Journey of an Adult Speech Language Therapist: Sophie Whitehead
What made you pursue a career in (your job role)?
I knew I wanted to do something working with people, but not teaching or nursing (this was the extent of my careers knowledge at 16). When I discovered Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) I thought it would be a good fit. It provided the opportunity to work with varied client groups in individual or small group sessions. It covered lots of interesting subject areas: biology, psychology, sociology, ethics, English language.
Does your job role live up to your expectations?
Yes. I’ve been really fortunate that I chose SLT on a whim and have loved it ever since I started working in 2013.
Describe a typical day in your department?
Currently I lead our acute Speech and Language Therapy Team. A team of four of us cover all acute medical wards across both our hospitals. The day starts with checking new referrals and huddling as a team regarding what the day looks like for everyone.
Some days I am mostly see patients but other days it’s interspersed with meetings, teaching, clinics, supervision.
Clinically, I mostly work on our admissions units and on the care of the elderly wards. I see patients who have swallowing and/ or communication difficulties for assessment and management. We work closely with ward teams (nurses, heath care assistants, doctors, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists) but also with the wider MDT. This can include dietitians, palliative and the end of life care, nutrition support, dementia, and learning disabilities teams.
I often attend multi-disciplinary team meetings particularly around complex decisions around eating and drinking. I also am trained in Videofluoroscopy (swallowing x-rays) and completing my FEES (swallowing assessment with a small camera in the throat).
What challenges do you face within your job role?
In Speech Therapy are we see a large volume of patients who have life limiting conditions (i.e. progressive neurological conditions) or sudden life changing events (i.e. brain injury), so it can be emotionally draining.
During Covid it’s been challenging having such large numbers of patients deteriorating/ dying, often without their families being able to be there. Also working in full PPE makes communication really difficult particularly with our patients with communication and/or hearing difficulties.
What are the best bits about the job?
The best bits are:
- no day is the same and you’re always learning
- Sometimes you feel like you’ve done something to contribute towards improving/ maintaining someone’s quality of life
- meeting so many different people and hearing their stories
What do you feel are the most important qualities in being a good Speech and Language Therapist and staff member?
- ·Being empathetic and compassionate
- ·Being flexible and adaptable – especially working in an acute setting
- ·Being driven and a team player
Tell us more about the career/education path you took and the qualifications you gained
I found out about SLT by sheer luck. I was 17, so had just started sixth form with no idea what I wanted to do after. My best friends were going on a school trip to our local University and I wangled my way on the trip.
While I was there I was looking at their perspective and SLT caught my eye and decided I would look into that. A little bit more reading that evening I was decided and I’ve never looked back.
By this point I had already picked my A-level choices, which to be honest left much to be desired. I was totally clueless about what I wanted to do at the time of picking, so once I’d settled on SLT I then picked up an additional AS level of Human Biology to do alongside my A2 year so I met the requirements for the course.
I did the compressed three-year undergrad degree at the University of East Anglia, qualifying in 2012. When I qualified the job market was poor. Most people from my year did something else for a year to gain more clinical experience. I wasn’t too sure about this but randomly applied for a ‘Rehab Assistant’ role which after a disastrous interview I surprisingly got and did that for nine months and loved, before getting a position as a newly qualitied Speech and Language Therapist.
Academia has never really been for me; I’ve never pursued any further educational qualifications (which you don’t really need as a SLT as clinical experience is what is most important), but I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to complete an MSc module on End of Life Care via LSBU in 2019.
What advice would you give students looking into pursing this career?
Do it, it’s a great career. Try and gain experience directly in SLT or just in working with people with communication difficulties to help you get on the course. The course is intense (SLT is a four-year course but lots of people will do it compressed into two/three years) and not always enjoyable but working is so much better.