Speech and Language Therapist (Staff Grade)
My role as a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) involves assessment, diagnosis and management of adults with acquired communication and swallowing disorders. SLTs work one-to-one with patients as part of the multidisciplinary team.
I see inpatients across medical disciplines throughout the CUH from the Emergency Department to the Cardiac Renal Centre and including the Acute Adult Mental Health Unit. Our department provides diagnostic assessment for outpatients referred by CUH consultants with the goal of initiating onward referral to SLT in the community where indicated.
I also work 3 mornings a week in St. Finbarr’s Hospital doing rehabilitation with Stroke and the Care of the Elderly populations.
There is potential for any patient who is frail and/or medically unstable to require a review by a member of the SLT team due to the complex mechanisms involved in eating, drinking and swallowing e.g. wakefulness, secretion management, respiration, cognition, wakefulness, mobility. Certain populations have a higher incidence of communication and swallowing difficulties e.g. Neurology, Neurosurgery, Surgery, Care of the Elderly, Respiratory, Head and Neck Cancer, for example.
Dysphagia is a significant driver for referrals to SLT in the acute setting given the potential direct health consequences associated with aspiration, such as aspiration pneumonia which can result in increased length of stay, repeat admissions, poor nutritional intake, weight loss, etc. These patients make up a significant portion of my caseload.
I was delighted to bring other non-clinical skills I developed in my previous professional life in retail management into my current role. My experience with spreadsheet programming was useful for automating our departmental statistical reporting process. I have since taken the lead on developing our outcome measures system, which in turn will feed into our statistical reporting to provide quality data for benchmarking, research and service development.
Practice education with speech and language therapists in training from UCC is another part of my role that I particularly enjoy. I feel it is important to share your knowledge and experience with the next generation of clinicians coming through as they will help to shape the future of the profession.
What does a typical working day look like?
Each morning we have our allocation meeting where referrals are prioritised and distributed. Once I have prioritised my own caseload and planned my day around any potential outpatients I will head out to the wards to see patients. We have to plan our day around meal times as we recommed modified diet and fluids for patients with Dysphagia in order to minimise their risk of aspiration. Mealtimes are an ideal time to review their swallowing. We also need to consider visiting hours which are best used to catch up with families to work through therapy programmes and update them on progress to date.
We conduct videofluoroscopy swallow studies in the Radiology department 5 times per week which are coordinated via a monthly rota. These take place in the early afternoon.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It’s obvious to say that working with patients is the best part of my job. However, I also enjoy the team approach to our work and the different perspectives that each of our colleagues from different professions bring to the table. I find the problem solving aspect of our role both challenging and rewarding and there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you have done the right thing to improve another person’s quality of life.
In a relatively new field such as speech and language therapy there is work to be done in our field with regards to refining our service delivery and evidence base. This potential for exploration and research is equally exciting.
What level of patient care do you have in your role?
As a frontline member of staff I work one-to-one assessing and treating patients with communication and swallowing difficulties every day. This can occur at any stage in a person’s hospital journey as sometimes we might assess someone in the Emergency Department very early in their admission and other times we may have to intervene at a later stage as the person is too acutely unwell at that stage.
What other members of the healthcare team do you work with?
Communication is central to the role of a speech and language therapist and there is a significant level of advocacy involved in our work for this reason. Because of the complex nature of Dysphagia and communication impairment we would work with almost all members of the healthcare team: doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, pharmacy, and also care and housekeeping staff and even the catering department for our work on modified consistency diets.
We work with other professionals outside of the hospital also including GPs, Community SLTs, Public Health Nurses and staff from support organisations such as Headway or Acquired Brain Injury Ireland.
My career path to here
I completed my B.A (Hons) in English and Linguistics in University College Dublin in 2008, followed by an M.Phil in Speech and Language Processing in Trinity College Dublin in 2009. I qualified with my MSc in Speech and Language Therapy (Professional Qualification) from the University of Limerick in 2011. My first speech and language therapy post was in the Mater Hospital, Dublin before I came to work in Cork University Hospital in mid-2013.
I have also been on the Council of the Irish Association for Speech and Language Therapists (IASLT) since 2012.