|English and Related Literature|
|English and History|
|Speech and Language Therapist|
|North Middlesex University Hospital|
|Large business (250+ employees)|
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A day in the life of a Speech and Language Therapist in the United Kingdom
Prior to choosing my degree I didn't know what SLTs did (other than work with children with speech impairments) so I hadn't considered it as a career until years after I graduated.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
District General hospital in North London
What do you do?
I assess and manage swallowing and communication difficulties in adults in the acute hospital setting. My patients have a wide range of diagnoses including brain injury, dementia, progressive neurological conditions (e.g. Parkinson's disease or Multiple Sclerosis), respiratory or gastroenterological conditions and learning disability. I am also involved in weaning tracheostomies for patients following severe respiratory difficulties.
My job incorporates many aspects and skills including:
- Observational and analytical skills in assessing communication and dysphagia (swallowing difficulties)
- Involvement in referring for, carrying out and analysing videofluoroscopic swallow studies (an X-ray of the swallow)
- Setting and working towards therapy goals with patients and their families
- Close liaison and team-working with other members of the multi-disciplinary team (e.g. doctors, nurses, dieticians, occupational therapists)
- Communication skills, e.g. when explaining assessment results and plans to patients in an accessible and sensitive way
- Training members of the MDT in our role and how they can best support patients with swallowing and communication difficulties
- Supervising and supporting/training junior speech and language therapists (SLTs) and SLT students
- Involvement in quality improvement projects to improve service delivery and patient care
- Liaising with other SLT teams and organisations to ensure appropriate onward referrals are made
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
I was initially interested in working with children with special educational needs (SEN), particularly dyslexia, but was unsure in what capacity. I first became a primary school teacher in order to better understand the classroom environment for both teachers and students to make me more effective in any future career in SEN. After a few years in teaching I learnt that speech and language therapists (SLTs) can support people with dyslexia and looked into this as a career. Through research and shadowing SLTs in the community I found out about the wide range of work SLTs do with both children and adults in education, healthcare and community settings. Having always had an interest in biomedical sciences as well as language, this seemed like - and has turned out to be! - the perfect career for me.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
Yes! Prior to choosing my degree I didn't know what SLTs did (other than work with children with speech impairments) so I hadn't considered it as a career until years after I graduated.
Describe your most memorable day at work
One thing that stands out to me is when I was working with a lady who was having problems co-ordinating the movements needed for speech following a stroke. We had been using a specific method to cue her to be able to say particular words that were meaningful to her. The moment I most remember was when she said her granddaughter's name for the first time since her stroke, and how happy and emotional this made her. A small thing maybe, but very rewarding.
Are there any challenges associated with your job?
Working in a hospital takes an emotional toll on you at times. People are unwell and in some cases may not recover, or will keep deteriorating over time. This can be hard to deal with, particularly if you have built up a good rapport with a patient. There is plenty of support for this in my organisation though - both informally from close colleagues and through organised discussion groups or counselling services if required.
What’s your work environment and culture like?
Within the hospital I work on wards mostly (e.g. medical, surgical, elderly care, oncology, respiratory, gastroenterological), and carry out administration tasks and attend meetings in an office. I carry out videofluoroscopies (swallowing X-rays) in a radiology suite. I wear a uniform identifying me as an SLT.
My working hours are 9-5, Monday to Friday and I rarely have to do anything work-related outside of these hours. My manager actively encourages us to make sure we leave on time. In some hospitals SLTs work at weekends but are compensated for this with a day off in lieu during the week.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
York Students in Schools (YSIS), which was invaluable in helping me understand teaching as a career and in applying to do a PGCE
What would you like to do next with your career?
I would like to work in a more specialist area of SLT - perhaps neuro-rehabilitation - in a larger hospital, and eventually progress to a higher banding where I will be more involved in management of the service and a team of SLT colleagues, whilst still being involved in direct patient care.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
I found life after graduation quite daunting as there was no obvious 'next step'. If you are lucky enough to know what career you would like to do I would go and talk to people who do it and shadow them if you can to get a true picture of what they do day-to-day. This will both help you decide whether or not you do want to follow that path and make your applications for jobs or any further study stronger.
If you're not sure what you want to do, try to get a job in something even loosely related to your interests and passions as this might lead you to discover a career you didn't fully understand or even know existed, which is what happened to me!
You don't have to be stuck with the first job or career you choose. There's always the option to change; so that might take the pressure off finding the 'perfect' career straight away.
Alternatively - as I also did - take some time to travel or volunteer if that appeals to you and you are in a position to be able to do so. You might come across situations or people that give you a better idea of what's important to you and what you might want to do with your life. Plus it's a lot of fun!
What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?
- Any aspect of adult speech and language therapy, particularly in a hospital setting where my experience has been
- Any aspect of teaching (although my knowledge about this is a lot less up-to-date!)
- Palliative and end of life care with regards to the SLT role
- Progressive neurological conditions and how they are managed in terms of communication and swallowing
- Brain injury and how people present from a cognitive/communication perspective
- Critical Care and tracheostomy management
If you like the look of Alison’s profile, the next steps are down to you! You can send Alison a message to find out more about their career journey. If you feel you would benefit from more in-depth conversations, ask Alison to be your mentor.