The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a... speech and language therapist?"

speech

Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

Today we are focusing on the healthcare sector. Over the last 10 years I’ve dealt with a great many clients interested in working within this industry but unable to see past the most obvious options of perhaps medicine, nursing or midwifery. So it is very satisfying for me to be able to showcase one of the allied healthcare professions.

We all know how important it is to be able to communicate effectively, right? And there are a whole host of reasons, both physical and psychological, why people of all ages may need the support of a Speech and Language therapist. Today’s contributor, Eleanor, does just that. Her interview gives us a brilliant insight into an undoubtedly rewarding career, as well as some very practical advice on how to gain that all-important work experience.

Thanks so much, Eleanor, and keep up the good work!


So, briefly, what is your job?

“I’m a Speech and Language Therapist working with adults in an acute hospital. I carry out communication and swallowing assessments, recommend safe consistencies for people with swallowing difficulties (dysphagia) and make referrals on for people who need extra help once they’ve left hospital.”

How did you get into it?

“My mum had a stroke when she was in her 20s, so I grew up with someone who had a communication disorder. She was really inspirational, as she was working as a dentist before the stroke, but had to retrain to use her left hand when she was left with right sided weakness. My son is learning disabled too, and our struggle to get a speech therapist was the final push I needed to look into training as one myself. It’s a degree level job, so I went back to University as a mature student. I could have done a 2-year MSc as I already have a degree, but I chose the 3 year BSc (some Universities offer a 4 year BSc) so I could still have a life! The 2 year Masters is very full-on. The best way to get a job afterwards is to sign up to NHS Jobs and apply for everything. It’s been a lean few years for SLT jobs, but it’s quite cyclical, so I expect the situation to improve. There are some private jobs going too, which can be good as long as there’s mentoring in place.”

Describe a typical day.

“I get in at 8.30 and we do ‘The List’, which is our daily list of who’s on the caseload, and when they need to be seen. As well as our current patients, there are new referrals every day, so they get divvied up as well. I then spend a few minutes plotting my route through the day, prioritising who I need to see and making sure my patients are still inpatients. I then go onto the wards and do my assessments and reviews. I stop for the wards’ protected lunchtime (between 11.30 and 13.00) and do admin, then more patients in the afternoon. I’m still doing my dysphagia training, so I have to report back to my supervisor quite regularly too.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“The patients! There are occasionally difficult ones, but mostly they’re great and I feel really privileged that I get to have some input into their lives. A lot of people don’t realise that we assess swallowing as well as speech, but it’s the vast majority of an acute caseload. We really can help make a difference for patients who have a problem in that area, as food and drink going down into their lungs can make them really sick.”

And the least?

“Bad outcomes - the problem with working in an acute hospital is that people are sick, and sometimes they don’t make it, despite the best efforts of everyone involved in their care. Also, people can come in thinking they have one thing and then find out it’s something much worse. I hate finding out that one of my patients has had a bad diagnosis.”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“Some people think SLTs just help people speak, but in fact the communication side of things is much more than making sure you can say all your sounds properly. Sometimes communication doesn’t use words at all, and we have to help patients use non-verbal ways of getting their point across; sometimes a person can talk fine, but what they say doesn’t make any sense (after a stroke for example). Also, much as I loved ‘the King’s Speech’, I don’t encourage my patients to swear or roll around on the floor!”

What are the main skills you need to work as a speech and language therapist?

“I think you need to like people, to be a good communicator and listener, being observant helps, and being a team player. In a hospital, there’s no room for lone wolves, we work with other therapists (Physios and Occupational Therapists for example), Nurses, Doctors, Social Workers, Radiographers, Dieticians, and we have to work together, and find ways to fit all the pieces together so the outcome for the patient and their family is as good as possible.”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“I find it very satisfying to work for the NHS; healthcare free at the point of need is one of the best things about Great Britain in my opinion. I’m at the bottom of the pay chain at the moment, as a newly qualified therapist, earning Band 5 wages, but there’s plenty of opportunity to specialise and progress in my career. I’m happier working as an SLT than I have been in any other job.”

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“If you want to pursue a career as a Speech Therapist, you need to get some experience under your belt. Some therapists will let prospective students shadow them for a day or two, though hospital departments generally won’t unless you have a firm offer of a place at University, or there are opportunities to volunteer at places like Headway, The Stroke Association, or the British Stammering Association. The local Stammering Support group took me in and were really welcoming, even though I don’t stammer! Qualifications-wise, you need good A level grades, with many universities asking for biology or psychology. It’s quite a friendly career for mature students too, and most universities here look for a Science or Social Care Access Course, an OU Science foundation course or another A level.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“In ten years I’d like to be a Band 7 (highly specialist) SLT, but I’m not sure which speciality - our hospital divides into Voice, Acute/MFE (Medicine for the Elderly), Head and Neck, and Stroke. I’m in a rotational post, so I’ll get to experience all those disciplines before I have to make a choice.”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“Sometimes first in, rarely last out.”

Tea or coffee?

“Neither, bleurgh. Water for me!”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“Mostly packed lunch, though the canteen is nice, and does a staff discount!”

The lift or the stairs?

“Stairs - and my office is on the 4th floor.”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Straight home mostly.”