How I became a speech and language therapist

Alice ColtmanAlice Coltman is a community adult Speech and Language Therapist at Bridgewater Community NHS Foundation Trust. Here, she reveals why and how she went into speech and language therapy, and gives advice to anyone considering a similar career path.

Why I chose speech and language therapy

During sixth form, I shadowed my mum’s friend, who was a physiotherapist, as I was trying to work out what course to do at university. It was during this work experience that I heard of speech and language therapy for the first time.

Once I had researched the job, I decided it was something I could see myself doing as a career. For me, not being able to communicate or eat and drink easily is unimaginable, and I wanted to be able to help people who experience communication or swallowing problems. I started studying speech and language therapy at Manchester in 2011.

If I was to give anyone advice around becoming a speech and language therapist and being accepted onto a course, I would advise you to get as much experience as you possibly can with relevant client groups.

The range of clients that speech and language therapists can potentially see is huge. Try gaining volunteering experience with children at schools, or with relevant charities, eg The Stroke Association, Age UK and Childline. You could also try working at a nursing home.

If NHS Trusts near you allow shadowing opportunities, contact your local speech and language therapy department to see if you can shadow a professional, or help out at groups they run, etc.

We also work alongside occupational therapists and physiotherapists, so work experience with other allied health professionals will also be useful.

Studying speech and language therapy

The Manchester course curriculum is vast, and there is a lot to learn (as there is with any university degree!).

Throughout university, I had several placements and the client group varied with each, allowing me to experience different avenues you can go down as a speech and language therapist. I loved my adult community placement in final year, and knew that I wanted to work with the adult client group following this placement.

Placement is tough and is hard work. I would just advise future students to grab every possible learning experience given to you on placement by your educators. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes – you are there to learn. I personally experienced a very steep learning curve during my last placement; however, I wouldn’t change this.

Placements are valuable as they show you the real working life of an actual speech and language therapist, and you can finally put the theory you’ve learned into practice. You can undertake assessments with actual clients and create therapy plans following assessment.

During each placement I had multiple clinical educators, which allowed me to see the different ways of working each speech and language therapist had adopted – all with their own merits.

The main difference between placement and working life now is that I plan my diary to allow for time to create therapy plans, rather than doing these late at night before my next day of placement.

Alice Coltman graduationMy degree ensured I had a broad knowledge covering both paediatric and adult topics. I found the adult-related modules the most interesting and enjoyable, specifically the dysphagia and adult acquired modules, which provided me with an understanding of the anatomy, physiology and biological basis of speech and swallowing, which is essential for my current job role.

Throughout my time at university, I was given several opportunities to choose my own topics for assignments and projects. This allowed me to target areas I was interested in and provided me with further knowledge and experience that I could use in future clinical practice.

After graduation

After finishing my degree in July 2015, I travelled around south-east Asia for a month before I started to apply for jobs. Everyone needs a holiday!

Applying for jobs can be a scary time, but you have to try and remain positive during the process. I went to several interviews before finally securing my current job. Each interview was a useful experience to go through, as interview skills are invaluable and I found that I improved in each one – my answers got better and become more succinct.

The saying is true that when you go into an interview, you are also interviewing your future potential employer. So, decide for yourself if you feel like you could fit into their organisation and way of working. Remember, it’s a two-way process!

Where I work now

In November 2015, I started working for Bridgewater Community NHS Foundation Trust as a community adult Speech and Language Therapist, based in the Halton area.

I have now been in this post for about 16 months and am working on my Band 5 to Band 6 progression (see more information about NHS pay bands). My day-to-day working is varied and can include clinic appointments, home visits or nursing home visits with patients.

My caseload includes dysphagia, voice and communication patients. The diagnoses of patients vary widely and include neurodegenerative conditions, stroke, traumatic brain injury and head and neck cancer.

Every day is different, and I am continually learning and developing my skills in speech and language therapy.

See more blog posts about speech and language therapy and find out more about speech and hearing at Manchester. You can also read more about careers in speech and language therapy on the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists website.

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