What’s it like to be an NHS speech and language therapist?

Thinking about a career move? Considering retraining for a role in the NHS? Find out what it’s like to be a speech and language therapist.

Our mission at the Talented Ladies Club is to help mothers everywhere unlock their potential, and to help them find meaningful and rewarding work. So we’ve partnered with the NHS to shine a spotlight on some of the most rewarding and meaningful roles within the organisation. 

There are many amazing career opportunities with the NHS, and today we’ll be exploring the exciting area of speech and language therapy.  

We take communication for granted. Every day we use our communication skills to express ourselves to the world. However, not everyone has this luxury and a speech and language therapist helps people find their voice.

Make a difference every day

A speech and language therapist (SLT) provides treatment, support and care for people who, for physical or psychological reasons, have difficulties with communication, or with eating, drinking, and swallowing.

These therapists work closely with patients every day to improve their care and positively impact their lives, assessing and gauging their specific needs and managing progress to enable them to communicate to the best of their ability. 

Speech and language therapy is a fulfilling and varied career. It offers you a high degree of flexibility, excellent employment prospects and the chance to truly make a difference to someone’s life. It’s one of the most dynamic and rewarding roles within the health industry. 

No two days are the same. One day you could be working with a child whose speech is slow to develop, and the next day you could be helping an older person whose ability to speak has been impaired by illness or injury. You’ll work in a variety of places from day centres or children’s centres to clients’ homes and practices.

Here’s what Max Elswood, a speech and language therapy student says of his career choice:

“Speech and language therapy combines all the things I was looking for in a career: creativity, medicine and communication. I previously worked as a teaching assistant and had experience supporting young people with special educational needs which helped me confirm that being a speech and language therapist was the career for me”.

Speech and language therapy could be the right profession for you if you enjoy science, education, languages, linguistics or medicine. It will suit those that are good at communicating with a wide range of people, compassionate, and good at thinking critically about how to integrate different treatments and approaches to help suit each patient. 

How to get started

To become an SLT, you’ll need to train and study at degree or postgraduate level. If you already hold a relevant first degree, you can apply for an accelerated postgraduate programme in speech and language therapy. These courses usually last two years. 

Alternatively, there are a growing number of degree apprenticeships where you’ll get the chance to earn a living whilst gaining your qualification. Each institution has its own entry requirements, so it’s important to check carefully, but usually you will need two or three A Levels along with five GCSE’s grade A-C, including English language, maths and science. 

You’ll receive at least £5,000 a year to help fund your studies through the NHS Learning Support Fund.

Honing your application

When writing your application for a course you will need to be able to show that you have a good understanding of what an SLT does so be sure to read around the subject and consider how you can demonstrate your knowledge. It will also help to make sure that you have tailored your application to the particular course you are applying for and highlighted why your skills and experience are relevant.

Securing relevant work experience can also improve your chances of being accepted on a speech and language therapy degree course. You could apply for roles as an SLT assistant or support worker or try to arrange an observation session at a local speech and language service. 

Voluntary work can also be a good way of showing your interest and dedication. You could consider looking for voluntary roles working with people who experience difficulties with communication such as children and adults with learning disabilities or those who have experienced a stroke or head injury. Try contacting local nursing homes, schools or stroke groups to ask for work experience.

Once you’ve qualified, you’ll have annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD) check-ins, where you’ll discuss your career aspirations with your manager and how to achieve them, so you’re always moving forward. You may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as cleft and lip palate, people with swallowing difficulties or learning disabilities. Other options include teaching or research.

“People’s perceptions of speech and language therapy is either ‘teaching people how to speak properly’ or playing on the floor of a nursery with young ones. These perceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. There is such a breadth of career pathways and specialisms within the field.” Max Elswood – Speech and language therapy student

To find out more, sign up for your free guide to becoming a speech and language therapist.