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Towards a more diverse profession

We dedicated July's Bulletin to diversity, introducing readers to our new Focus on Diversity column, an anti-racist reading and resources list, as well as the stories of some some exemplary SLTs, read their full stories below:

Sahar's story 

My parents moved to London in the early ‘80s as refugees from Afghanistan. I spent the early years of my life living in North London with my parents and brother, where rich diversity and culture was naturally embedded. It was only until we moved from London, when I quickly recognised that I was one of a handful of ‘ethnic minorities’ in my school and neighbourhood. Having a close relationship with my family and roots, I’ve always been closely connected to my background even at times where this may have felt somewhat isolating or misunderstood.

I decided to return to London after finishing my A-Levels to study my undergraduate degree in Psychology, then began teaching at a hospital with a small but incredible team. We worked closely with children and teenagers who were on the ward for short/long term reasons. It was there that I initially saw and shadowed Speech and Language Therapists supporting children with brain tumours. I hadn’t heard nor seen a lot of what this work involved until this time, and it was both eye opening and extremely gratifying. Following this, I began researching into the career and volunteering in my community with both adults and children. Whilst working at the hospital, I got accepted onto a research Masters course at Sheffield which I completed alongside my part-time teaching role. I was really lucky to study with a small group of students which included some qualified therapists practising in Germany, Middle East and Asia. After completing my Masters, I knew I wanted to support children/young people with speech, language and communication needs and began to work hard towards this. 

In 2016, I moved to Sheffield to study on the MMedSci course. I’ve since been working as a community based therapist in paediatrics. I have gradually seen a great deal of work and awareness raised around the profession as a whole. This has included NHS campaigns and with this, I decided to sign up as a Freedom to Speak up Champion in my Trust. RCSLT work has enabled clinicians/students to openly discuss their own experiences and plans moving forward.

Through this open dialogue as part of the project group, we’ve become more mindful of what it means to be a clinician practicing in varied communities within the UK. Supporting families who may speak more than one language and delivering/adapting therapy where needed. This includes socio-economically diverse populations and what this may look like for clinicians and decision making in therapy. These conversations have further opened my eyes as to how many BAME professionals experience the same obstacles or prejudices and how important it is to be honest and reflect on this. This could impact a first year student beginning their placement opportunity or a newly qualified therapist.

It’s become more evident how BAME professionals in particular can provide and drive a culturally reflective service. Sometimes simply having representation in local communities can impact and positively influence clients/service users. Those unique experiences shared will strongly support future generations and the work of practising clinicians.   

Toni's story

I am currently a Master’s student in Speech and Language Therapy at Birmingham City University. That is a sentence I’m honoured to be able to write, but one that I thought would be just a dream! Why did I think this would be a dream? This can be primarily put down to diversity, with it being highly competitive to gain a place to study speech and language therapy,and school careers days offer little information on how to get onto SLT courses..Namely, you need to have experience, which can be very hard to attain without knowing someone who is already in the field.  There is little information available on how to access work or observation experience for those who are navigating the system alone. However, it is achievable!

By way of a brief backstory, I came from an abusive household and as such now have no relationship with my family. As a result I have become more independent and a stronger person. I am also disabled and am a part-time wheelchair user. This adds further complications when undertaking a degree. However, I think it is vital to have disabled people representing our cohort and I am proud to fly the flag for that. We have valuable insights into the NHS and know how we like to be treated as patients. Ultimately, empathy is an invaluable trait to have in this profession, and it is a trait which those who’ve experienced hardship in their lives or struggled with disabilities have in abundance. 

Nevertheless pursuing your dreams at university with no financial or parental support and with a chronic health condition can be difficult. This is a significant factor in why working-class people may be poorly represented in the SLT profession.. However, a lot is being done to overcome that, with more opportunities for learning about SLT in schools and more role models in SLT who show that you can achieve against the odds. Additionally, to aid people to get into SLT there is a government initiative to fund Masters in ‘allied healthcare professions’ with an undergraduate loan rather than giving the standard Masters loan; the standard Masters loan wouldn’t have covered my tuition fees for the two years let alone my accommodation and living costs. Therefore, the change in loans is the saving grace which allowed me to do my Master’s! In my opinion, this will greatly diversify how the SLT workforce will look like in the years to come.

Putting yourself through university alone can be tough, but it can be done! My advice to anyone without any family backing or who doesn’t know anyone in the field, is to pursue your dreams of a career in SLT. If you are struggling to gain experience, think outside of the box, read journals and articles to consolidate your knowledge about what it means to be an SLT; think about anyone you know who has speech and language difficulties and consider how these difficulties affect individuals; contact your local hospital and ask to volunteer on the stroke wards; similarly, you could volunteer in schools. Lastly, delve into why you want to be an SLT and focus on your passion! Diversity in SLT should be celebrated, and needs people from all backgrounds irrespective of gender, race, disability, and socio-economic status. Our role is to care for people and help, we want to mirror the diversity in society today in our workforce. 

Ben's story

As someone who identifies as a Gay male, I have always been in a minority when it comes to my role within the wider society. Throughout my adolescence, Section 28 was still in place in the Education system, so it was harder still to find my own identity and understand who I was, with no public role model to look up to and help me feel like I ‘belonged’. Representation when it came, was often stereotyped by certain characteristics and I didn’t fit into those ‘boxes’. Who was I?

I went to college in 2002 to study for a CACHE Diploma in Childcare and Education. I will admit, my gender in those days gave me an edge and in 2009, I was even interviewed about being a Male in childcare!  I hadn’t faced any issues with parents over the years but have faced two comments made indirectly about me. One concerned me changing nappies and the other comment made terrible assumptions that my sexuality would lead to me being inappropriate in the play-rooms if another gay male was employed. This time, I was not only being negatively stereotyped, but also imbued with unacceptable potentially ‘deviant’ characteristics. Is this what people see me as?

Over the years I had observed SLTs in Nurseries and Schools. All female. August 2018, I took my best friend to a clearing event and I sat with the Programme Director talking about my interest and future career in SLT, and she encouraged me to apply. I submitted an application but didn’t think I would be at all successful! I have never considered myself to be academically minded but I was determined to become an SLT. Who am I? I am Ben. Proud Student SLT. The only male on the course. I am still part of a minority 18 years on, and hope to one day, provide that role model for others, whilst striving to get Speech and Language Therapy noticed as the all- inclusive, valuable and skilled role that it is.

Keira's story

My name is Keira Radice-Skinner and I live with a connective tissue disorder, Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. In layman’s terms, the glue that holds you together does not work in my body. This has required me to have multiple open-heart and spinal operations and has left me with a C5 spinal cord injury. This creates multiple challenges in daily living, sometimes requiring me to be in a wheelchair, dealing with frequent dislocations and becoming fatigued very quickly.

In 2014, whilst at medical school in New Zealand, I had an aortic dissection which required emergency surgery, and had to forfeit my studies. During recovery, I decided to study towards a Bachelor of Health Sciences and found a passion to help people through my personal experience with rehabilitation. During this time, I learned about the role of a speech and language therapist and hoped one day I could return to study, to join the profession.

I spent the next 5 years focusing on becoming physically and mentally well, whilst volunteering and working with children who have complex needs. This reminded me of my passion for SALT so I began applying for master’s courses across the UK. During my interviews, I had the opportunity to meet some service users, who once again reignited my passion for the profession and reminded me that my disability should not get in the way.

I was delighted to be accepted onto a course, and I am currently in my first year; absolutely loving the experience so far and looking forward to being able to go on placement in the future.  It is fantastic to be part of a profession that is continuing to increase diversity. After all, this is one thing we all have in common, and our inclusivity as a profession will create a positive impact for all.   

Read our July issue here.