How to become a speech and language therapist: Anne's story
What do speech and language therapists do?
Speech and language therapists (SLTs or SALTs) help children and adults who are experiencing difficulties with communication, eating, drinking and swallowing.
They help a wide range of people, from children whose speech, language or communication skills are slower to develop, to older people whose ability to speak or swallow has been impaired by illness and injury, for example after a stroke. The reasons behind service users' communication difficulties can be varied, including mental health issues, learning difficulties and physical disabilities.
As well as working with lots of different service users with different conditions, SLTs also work in different settings, such as hospitals, community clinics, schools and service users' homes. So, if you love variety, this role could be a good fit for you!
You can read more about the role of SLTs on the NHS Health Careers website.
Anne works for the NELFT NHS Foundation Trust at a Speech and Language Therapy Service for Children. We caught up with her to find out what life is like as an SLT.
I had always thought about having a career in healthcare, but I wasn’t aware of how many diverse roles were available for people!
How did you find out about the role of SLTs?
I heard about it after uni. I did an undergraduate degree in Mass Communications/Media Studies, because it was suggested to me by my school, but it didn't feel like the right fit for me for a career. After uni, I went travelling and worked with children who had complex needs. My time there inspired me to get a job working as a teaching assistant at a school for children with cerebral palsy, who needed additional help communicating. It was during that role that I met a colleague who was an SLT and discovered this path.
How did you move from a Media and Communications degree into healthcare?
I went back to uni to study for an MSc in Speech and Language Therapy. I have dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia, which meant I found the academic elements of the course really challenging. I felt really supported by the lecturers and advisers on the course though. I've always been a more practical learner, so sitting in lectures for a long period of time was difficult, but the professors were really supportive and understanding of everyone’s individual needs and ways of learning.
I qualified in July 2020 and there was a lot of support through the uni with applying for jobs. I got a job in August 2020, so it was really quick! I'm now a Band 5 speech and language therapist.
What does your job involve?
I work with a variety of age groups, including early years children who haven't hit their development milestones and are slower to speak than expected, and teenagers who have developmental language disorders and word-finding difficulties. I also work with the parents of children and young people who are having difficulties. With speech and language therapy, there are social and emotional mental health needs to address as well as speech itself.
My role is varied. My tasks include conducting assessments and observations, working with teens in secondary schools, talking to parents and schools about any potential support needs, and looking into resources for virtual therapy and assessments.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The thing I love most about my job is helping those with complex needs communicate. We take time to look into alternative ways to supplement people’s language if they have difficulty communicating, which could be through using computers, tablets or symbols to help them get their message across. I'm really very proud to work for the NHS, and work as a small part of a bigger picture.
What are your hopes for the future of your career?
There are lots of opportunities for me to develop in different ways with this career path but I'm particularly interested in working in the policy side of the NHS in the future.
What to expect if you want to be a speech and language therapist
- Speech and language therapist average salary: from £25,655 to £53,219 per year (Band 5-Band 7)
- Speech and language therapist typical working hours: 38 to 40 hours per week
What qualifications do you need to be a speech and language therapist?
You could get into this role via a university course or a degree apprenticeship. You'll usually need two to three A-levels, or equivalent, for a degree. You'll usually need four to five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A-levels, or equivalent, for a degree apprenticeship. Alternatives to A-levels include taking a T-level (England-only), which is equivalent to three A-levels. Check with your course provider which alternative qualifications they accept.
Sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service, NHS Health Careers, GOV.UK.
This information is a guide and is constantly changing. Please check the National Careers Service website and the NHS Health Careers website for the latest information and all the qualifications needed and the GOV.UK website for more on T-levels.