For the past 7 weeks I’ve been pretending to be a real grown up and I’ve been on placement at a local hospital. This has inevitably meant 6am starts, packed lunches and sensible dressing, but I’ve been really enjoying it!
For a lot of people, my degree is a mystery and when I tell them what I study they answer with “Oh so lisps and stuff?” or a variation on that theme.
Whilst yes, lisps would come under our remit, the job title of speech and language therapist can be really broad. Ranging from children who are slow to develop speech and just need an extra bit of input, to those with learning difficulties or autism who have long term communication needs.
Currently I’m working at a local hospital, mostly on the stroke ward with people with communication and swallowing problems. Depending on the location of the stroke in the brain, producing or understanding language can be affected, along with the muscles of the mouth we use for speech and for swallowing.
My job at the moment is to help with the rehabilitation of these stroke patients. To maximise their communication ability if they can’t speak or struggle understanding and concentrating on conversations, through any means. We develop communication books using family photos to give a common ground and basis for conversation between the staff and the patient. Therapy may target the strengthening of the muscles used for speech, or increasing word finding ability or understanding through the use of simple objects and picture cards.
Working with swallowing is one of the more unusual aspects of the job and not something that springs to mind immediately when someone mentions speech and language therapy. We advise on safe consistencies of eating and drinking for patients throughout the hospital, whose ability for swallowing may have been affected by a stroke, an infection or any number of other reasons. Sometimes, when the muscles have become weakened or lose coordination, people need to have thickened fluids to drink as normal consistency fluid moves too fast to the back of the throat and there is a high risk of choking. Assessment is needed regularly as swallowing can be very variable and might be fine one day and completely out of sync the next.
I also go out into the community, visiting patients who have been in hospital recently at home to carry on with therapy or make sure they are managing well with their eating and drinking. I love this sociable aspect of the job, being able to listen and facilitate conversation is very important. People often tell you personal information or discuss other aspects of their treatment or care which needs discussing with other professionals. A speech and language therapist often branches out of just providing therapy, as the job is more than just making sure someone is able to speak. We also might work with a patient’s family, discussing communication strategies and ways of helping their family member with their therapy.
Coming to the end of my 4 year course, I’m more and more sure I made the right choice of degree and that speech and language therapy is the field I’d like to work in! It’s a long course and there have definitely been times when I’ve had doubts about being competent enough or whether I’d made the right choice. For anyone interested in the course I’d definitely recommend thorough researching of all the areas that an SLT can be involved in as I didn’t realise it was such a broad job when I started!