans to open her fourth and fifth offices in the coming months.
Despite the expansion, Best hasn’t lost sight of the reason she entered the field: to help people.
That’s a message Bridgewater professors like Ciocci emphasized.
“The medical field is not an easy place to work,” Best said. “They really instilled in us that the work you’re doing is important. You’re going to change a lot of lives.”
Best had an inkling that she was suited to the field because she enjoyed working with a preschooler with speech challenges before she transferred to Bridgewater. Once on campus, faculty helped her develop her skills as a clinician and provided individualized attention that prepared her for a highly competitive graduate program at Boston University.
Before starting her own practice in 2013, Best worked for several years in a hospital. She felt too constrained by the rigidity of hospital rules that prevented her from serving some patients with limited financial means.
“It was so heartbreaking to turn kids away,” she said. “With a smaller organization, there’s a lot more freedom. If I want to see a patient for free, that’s my choice.”
Best specializes in feeding therapy, a relatively unique area in which therapists help children learn to eat safely and expand their palate. She developed a lengthy waiting list, hired clinicians and expanded her footprint and services to include voice therapy for patients with Parkinson’s.
The growth enabled Best to fulfill a new – and unexpected – role: that of an employer.
“Now we have almost 40 employees who are relying on the decisions I make for their livelihood,” she said. “It’s very challenging and very fulfilling at the same time.”
It’s also another step in a journey she began almost two decades ago as a Bridgewater student.
“If I hadn’t chosen Bridgewater, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in a communication disorders program,” she said. “It helped me find my passion.”
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