April - world of work

April – world of work

World of work

Against the backdrop of this difficult and uncertain time, we would like to take this month’s 75th theme of ‘world of work’ to highlight the dedication and hard work of SLTs across many fields: thank you for your tireless efforts. For the latest information please see:

Prior to recent events, the Bulletin team selected a series of My Working Life articles, featuring SLTs in different settings.

Leah Jayson

Occupation: Recent SLT student, City, University of London; Now SLT for the mainstream school team at Ealing NHS Trust

Leah Jayson recalls her time as an SLT student and shares her tips for getting through the course.

When I was considering embarking on a postgraduate diploma in speech and language therapy at City University, I was warned, from different quarters: “The course is really intense.” So much so that it became a sort of refrain! So, during the application process, I set about making whatever contingency plans possible to mitigate the intensity of the course.

I got my husband to promise to be supportive and to be prepared to pick up the gauntlet of running our household, which had been mostly my job since our first baby was born in 2000. I convinced my parents and mother-in-law that doing school runs and looking after the children when they were ill or off school for anything else was really in their interests – ie they were being given the privilege of a close day-to-day relationship with their lovely grandchildren. I gave each child a daily job to do in the house, which meant that my course also provided a learning opportunity for our children – age-appropriate household responsibility. I did hire cleaning help too though – I wasn’t completely naive!

At university, I benefited from peer support from the start. Meeting a heavily pregnant, fellow prospective student at the interview day convinced me that the course would be manageable – if Laura Thomas could do this course with a baby, then so could I; after all, my children (pictured) were all school-aged, and sleepless nights etc were now a thing of the past.

Over the first days of the course, us ‘mature’ students gravitated together and became a supportive bedrock for one another, sharing everything from lecture recordings to sympathetic ears. Aiming to ensure that academic support would be in place if anything was to go wrong, I also responded immediately when my personal tutor invited me to meet her. Organising to meet up regularly during the course gave me useful continuity.

So, contingency plans in place, I was confident that the course would be fine. My brain would perform optimally; my study skills would be excellent; and my awareness of time-poverty would help me maximise my study time and my home time. I’d be a great student and a great mum.

Reality kicked in during the spring term. I wasn’t time-poor; I was time-bereft. It wasn’t that the course was “really intense”; it was that the course, for me, was completely crazy.

A better understanding of the realities of life as a 39-year-old mother of five studying for a PgDip in Speech and Language Therapy necessitated altering my long-term goal (LTG) for the course. In consultation with my fellow ‘mature’ students, we formulated a new LTG: pass the course while staying married and with children remaining fed, clothed and still talking to us. We’d be ‘okay’ students and ‘good-enough’ spouses and parents. We hoped that this goal would be sufficiently realistic and achievable.

Now, having passed my exams and finished my final placement, I can reflect, with relief, that, despite having been through what felt like a ‘completely crazy’ two years, I have been fortunate enough to have met my LTG. I am now working as a Band 5 SLT for the Mainstream Schools Team at Ealing NHS Trust and am undertaking a research project as part of my Masters Conversion Course.

To enable others to benefit from my experiences, here are my key tips for survival:

  • Support at home – do whatever needs to be done to get support in place.
  • Support at university – make friends with your lovely fellow students; and keep in touch with your tutors.
  • Achievable aspirations – make your LTG work for you in your life.
  • Prioritise – first: the urgent and important; second: the urgent; and third: the important.
  • Time off – most people can’t manage on all work and no play for two years.
  • Perspective – remember that people have been there before and they’ve coped (thank you, Erin Tierney).
  • Humour – it feels better to laugh than to cry.


Sarah Williams

Occupation: SLT Assistant, Adults with Learning Disabilities Community Team, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Sarah Williams reminded us in August 2018 that being an SLTA is a career in itself.

Whenever people ask me what I do for work, before answering, I always reply that I am lucky enough to have the best job in the world! I have worked in the community
team as a speech and language therapy assistant (SLTA), supporting adults with learning disabilities (AwLD), for the past 15 years. Our service users have a range of dysphagia needs, communication needs and complex health needs.

Being an SLTA is such a varied job, and constantly allows me to develop and use a wide range of skills. There are many different parts to my role, and my organisational skills help me to keep on track with the different aspects of the job, juggling and prioritising tasks when necessary.

Administration makes up about 25% of my role – this includes taking minutes for various speech and language therapy meetings, maintaining databases, ensuring our electronic system for recording patient information is up to date, loaning equipment, ordering and managing communication and dysphagia resources, providing general admin for training courses, and making visual supports for SLTs. I also have a service-user caseload, which can vary in size depending on the projects that I am working on. The intervention I provide includes supporting people with alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), both low and high-tech, such as signing, communication symbols tools and programming devices with relevant software. I also make resources to support people, such as communication passports, visual timetables, chat books and symbol books I am often involved in projects – sometimes supporting SLTs and, at other times, developing the projects on my own. Some of them have included updating Signing Minimum Standards for the team, auditing local library facilities that AwLD access, supporting service users to be included on interview panels, and developing communication passports for AwLD in the borough. I also support training courses and develop bespoke courses for support workers and not-for-profit agency staff members to attend. These courses include signing training, accessible information training and how to use various communication devices.

I have also supervised work experience students as part of my role – usually students who are keen to access a career in healthcare and are completing their A-Levels or are in sixth form colleges. This includes planning and developing a two-week timetable, ensuring that the students attend a range of activities and learning sessions to support them during their time within the team.

I receive regular supervision and am encouraged to develop myself by attending courses that will benefit my role and by participating in team away days. I am also part of a peer SLTA network, which meets every couple of months. We use this opportunity to discuss our work, any plans we have for the future and how we can continue to develop our roles within the team.

After 15 years as an SLTA, I now have a great deal of autonomy, while also having the security of a knowledgeable team of SLTs to support me if ever I need it. The role of SLTA is also recognised within the wider multidisciplinary team, and I am often called upon to answer questions or support other disciplines regarding communication information.

Another question I am often asked is whether I would like to go on and train to become an SLT. My answer is always a firm ‘no’. I see the role of SLTA as a career in its own right. There are always so many new developments and opportunities to try different things. I’m lucky I get to work with so many interesting and amazing people and their support staff or families, and hope to be able to continue working within the community, supporting communication for AwLD and raising the profile of SLTAs. Given the chance and opportunity to develop, we are so much more than minute-takers and laminators!

Sarah Kilcoyne

Occupation: principal specialist speech and language therapist, Oxford Facial Palsy Clinic and Oxford Craniofacial Clinic.

We met Sarah back in October 2018 and she told us all about her life as an principal specialist speech and language therapist. She’s been a solicitor, a PhD student, and finally a one-of-a-kind SLT! Read her working life below:

Sarah Kilcoyne

I initially qualified as a speech and language therapist in Adelaide, South Australia, in 2004. Since then, I have had a varied career working in special and mainstream schools, specialist language settings and tertiary hospitals.

After working for the South Australian Department of Education for five years, I started to notice that many of the young people I was working with were engaging with the criminal justice system. A colleague of mine pointed me in the direction of Professor Pamela Snow’s work, which highlighted the high rate of developmental language disorder in young offenders: I was inspired!

Shortly afterwards, I decided to go back to university to study for a postgraduate degree in law with the aim of working with young offenders with language disorder. While studying, I continued to work as an SLT and soon relocated to Queensland where I joined the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane in the cleft palate and craniofacial teams.

During this time, I was admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of Queensland and completed a Masters of Laws in Health. As a result, I found that my understanding of human rights relating to communication disability deepened considerably, as did my motivation to work in the best interests of children.

Soon, it was time for another change. My parents were born in England, so I decided to return to the ‘motherland’ for an adventure. I interviewed for a position at the Spires Cleft Centre and Oxford Craniofacial Unit in 2014 and got the job.

Since then, I have started a PhD at the University of Oxford investigating the participation of young people with language disorder associated with craniosynostosis in decisions relating to their craniofacial care.

In 2015, I was approached by the unit’s clinical lead to see if I would be interested in a role with the Oxford Facial Palsy Service as a facial rehabilitation specialist. I had no idea that a clinical specialism in facial palsy was an option for an SLT! To find out more, I went on a facial therapy training course and, since deciding to pursue this path as a specialism, have been welcomed into the fold by a small and committed team of facial rehabilitation specialists who work across the UK. The majority of facial rehabilitation specialists are physiotherapists, so, as an SLT, I am one-of-a-kind working in the profession within a facial palsy service.

In the Oxford Facial Palsy Service, we see patients with facial palsy from all age groups and across their lifespan. Since taking on the role, I have been on a steep learning curve in working to adapt the service to provide the optimal care for children.

The children I work with often share the unique obstacles they experience as a result of having a facial palsy. These include difficulty making friends because, as one child told me, ‘Nobody knew they were friendly because they could not smile.’

In response to this, we set up a children’s facial palsy afternoon, where children from across our caseload can meet other children who have ‘special smiles’. We talk to the children about facial difference and how they can answer any questions they get asked about their faces. Our clinical psychologist also meets with the children’s families to provide them with support.

Children have also told me that they do not like missing school to come to therapy sessions. In response to this, we established the world’s first online paediatric facial palsy exercise videos. Not only can the video help children reduce the amount of time they spend in therapy, but the innovation also won the gold award for quality improvement in the 2016 Oxford University Hospitals’ Staff Recognition Awards.

When I started my degree in speech and language therapy, I had no idea that this career would launch me into the fields of cleft, craniofacial, facial palsy and law! Being an SLT has opened a world of opportunities to me that I will forever be grateful for.


April illustrations

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