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FEATURE

Leaving school at 17, I’m not convinced I had a clear idea why I had chosen speech and language therapy. I wanted to study for a job rather than a degree, was interested in communication and was keen to do something that would make a difference. I was lucky – it was right for me and has given me opportunities to develop other interests too. But, in a profession beset by recruitment and retention problems (RCSLT, 2005), what are the costs – to individuals, universities, services and society – when we miss people who would have been an asset or take on those whose talents lie elsewhere? Jane Rawlings, an independent therapist in the Leicester area, is concerned that universities and services don’t have sufficiently joined up thinking. CREST (the Committee for Research and Education in Speech and Language Therapy, which represents all the UK courses) apparently agreed some years ago that it was not essential for potential students to have observed therapy sessions. However, when a friend of her daughter’s was accepted on a speech and language therapy course on this condition, the local trust couldn’t offer observation sessions as they didn’t have enough therapists. Luckily Jane stepped in, and the girl proved to be an ideal candidate: “She was very enthusiastic, completed my observation questionnaire well, asked lots of pertinent questions and was accepted onto the course. What worries me is what would have happened if I hadn’t taken her? We nearly missed this one.” Jane feels strongly that hands-on time is usually when people really know if this is a career for them: “If we want decent therapists, we need to be prepared to give people opportunities to see what it is really like.” She suggests a more flexible system with some out-of-the-box thinking could produce results. For example, independent therapists could be paid to do sessions at a university clinic, perhaps with people on NHS waiting lists, specifically to give potential applicants work experience.

Succession planning
“Many people take up careers without properly understanding what is involved. Consequently they find that their chosen field, selected on inadequate information, is not for them…” (Rt. Hon. Lord Ashley of Stoke, in Wright & Kersner, 2004, p.ii). Editor Avril Nicoll asks what we can do to ensure the next generation of therapists are the right people to take the profession forward.
The Dudley department also offers careers talks. Clare has found this works particularly well in conjunction with a newly qualified therapist who has up-to-date information about being a student. An additional benefit for staff development is that everyone “gets confidence from realising how much we do in explaining it to others.” Speech and language therapist Samera Mian agrees that small things such as offering careers talks can make a big difference. Having qualified 2½ years ago, the invitation to talk to 30 pupils at her old school came as a pleasant surprise. Samera had attended an independent girls’ school in Manchester where “it was unheard of to do a vocational degree, and even to go to a Metropolitan University”. She came across the profession by accident but was unable to access any information via her school and was discouraged from applying. The request for the careers talk came about because current pupils saw her profile and wanted to hear more. But Samera is concerned that people don’t understand how difficult and demanding the job is, and how academic. A colleague was asked, “Did you have to go to evening classes to do that?” Even Samera’s sister, a medical student, said during a discussion, “I’m really surprised you know that… but I don’t really know what you do. I supposed you just help people with their talking.” important than the white participants. In contrast, the white female participants rated being part of a team as more important” (p.89). However, the researchers stressed that, “[While] career choice is influenced by a variety of factors including aspirations, academic performance, gender and cultural background…without some knowledge of speech and language therapy, they cannot consider it as a career” (p.92). They recommended that undergraduate students could be paid for visiting schools and colleges to talk about their chosen profession to pupils and their parents as personal contact is more effective than print. They also suggest we should raise awareness of the degree requirement and the profession’s scientific and evidence-based nature. In writing ‘A Career in Speech and Language Therapy’, Jannet Wright and Myra Kersner were keen to ensure potential applicants got a flavour of the complexities of the job as “what makes it appear easy is the therapists’ mastery of the required individual skills and knowledge, and their mastery of the ability to process their thoughts and actions simultaneously, at speed…if you decide this is the career for you, you will need to study hard” (2004, p.3). I asked Myra what had prompted the book. She says they had become frustrated by the number of times people asked at University College London admissions, ‘What can we read to find out more?’ The book is “based on anecdotal evidence of what students have said to us over the years: ‘We didn’t realise…’, ‘You said ___ but we didn’t believe …’.” It therefore emphasises the hard work, the academic standards, the busyness and variety of the job, the admin, and the need to work with individuals and groups. It also outlines the different roles we undertake: professional; therapeutic; teaching; facilitating; assessment; team member; counselling; training; advo-

Keep it local
Since Clare Grennan and Jane Rogers wrote about offering work experience placements in Dudley (2005), several departments who do not have such schemes have directed people to Dudley. One enthusiast was even prepared to travel and stay in a hotel for the duration of the five day placement, but Clare says they have to keep it local. While this is partly due to the high demand for places, Clare believes we all have a duty to be proactive in this way, and she hopes other departments will take the idea and run with it. In Dudley the first five pupils to contact the department are given the places. So that the experience is rewarding for staff as well as pupils, they have to have a serious interest in a career in speech and language therapy. Three years into the scheme, Clare says there have been “fantastic candidates” whose log books are reflective, and who have come back for advice on applying to courses.

Personal contact
As a British Muslim, Samera was interested in the findings of Greenwood et al. (2006) about perceptions of the profession among school pupils. They suggested that “female minority ethnic students regarded such factors as having a high salary, a prestigious career, following a profession, a scientific career, being their own boss and parental approval of their course as significantly more

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“[While] career choice is influenced by a variety of factors including aspirations, academic performance, gender and cultural background…without some knowledge of speech and language therapy, they cannot consider it as a career” (Greenwood et al., 2006, p.92). conclusions but there is nothing which obviously differentiates these intakes from interviewed intakes.” She explains that to be offered a place candidates instead have to show that they have knowledge of communication disorders and the role of the speech and language therapist, emphasising, “it is not logging that you have certain experiences which matters, but rather showing what you have gained from these.” The university plays its part by offering comprehensive information on its website and an open day with a talk on speech and language therapy and the course. This is followed up by a specific session for applicants with talks from paediatric and adult therapists, videos and information about what makes a good application. The third stage is an information session about the course for those to whom offers have been made and their families. Catherine concludes, “At this point I can see no good reason to return to the traditional interview process.” In contrast, speech and language therapy hopeful Lindsey Kent was invited to an interview at City University. An introductory talk included reassurance that the process had been designed to assess how well applicants felt they would cope with the course and how suited they were to speech and language therapy. Lindsey says the panel composition of an academic and a practising therapist “made for an interesting interview dynamic”. Lindsey was successful and is eagerly anticipating starting her postgraduate degree in September. With a degree in Comparative American Studies and now working in Spain as an English as a second language teacher, it was a conversation with her sister about what kind of work might suit her personality and interests that got her thinking about speech and language therapy.

Illustration by Graeme Howard

cacy; administrative and time management. Like Jane and Clare, Myra believes it is incumbent on individual speech and language therapists, departments and NHS Trusts to think creatively to ensure that potential students have the opportunity to access as much information as possible before they make important career choices. She suggests that therapists can point enquirers in the direction of the book and books by people with communication impairments, offer open days, make videos and generally talk to people about their work. She also says it is important to encourage potential applicants to do work in a voluntary or paid capacity that will give them as much contact as possible with people with communication impairment as, “There is always going to be some element of being unprepared for the actual ‘feel’ of working with people in a clinic. Occasionally people are misguided about their own interpersonal skills but more often they realise themselves it is not the right course for them.”

A recognisable face
Speech and language therapy student Andrew Lawtie had extensive previous experience in health and care settings and argues they are fertile recruiting grounds for people suited to a career in speech and language therapy if they are exposed to the role. Andrew first decided to look into speech and language therapy when he was a care assistant at a residential school for children with special needs and saw a therapist working with children with autism and AAC needs. Having gained experience as a speech and language therapy assistant, Andrew was knocked backed by universities on academic grounds, so instead enrolled in a degree in children’s nursing. He says, “Working as a children’s nurse I could see that

the profile of speech and language therapy within the medical setting is not that great. A therapist came in and did a lot to make herself a more conspicuous part of the team – a lot of credit goes to her for becoming a recognisable face, and there was a noticeable change in awareness of the profession.” Although Andrew enjoyed nursing he still hankered after a career in speech and language therapy. He wanted a more specialised role, with more autonomy, where he would feel more valued. Andrew’s experience enabled him to go directly into second year at De Montfort University. While the course is meeting his expectations in terms of clinical placements, the academic demands have been higher than he expected and he would have appreciated more timely feedback to boost his confidence. Andrew was offered a place on five out of the six courses he applied for. He expressed surprise that some universities offered places without an interview, as he wonders how suitability can be assessed through a written application. I asked Catherine Mackenzie, course director of the BSc Speech & Language Pathology at the University of Strathclyde, about the thinking behind this, and if it is proving to be a successful strategy. She explained that an interview used to be a Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists requirement, but that courses had raised concerns about the costs to the applicant and staff time; the difficulty ensuring objectivity; and the fact that all courses had examples of people who had passed an interview but were later seen as unsuitable. Although a few courses still interview, RCSLT has removed its requirement for a trial period of five years. Catherine says, “We now have three years of intake without routine interviews, and this year we have interviewed no-one. This is too few on which to base

While Lindsey began her hunt for information on www.rcslt. org, personal contact with several speech and language therapists gave the most useful and honest perspectives
Lindsey’s sister is an occupational therapist and her mum is training to be an occupational therapist following many years’ experience as an assistant. To Lindsey this was important as they know her capabilities, strengths and motivators, and also offered her an interesting perspective. It seems this is not an unusual scenario; Greenwood et al. (2006, p.84) found that school pupils “with relatives in a health-related job were significantly more likely to consider speech and language therapy [as a career] than those without such relatives.”

Useful and honest
While Lindsey began her hunt for information on the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists website (www.rcslt.org), she also benefited from graduate information websites like www.prospects.ac.uk, a web
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forum for prospective healthcare profession students www.admissionsforum.co.uk/ and the NHS website. Personal contact with several speech and language therapists however gave the most useful and honest perspectives, both positive and negative. Lindsey says, “the more I researched, the more interested I became in the job. There seemed to be plenty of room for personal development, further training and research opportunities. The job would be varied and it would combine my love of language and communication by enabling me to facilitate the language and communication skills of others.” Lindsey read Crystal & Varley (1998) and set about getting some practical experience, spending a day observing and talking with a therapist at a rehabilitation clinic in Aberdeen. She found it was particularly difficult to secure observation days in London, although some hospitals run open days, and became “a little downhearted, as I thought perhaps I wouldn’t have ‘done enough’ to show how passionate I was, or to demonstrate that I was already beginning to develop useful skills.” However, clearly City University agreed with one of her friends who said, “Lindsey, this is a career which makes perfect sense for you.” While we can wish Lindsey, Andrew and every other student all the best, we might also reflect on the reasons why we chose speech and language therapy and what more we can do to ensure that our successors are equipped to take the profession forward. As Clare Grennan says, “I really think it’s worthwhile because it is amazing how much people don’t know about what we do. It’s a really interesting job, I love it to bits.”
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Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Clare Grennan, Lindsey Kent, Myra Kersner, Andrew Lawtie, Catherine Mackenzie, Samera Mian and Jane Rawlings for their infectious enthusiasm.

References
Crystal, D. & Varley, R. (1998) Introduction to Language Pathology. London: Whurr. Greenwood, N., Wright, J.A. & Bithell, C. (2006) ‘Perceptions of speech and language therapy amongst UK school and college students: implications for re-

cruitment’, International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 41(1), pp. 83-94. Grennan, C. & Rogers, J. (2005) ‘All in a day’s work…’, Speech & Language Therapy in Practice Winter, pp. 4-6. RCSLT (2005) Annual Report 2004-2005. London: Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists. Wright, J. & Kersner, M. (2004) A Career in Speech and Language Therapy. London: Metacom Education. SLTP

Reader offer
‘A Career in Speech and Language Therapy’ – discount offer
Myra Kersner and Jannet Wright are offering Speech & Language Therapy in Practice readers a £1.00 discount per order for a limited period. To qualify, print off the order form at http://metacomeducation.tripod.com, quote SLTB1, and ensure your order with payment is with publishers Metacom Education by 25th September 2006.

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