Friday, 28 December 2012

The challenges of a speech and language therapy student

by Gemma Biles

Recently Libby contacted me and asked me if I would like a chance to write a guest blog for the Smart Talkers blog and without a second thought I jumped at the opportunity. Then I realised I had no idea what to blog about. When discussing this with friends they said “Gemma, isn’t your blog about the challenges you have as a SLT student? Why don’t you write about your experiences in a way that reassures other SLT Students that they aren’t alone in this”. So my experiences as a SLT student didn’t start the day I begin this degree, it all started with the day I wanted to become a SLT. 

Back in 2004 when I was 15, I went to a careers day intending to listen to a woman talk about her experiences as a teacher. The thought of working with 30 children everyday made me nervous and doubt this was the career for me. It was at this point of doubt that a lovely lady took to the stage and stated "I am a speech and language pathologist, I work 1:1 with children" - anything more she had to say was interesting yet irrelevant, she already had me at her opening line. So over the years doing my GCSEs and A Levels I worked with many children within the disability sector and shadowed many SLTs attempting to gain experience in order to apply for my place on a SLT degree programme. 2 years ago I had the opportunity to sit for an interview for a place on a degree programme, and I can safely say that was the last time I felt confident that I knew what it was to be a SLT. I was asked questions that I had no answer to and posed scenarios that I was unaware were SLT related. When I found out I had a place on the course I was gobsmacked. Now 15 months in to my course I realise that not having an answer to something does not mean you are any less of an SLT. The same feeling of lack of confidence and uncertainty in my answers has occurred over and over, both in lessons and on placement. These moments have however been more of a learning curve than the moments when I did feel confident and did know the answer, and these are what have defined me as a SLT student. 

I recently read a quote by Bruce et al. (2005) who stated that students should be "thrown in the deep end" in order to develop SLT skills and I can safely say that a degree in SLT does just this. On a recent placement I admitted that I had a lot of observation experience and little hands on experience, I was then given a “caseload” and asked to go away and informally assess, formally assess, write therapy programmes and discuss all this with other professionals. Well at the time I can safely say I was drowning - but now in hindsight, that was the best opportunity I have had throughout my 15 months as a SLT student. I was pushed and challenged beyond belief. But more importantly I realised I COULD be a SLT and that I was more likely to be able to survive when I wasn’t being “hand-held”. At the end of this placement I discussed how I had felt with a wonderful SLT that had supported me over the 5 weeks and asked her how it was she managed to be so competent in so many areas, having recently graduated herself. 

She gave me some knowledge that has been beyond reassuring and continuously useful – “always know your evidence base, always be critical in your decision making and more than anything, always be the swan – graceful on top, paddling like mad underneath, never let anyone see how fast your feet are paddling”. It is at this point that I am about to begin my first placement of my 2nd year – where I have no doubt that I will begin my first day saying “I would like a chance to get hands on” and I would encourage any SLT/SLP2B to tell their placement educators this, no matter how scary it may seem! I’m sure I shall be endlessly tweeting and blogging my swan like paddling throughout this placement in January 2013 – so follow me @GemSLT or view my blog at 

Reference Bruce, C. Parker, A. and Herbert, R. (2005) ‘The Development of a Self-Directed and Peer-based Clinical Training Programme’ International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 36(Suppl) 401-405.


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  2. I agree Sam. I know several students at the moment who are struggling with the course and I keep urging them to carry on. It IS the best job in the world. The courses are tough but the skills we learn give us so many advantages.

  3. This a great post, it really highlights some of the issues that are so common but people are reluctant to admit to. Even though the course can be a scary leap into the unknown, it can also develop you so much as a person!