In Conversation With...Oliver Sawyer

This week, we’re celebrating members old and new by relaunching our LGBT+ staff network. Activities are taking place all week and our event on Monday (11 November), included guest speakers Dr Michael Brady, National Advisor for LGBT Health, and NHS Regional Director for London, David Sloman. For In Conversation With, we spoke to one of the newer members, Oliver Sawyer, for whom our successful network was actually one of the reasons he came to work here!

Age: 24

Lives:  In Rotherhithe, south London, with partner Robin, 26, an assistant restaurant manager.

And: Seeing his great-grandmother struggle with aphasia (a communication difficulty which follows a brain injury or disease affecting our language networks), after a stroke was what inspired him to become a speech and language therapist.

What’s your role at our Trust and how long have you been with us?

I’m a speech and language therapist (SLT) and this is my first professional role since I completed my MSc (Master of Science) degree – it’s my ninth week!

My role is rotational and I’m currently working in neurosciences which I love. Being able to use the skills I’ve learned so practically is exactly what I wanted.

I work with patients who have communication difficulties. I’m also about to start my dysphagia competency training which will mean I can also support patients with swallowing difficulties, which a lot of people don’t realise comes into the role of an SLT. We’re lucky as not all trusts offer this training in-house.

Tell us more about how you heard about our LGBT+ network, and its role in encouraging you to work at our Trust

When I was doing my course our tutor encouraged us to join Twitter to follow SLT teams. Our team here kept popping up and seemed really active and engaging.

I started following the Trust’s corporate account when it was time to look for a job as I wanted to get a feel on whether it could be for me. It’s my first job so it felt like a big deal.

That was when I first heard about the LGBT+ network, it was fairly new and seemed really exciting, with lots of plans to develop. It was really reassuring for me as you need somewhere safe to talk and get involved.

I was bullied in school and had a lot of anxiety as a result. I come from York where there was very little diversity and I was picked on because I was different – I didn’t play football and my friends tended to be girls.  I came out as gay when I was 19, however, I’d probably always known.

I have experienced harassment and aggression because I’m gay, but luckily it’s very rare now. It felt like everything changed when I moved to London in 2013 to go to university. London is more open-minded.

With the network and everything else I’d seen from the Trust it seemed like it had everything I wanted and became the place I really wanted to work – and I’ve not been disappointed!

Tell us more about your career and how you decided to become an SLT

When I was at school I thought I wanted to be a teacher, so I did some work experience in a primary school. I soon realised it wasn’t for me. I was more interested in the children who fell behind and the reasons why, such as those living with language disorders and autism.

My college tutor had done linguistics and advised I looked into it, so I did an undergraduate degree. At the time I was open-minded about what I wanted to do and still thought I might work in a school.

It was when my great grandma had a stroke that I first learned about speech and language therapy. She had aphasia afterwards and struggled to find words or understand complex conversations.

I didn’t realise the effect communication and swallowing disorders had on people and it completely opened my eyes to SLT as a profession and I was set on doing it.

I did some volunteering on a hyper-acute stroke unit where I got to shadow SLTs and I really enjoyed it. Then I worked as a rehab assistant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. I worked with the SLTs, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. I got lots of experience in different areas and it made me even more committed to train to be an SLT, so I went on to do my post graduate course.

It was tough and very intense. I did lots of placements, including in paediatric and adults. I enjoyed working with kids but it was when I worked with adults that it all clicked into place and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

What do you like best about your job?

I’m fascinated by rehab and it’s really inspiring to see someone get better. I’m also passionate about working with people with progressive conditions, and those who won’t get better, because then it’s about doing what you can to provide the best possible care.

You can’t help but get attached to some of your patients, especially when you see them regularly over a long period of time. You get to know them and their families.

When they get better and go home you’re really glad for them, but you do miss seeing them!

What do you like getting up to when you’re not at work?

We love having people over for dinner parties. Robin can be a bit of a control freak in the kitchen, but I do like to cook too and we make a good team.

And we love hanging out with friends and trying new bars and restaurants. It’s also nice to just chill out together as Robin works in a restaurant he works late, so we only get a couple of evenings together a week.

And our favourite question of In Conversation With…do you have any pets?

I don’t – but I do have the occasional uninvited cat who wanders in my back door!

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