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Becoming a Speech and Language Therapist

Going Back to University

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It feels like a long time ago that I was preparing to start at City… and also something that was a long time coming before that.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said that I was rejected from (what was then) the SLT PG Diploma (now the MSc), and that it meant I spent a fair bit of time thinking about how a) I was going to manage to get onto an SLT course in the first place, and b) how I would adjust to going back to studying after eight years of working and consistently earning. I had a year of studying for a Biology A level while working full-time, which was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve done.

Coming back to studying after a break was something I was definitely worried about, for lots of reasons. My main concern- one that I hear a lot from prospective City students or those I meet doing talks and higher education fairs – was whether my brain would be able to cope with taking in more/new information. As is the case for most courses, I needed evidence of study within the last five years, hence the A level. Once I arrived at City, I realised I was far from the only one to have done this or an access course at college…. and it turned out that it stood me in good stead for all of the learning to come. I also realised that the emotional and academic support from my tutors was invaluable when it came to getting tips on remembering, understanding and producing work.

I was definitely worried about money/earning/surviving. With a previous student loan still to pay back, it was pretty daunting to think about four years of struggling through with few funds, especially with a mortgage to pay. And, again, I have definitely not been alone in this. Lots of people in my year group have families and other financial responsibilities. Most of us juggled part-time jobs whilst we were studying, lots of which were based at the university.

I don’t think I predicted how challenging going to back to studying would be- mainly the sacrificing of weekends and lots of evenings to get my work and study in- and I definitely didn’t predict the amount of support that would be available, as long as I asked for it.

One of the main things it took some time to get over was my feeling that I had something to prove, that returning to studying meant that I had failed in my previous career (I hadn’t even considered this until someone made a stupid comment at a party), and that meant that I waited too long to ask for help when I felt like I didn’t understand what I was being taught.

Maybe you’re also thinking of returning to studying? If so, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. I’m sure that I wasn’t mature enough at 18 to study SLT (many people are, of course). I’m nowhere near the oldest member of my year group. Now that the course is done, returning to work feels like the scary part.

(What I thought would be) The Calm After the Storm

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It’s now been three weeks since I handed in my dissertation, and- kind of to my surprise- it’s been a very busy time. I’m used to being self-employed and juggling lots of different jobs, but it seems like lots of work has come in that I’ve found it very difficult to say no to. This has meant that, so far, I don’t feel like I’ve had much of a rest, but it’s been good to be earning a bit more and to feel like my brain is recovering slightly from the intensity of dissertation writing.

Since finishing, I’ve started a small job helping out a primary school with their year 6 leavers’ show, ran several workshops at City for visiting school groups and worked front of house at a theatre festival in Stratford. I’ve taken my last BSL (British Sign Language) level 2 exams and I’ve been prepping for my upcoming (SLT) job interview. I’ve been to Rotterdam (see pic of the amazing cube houses) for a baby shower, am heading to Dorset for a wedding at the beginning of June, and then onto Croatia for my first proper holiday in a long time.

The main thing that is taking up my brain space is preparing for the job interview. This has involved a number of things, like looking up the values of the trust and researching information they give their clients. I’m looking back at my application and making sure I know about assessments and interventions that I have mentioned. Our tutors have been really helpful in providing us with a list of questions that might be asked in band 5 (the NHS pay level we start at as newly qualified SLTs) interviews, so I’ve been going through them and drafting some potential answers I might give. They include knowledge based questions (“what is X”) and competency or scenario based questions (“what would you do if X happened when you were with a client”). As it’s my first go, I’ve also booked in for a mock interview with the careers service at City, which gives me an opportunity to get some feedback about how I answer questions and how I present before I go for the real thing.

Depending on the outcome of the real thing, and a couple of other applications that I’m waiting to hear about, plans later in the summer are flexible at the moment. For now, I’m trying to make sure that I make the most of my free time; See my friends, cuddle the cat and make sure my down-time really is just that.

The. End.

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Once upon a time (2014), I started a thing to get onto a thing, so that I could be a thing.

29 exams, 14 pieces of coursework, 620 hours of placement, some volunteering, four part-time jobs, a dramatic incident and a dissertation later, it was (oh-so-suddenly)….

THE. END.

That is a very brief version of the events of the past five years, which also included taking a Biology A level in a year (whilst working full time) as my evidence of study following a long hiatus from education, feeling lost, learning to ask for help and the production of a piece of work that I honestly thought was beyond me.

And that’s what the last few weeks have been about: getting my research project finished. It’s been something of a rollercoaster for a number of reasons. Our first couple of draft chapters were due at the end of December; around the time that (those of you who have read previous posts may recall) I managed to fall off a horse. So that scuppered my plan to get some really good work in. When returning to the project after I’d finished my placement in March I had to do the data analysis and draft the last chapters, which involved lots of editing, as well as producing new information.

I then got some mightily disappointing exam results, which knocked me a little bit. I definitely found it challenging to pick myself up so that I could put enough effort into the writing of my project. Apparently, feeling like I’m doing badly massively demotivates me. That same week, I got a job rejection and feedback saying that my whole draft needed a lot of restructuring.

Luckily for me, my project supervisor (who was also my clinical tutor in my second year) had a knack for making everything seem a little less overwhelming, whilst totally validating the frustration I was feeling. She reassured me that getting lower grades than usual was understandable, considering the circumstances of the year, and gave me really specific things to work on for my project draft. And so, I got my head down and grafted. I find re-reading what I’ve written particularly awful, but I kind of got into it, and I felt like I had actually started to understand how to put together a long piece of work (I chose to opt out of a dissertation in my first degree, so this was my first experience of writing at length in this way). I worked on telling the story of the research, and keeping my science-writing-brain in check. A job interview also came through from my second application.

Before I knew it, I was ready to submit. It was pretty overwhelming; four years’ worth of work finished with one click. I had a cup of tea and went straight for a nap.

Being a lovely department, we – of course- got a sending off on our hand-in date, 10th May 2019.  So here is a picture of some of us looking very pleased with ourselves.

Image of class

Photo credit: Fiona Kyle

Beginning the Job Hunt

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I pretty much promised myself that I wouldn’t start looking for a job until after I’d handed in my research project. But then I signed up to receive alerts from the NHS Jobs site, and my plan went out of the window.

I’ve mixed feelings about my new strategy of ‘only applying for the ones I am REALLY interested in’, as I’m finding it pretty difficult to stick to my own rule. There have been lots of tempting jobs that have come up (So far I’m applying to different jobs working with adults in the community and in hospitals), and I’ve found it hard to be selective but also avoid FOMO. Oh, and making sure I actually get my project done.

The NHS application process involves writing a 1500 word supporting statement about how you meet the person specification for the job, which is attached to the vacancy page. These vary in length- I’ve seen 7-page and 1-page specifications, and the idea is that you provide an example of how you meet each point….which can be difficult if you find it hard to be concise (me). BUT, I’ve found that after the first one, the following applications feel a little easier. There are often a few requirements that are similar between jobs, particularly if you’re applying for similar client groups, so only a little bit of tweaking is required. There are some specifications that feel really tricky to talk about briefly, as (I think) they encompass such a broad and general range of skills… but I guess this is part of the art of the application, selecting clear examples from your own practice.

We’ve been advised to expect a long and potentially frustrating application process, but to hold out and power through as something will come along. I guess that part of my thinking about applying is that if I crack on with some applications now, I’ll be starting the learning process and improving on each one. I’ve also been asked to apply for a job that is not an SLT role, but will involve using my BSL (British Sign Language- I’m now coming to the end of my level 2 course) and will mean that my signing will improve dramatically in a short time. As I’m not sure about whether this would be a wise move, I’ve asked to speak to one of our tutors for advice (have I mentioned how lovely and supportive they are?).

For now though, it’s back to my research project, as we have a looming deadline for drafts of the last two chapters, due just before Easter. Here is a picture of Mouse being really helpful and not at all distracting.

 

Interview with an SLT

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This month, it’s time to ask an expert about SLT. As a student, I’ve had various experiences on placement, with different client groups and practice educators, all of whom have helped me develop different skills and hopefully pass on useful info via this blog. But, of course, there is no substitute for hearing from an experienced clinician.
On my last (as in, most recent AND last ever as a student at City….) placement, I met several brilliant SLTs. One of them kindly agreed for answer some questions about herself and her working life.

1) What did you expect when you first started working as an SLT and how was the reality different or the same?

My first job was in an acute hospital with only one other speech therapist. I think I was pretty prepared, and fortunately everything was quite fresh in my mind from studying. I had been on pracs in similar settings – so it wasn’t too much of a shock to the system. However, suddenly you are the professional, knowing more about your area than other professionals – and they turn to you for advice, not your supervisor or lecturer. I certainly felt the huge extent of responsibility. Furthermore, everything we had learned about was suddenly potential reality; a baby choking on feeds, a man desaturating in ICU. It was quite daunting to be at the front line of everything.

I learn better through practical experience, so although theory was fresh, I soon realised there was a huge amount to still learn through experience.

2) What is your favourite thing about being an SLT?

I love working with people, and having the ability to improve someone’s life. Knowing that every day I can help someone or make some kind of a positive impact…

Working with people – clients, families , and other professionals means I don’t stop learning because everyone is different. Every single day is different so I am constantly challenged.  It is an evolving profession which is exciting, so I feel driven to evolve with it.

I also love that I can work with so many different populations – children, adults – in schools, in hospitals, in rehab.

3) and your least favourite?

On the flip side – working with people can be tiring, you have to constantly be on your A-game, positive and ready for anything. It can be emotionally tolling.

The paperwork and admin can also be frustrating to deal with.

4) What do you wish people knew about the profession?

For students who are keen to study/are studying SLT: There is actually a lot of paperwork and admin!

For those who don’t know much about what we do:  Although our working hours aren’t very long – compared to some of the corporate workers – our days can be tolling. We take a lot on working with people and in the environments we work in.

5) What would you say to someone considering studying SLT?

It is an incredible profession to work in if you want to help others. As therapists we tend to know a lot more about our clients than other medical professionals. There are so many different areas you can go into and become specialised in. You get to work in multi-disciplinary teams – and learn across professions. You will never stop learning…

Working with people has its challenges – it can be emotionally tolling – but it certainly has its rewards..

I don’t know many people who can say they love going to work every day – but I do..

How Psychology and SLT are Linked

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One of the biggest surprises for me when I was looking into studying SLT, and also when I arrived at City, is how many different aspects of the course there are, how many different types of subjects are included and how many different skill sets are required for the course.

One of the subjects that spans over two years (as a pure subject) and over the whole course and definitely into working life as an SLT (in lots of different ways) is psychology.

In the first year, it’s developmental psychology, learning about how children typically develop. Even though we usually see children who are NOT typically developing in clinic, it’s really important we can see the signs that might indicate difficulties with language later on.  When kids point at stuff? That’s the start of intentional communication. When kids start to lie? Sign of being able to ‘mind-read’, or see something from someone else’s point of view, and so actually something else that we are keen to see as SLTs. Negotiation, friendship, playing….all of these things are what we learn to look out for in clinic during these first months of learning.

In the second year, we move into looking at a variety of psychological studies, to teach us to critically appraise literature, and basically see whether it’s good enough evidence for us to apply in clinical settings. We learn to ask questions about how many participants were involved, how the data was gathered, and whether the clinical population showed any real and lasting signs of improvement after a particular therapy intervention. This is all very useful for the final year, when we’re expected to include solid evidence into a literature review paper, and ignore the stuff that is less important for our particular question.

Woven into all of this lovely learning is neuroanatomy, a block of lectures on diagnosis and the SLT role in the management of mental health conditions and learning about brain injury and language processing in adults. So really, you get a bit of everything.

I have to admit, the psychology modules have proved to be some of the most challenging for me in this course. I came from no such background, so if you’re thinking about SLT and you’re already taking psychology, you’re already at a huge advantage. And if you’re into thinking about the brain and all the amazing things it can do (plus all the things that can go wrong), then perhaps studying SLT is for you….

What Happens when the Unexpected Happens

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Happy New Year! I hope your festive season was relaxing/full of chocolate/full of fun.

This month’s blog post starts with a journey back to 1995, and my ten year-old self, who loved horse riding and felt like a queen every time I scrambled into the saddle (see pic). So, this Christmas, I had another go. And it didn’t go as planned.

It’s now about three weeks since I fractured 4 vertebrae (the bony bits of your spine), and it’s been something of a roller coaster. The first week was just about managing the pain, sleeping most of the time and trying to move as much as possible. I should probably clarify that I can walk, I can use all my limbs and am not strapped up in a body cast. I know that in many ways I’ve been lucky, but I’m not quite at that appreciation stage yet. The second week was about being able to put my socks on. The third has been about managing what this all means for my course- mainly exams and placement.

This week I am planning to sit a written exam with the rest of the cohort. As I’ve been told to sit for a maximum of half an hour at a time (and then need stretch and/or lie down), the University Nurse Practitioner has helped organise extra rest breaks for this 90-minute assessment. I’ll also be provided with a supportive chair and can bring cushions with me into the exam. Am I still worried? Yes. The pain is still fairly unpredictable, and I’m nervous about losing my flow with my answers when I take a break. Staying awake long enough to revise as much as I’d like has also been challenging. But I am determined to give it a go.

And then there is the matter of placement, which I was due to start on the 21st, but that I have been declared unfit for by Occupational Heath (OH) at City. This initially felt like a massive blow (in hindsight, expecting to start a full-time placement only a month after the accident was an unrealistic expectation), and panic about fulfilling enough clinical hours to graduate this year, ensued. Once again, the AMAZING staff in the School of Heath Sciences have been an incredible support, with our professional studies module lead reassuring me about hours, ability to make up missed days if needed and postponement of our final assessments if it comes to that. My dissertation supervisor has been the same. They have been the ones who have made dealing with the unexpected, anxiety-inducing bits of this so much more manageable.

The plan at the moment is to start placement (potentially half-days) on the 28th, but this is still to be decided, and I know it’s got to be based on how I feel rather than worrying about hours. One of the great things about City is that we complete more hours than are needed to qualify, so should something like this happen, it’s not a tricky situation. My PEs at the hospital have been immensely reassuring and adamant that my health comes first in these situations, which has been brilliant.

I realise that I haven’t yet mentioned my amazing friends/family/significant other, who have run around after me, checked up on me, brought me flowers/cake/breakfast/pillows, run hot baths, helped me in and out of bed and to walk up and down the street. I’ve changed my mind about feeling lucky-I definitely do.

If you would like to learn more about studying Speech and Language Therapy at City, you can visit the course page here.

Round-Up of the Term

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This is weird. It’s December, and the end of my penultimate term at City. Throughout the rest of the four years, we’ve definitely felt like this is the home run and been told that this term allows for lots of time to really get our teeth into our research projects, before we take a break for placement next term. And yes, there has been plenty of time. I tend to fill time with other stuff, though – I sometimes find it hard to find the balance.

Here is what’s been going on this term:

Some challenges:

  • Getting started with our research project- getting ethical approval from the university to start gathering data and starting looking at previously published literature about selective mutism and blogging. It has been pretty challenging to motivate myself – it’s mostly self-study this term- but I’m sort-of getting there.
  • My wonderful mental health mentor, Lydia, moved onto pastures new (more about the support I get in a previous blog, all about my brain). I’ve had to adjust to working with someone new (she is also great), but I can sometimes find change and transition very challenging.
  • Mouse has been eating slugs, or something. Cats should not eat slugs. (See picture. At least her toy mouse finally has some use)

Some things that have been wonderful:

  • I got to be in a play a few weeks ago. I moved into SLT from an acting career, and I hadn’t necessarily realised that I missed it that much. I’ve been asked to audition for a web series of the back off this, so that’s kind-of nice. (DO NOT WORRY, I will not be going back to acting full-time. I’m determined to be at SLT).
  • An AMAZING birthday full of treats (including a cat café, HELLO) and mini-break in Prague with my number one partner-in-crime, eating all the food and doing all the relaxing. I was feeling a little old this year, so I was very lucky to have someone plan such exciting things. Sometimes I forget how nice/important it is to leave London every once in a while.
  • Opportunities to think about employment (tentatively) after the course finishes, and getting lots of support from the department about applying for jobs and how to access support as a newly qualified therapist.

Some things coming up:

  • Our longest placement yet. I’ll be in a mixed adult inpatient setting- acute, surgery, trauma, neuro conditions (e.g. Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s) ….I’m excited, and also aware that that my last adult hospital placement was very emotionally challenging. This time, with a little awareness, I’ll be asking for support from my practice educators at the very beginning.
  • Our first exam of the year in January- all about clinical management of a case study that will be released a week before the exam date. I definitely feel out of revision practise, so part of our Christmas holidays will be getting my head around this.
  • I’m off skiing in January. Hoping I can continue to avoid injury.

Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!

If you would like to learn more about studying Speech and Language Therapy at City, you can visit the course page here.

How to Become a Speech and Language Therapist

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You want to become a speech and language therapist? This is amazing news. We need more, so thanks in advance for considering a challenging, stimulating and rewarding course and career. If you’re not sure where to start, this month’s blog is here to help.

Firstly, qualifications. These can be scary- they certainly were when I was at school- and definitely something that intimidated me about applying for Speech and Language Therapy. At City, you’ll need 5 GCSEs at grade 4 (C) or above, including maths and English language. A level choices really vary between applicants and there are no specific subject requirements at City, but English, psychology and biology would all be beneficial not only to your application, but also to support your understanding of some of the different modules on the course. Volunteering and shadowing experience are also really valuable, not only when thinking about whether SLT is right for you, but also to show you’re keen and willing to apply yourself and put hours into a clinical course. Charities such as Sense and Stroke Association have tonnes of volunteer opportunities with different aged clients who have different support needs. Any other school/hospital/day centre/community support experience is an excellent idea, and may give you an idea of different skill sets and areas of strength for working with different clients.

You may already know about different areas of work for SLTs (knowing a little bit about this will definitely help at interview), but there are so many. Dysfluency, swallowing disorders, brain injury, developmental language disorder, trauma, voice, head and neck cancer patients…. this is just the very beginning of a huge list of job opportunities. And even within this list is an even more enormous range of settings that an SLT might find themselves working in-schools, clinics, hospital wards and outpatient centres, a mixture of the above.

With so many avenues within SLT, placements are a great opportunity to try everything and really hone into what area you would like to pursue in the future. My own experience at City has included a huge range of placement opportunities, and is definitely one of the reasons I wanted to study in London. With so many different possibilities for experiencing different settings and working with different client groups, I’ve gotten a much better understanding of where I would like to work once I qualify. And what better way to meet and integrate with your future employers than be on a placement with them? I’ve been lucky enough to have recommendations to apply for jobs at two of my previous placement settings, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for either an adult community (mainly visiting people in their homes) or hospital inpatient role next year. Having said this, my idea is to keep an open mind and see what opportunities are out there once I’ve completed studying. I’m staying curious and perhaps something unexpected will come my way.

If you’re still thinking about becoming an SLT, getting as much information and experience as possible is the way to go. Create opportunities for yourself and be brave with what you try.

If you liked the blog, please feel free to have a browse through the rest of my posts via the links provided on the right!

Also, if you would like to learn more about studying Speech and Language Therapy at City, you can visit the course page here.

SLT Interviews and What You Might Want to Prep

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As we’re getting deeper into fourth year, getting organised with our research projects and literature review coursework, it suddenly feels like the end is in sight for us soon-to-be Newly Qualified Therapists.

We do also know that (hopefully) lots of you are thinking about your applications to university. If you’re applying for SLT, you may be invited to an interview after your UCAS application has been received, and, as this is something we get LOADS of questions about at open days, I’ve made a vlog this month which I hope will give you some pre and on-the-day tips. I hope you enjoy!

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