What is a speech and language therapist?

Speech and language therapist

Have you ever wondered what a speech and language therapist (SLT) does?  Find out about our SLTs and the work they do here at UHDB.  Whether you're a patient or you're interested in becoming a speech and language therapist, here's what you need to know. 

What is a speech and language therapist and what patients do they see?

A Speech and language therapist (SLT) assesses patients with swallowing (dysphagia) and/or communication problems. An SLT can see adult inpatients on the acute wards and cover a wide variety of specialities from respiratory to surgery to geriatrics to intensive care. They often assess patients with neurological problems and their diagnosis could be anything from Motor Neuron Disease to Traumatic Brain Injury. 

An SLT assesses patients with tracheostomies and they are part of the MDT team that decide on weaning plans to be able to safely take the tracheostomy out. They also assist in running a videofluoroscopy, which is an x-ray of swallowing clinic where they can further analyse a patient’s swallowing and risk of aspiration, this is where food and drink going down the wrong way on to the patient’s chest and potentially causing a chest infection. As the acute clinical lead for dysphagia they can train the newly qualified SLTs in dysphagia assessments if they are not dysphagia trained when they qualify. They also assist in training up the SLTs to be able to assess more complicated patients under all differed specialities.   

What’s a typical day for a speech and language therapist?

“A typical day consists of reviewing patients that need reassessment for dysphagia and/or communication. They may have been put on thickened fluids and a modified diet to enable them to swallow more safely and need a review to assess if they can tolerate an upgrade back to normal fluids and normal diet. They may have been given some exercises for their swallowing following a videofluoroscopy and I need to evaluate if there has been any improvement with their swallowing.  I would also see patients that are new referrals to our team.

“In addition, I will give second options to SLTs that are managing complex patients. SLTs work closely with other members of the multi-disciplinary team, such as nurses, physios, doctors and dietitians. I assess patient’s communication to provide strategies and advice in order to maximise the patient’s communication potential.  I will facilitate capacity assessments when a patient with communication problems faces difficult decisions. For example, whether to have a feeding tube (PEG) if their swallow is not safe enough to meet their nutritional and hydration needs orally.”

Career paths for speech and language therapists

To become an SLT, a Speech and Language Therapy degree must be completed, either a BSc (Hons) or a Master’s degree. During the degree there are practical placements where the student has the opportunity to be able to experience a variety of areas in SLT practice.

One of the wonderful things about training to be an SLT is that it is such a varied profession. When you qualify you can choose to work with children, adults and adults with learning disabilities. SLTs can work in a wide variety of locations such as hospitals, schools, in patient’s own homes and in care homes. SLTs can see premature babies on neonatal intensive care, right through to patients that are over 100-years-old. It is fantastic to have the freedom to choose where you would like to specialise once you have qualified depending on which areas you enjoyed most during your degree.     

Why I became a Speech and language therapist

“I still enjoy trying to work out why the patient has swallowing problems and how can we help them.  No one day is the same and as an SLT you have the privilege of meeting so many new people from all walks of life. I became an SLT because I wanted to work in a hospital and help people during their most difficult times.  Eating and drinking and communicating are some of our most basic human needs therefore SLTs are lucky enough to be able to have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.”