Tina's journey as a Speech Language Therapist
My name’s Sangeeta also known as Tina. I’m Hindu Punjabi, multilingual, and proud to say that I am a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT). We work hard for our patients so they can have access to basic human rights: communication, eating, and drinking.
I work with adults who have communication and swallowing difficulties, as a result of a stroke. My role is to provide assessment, diagnosis, and therapy. I also facilitate mental capacity assessments advocating for my patients. I do this by using my expertise in communication assessments and facilitation. This ensures my patients receive the specific support they need to understand, think, and talk about decisions during mental capacity assessments, as well as advanced care planning.
My role also involves advocating for my patients when a decision is made in their best interest. I explain their preferences and views about different decision options to the people making the best interest decision.
We all communicate in different ways, but when things go wrong it can affect our whole world: from our feelings, to the way we act and the relationships we have with others. When working with my patients I am not just providing therapy to repair their speech and communication, but looking at ways I can help them restore their confidence, regain their independence, and re-establish their sense of being.
Eating and drinking is also an important part of our lives. It provides us with social opportunities, independence (for example going to a restaurant or café with family and friends or family gathering where we make memories around the table). For me it is important to give my patients the practical and psychological support to build up their confidence.
I also provide practical solutions to everyday challenges associated with eating, drinking and swallowing safely (minimising risk of chest infection/aspiration). It involves taking a wide approach so they can achieve meaningful goals, and improve their psychological well-being and quality of life.
The latest statistics on the ethnic distribution of speech and language therapists show that 93.4 per cent of the SLT work force is made up of white Speech Language Therapists (HCPC EDI data, 2020). I stumbled upon Speech and Language Therapy when I was working with adults with learning disabilities as a support worker after I had finished my BSC in Psychology and Msc in Health Psychology.
I was one of the very few Indian girls on my course at City University and initially the only speech therapist, and then one of the few Indian speech therapists in my career. When I was growing up I only knew what the role of a doctor, nurse, lawyer or teacher is, I never came across the words speech and language therapy.
What challenges do you face within your job role?
Wearing PPE which made our service users feel like patients rather than humans. Once you have a gown on and are lying in a mechanical bed, you have people analysing you, touching you examining you, asking you questions and then you are surrounded by other people that are sick too.
Yes they are patients being admitted into hospitals but humans too. The PPE made it tricky to build rapport at times with patients which is key to building trusting relationships, and this is important for achieving meaningful goals helping our service users in their road to recovery.
The PEE presented therapists as clinical or associated with an institutionalised setting and less approachable. This made our service users feel like patients - diseased and frail - rather than human who can recover, are resilient, have loving families and backstories and challenges to overcome and a life to return to. Humans who want to get better.
This made me really sad. Especially wearing PPE made it difficult at times to treat patients with communication difficulties, as you are taking away their visual support as they are unable to see your facial expressions and mouth movements which are essential when seeing them face to face especially for your apraxia and dysphasia patients. It felt as though you are taking away their crutches (their support).
It is tricky to carry out rehabilitation tasks integrating patients back to the community as those patients with Covid-19 had to be isolated, making it difficult to rehab them.
We also provided an efficient service to patients whose first language is not English. As family members were not allowed on the ward we had to get interpreters virtually on Microsoft Teams or Starleaf, which isn’t the same as human contact.
This is when I realised what a unique and valuable service I was able to provide as a multilingual SLT as I often worked on the wards as a translator as I can speak Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi as well as English advocating for the patients and making information accessible to them.
I remember a patient saying to me ‘when people talk to me it goes to my brain, but when you talk to me in my language it goes to my heart’. I was able to provide that comfort and reassurance to these patients and their family members who felt equally comforted despite not being able to see their loved ones in hospital face to face they were reassured that I could advocate for them.
I was often referred to as ‘daughter’ or ‘granddaughter’ rather than Tina SLT. This also provided a great opportunity for me to educate the team on different types of cultural knowledge or competence and teach them words in Punjabi, Hindi, or Urdu so they could understand their basic needs.
What are the best bits about the job?
My patients! I feel privileged that my patients and families allow me to be a part of their journey. Whether it is to be there for the end, ensuring that they can still eat their fish and chips or samosas like always. Not only that, to help them communicate to get their affairs in order or a path to a new beginning. We help people to have meaningful life after a stroke, and show them how valuable they are to this world. It is so rewarding and gives me that job satisfaction; making a difference, changing the world one word at a time.
What do you feel are the most important qualities in being a good SLT?
Communication skills, interpersonal skills, Passion, dedication, compassion, empathy, caring, kind, team work, flexibility, active listening skills, patience, adaptability, creativity, initiative, and organisational skills.