A 10 Year Reflection: My SLT Journey

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It's 10 years ago today since I graduated from Newcastle University. In some ways it feels like yesterday and in others, it feels like a world away. I have achieved so much in the last decade and I thought today is a good day to feel proud of my achievements and take opportunity to reflect.


 
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Graduation Day, 14th July 2011

 
The Early Days

I knew I wanted to become a Speech and Language Therapist when I was studying for my A-Levels, after years of knowing I wanted to help people in some way but just not quite sure how.  My first couple of years at university were especially difficult and I was not 100% sure that I had made the right decision. Still loving the idea of the end goal of being a Speech and Language Therapist, and not knowing what else I wanted to do, I stuck with it. In the third and fourth years of the course, I was really starting to apply the theory I’d learned in the foundation years and I knew that it was definitely the career for me.

I would tell anyone who would listen about the course I was studying and my future dreams, and when I was greeted with questions such as:

  • ‘So what will you do for a job at the end of the course?’
  • ‘Does that mean you can help me with my talking when I’m drunk?’
  • ‘How can you be a speech therapist with your accent?!’

I would smile politely and use the opportunity to spread awareness of the breadth of the profession. I also met lots of people who told me about the positive impact a Speech and Language Therapist had on a family member or friend and this always fuelled my enthusiasm too.

You can imagine my delight, that when I was in my final year of university, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) launched a national campaign to raise awareness of Speech and Language Therapy (Giving Voice UK). Throughout my final year of study, I got involved with the local group of SLT’s who were leading the way with the campaign in the North East. In addition to this, I arranged to meet with my local MP, local councillors, held stalls at local street fairs and hosted charity nights starring comedian, Lost Voice Guy.

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Julie Cota and Liz Panton, Speech and Language Therapists at a talk in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

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Lost Voice Guy performing comedy at Ashington Football Club

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Julie Cota, SLT with Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck at a Giving Voice Stall at Ashington Street Fair

Giving Voice was launched partly due a shortage of Speech and Language Therapist roles and changes within services. It was a particularly difficult year for graduates and jobs were few and far between, even though there were lots of children and adults requiring specialist support.

I also really wanted to stay in North East which made my job search even more difficult. I continued campaigning, to raise awareness, keep up my professional links, continuing to build my confidence and to give me something else to talk about when I reached interview.

I also wrote this poem about Speech and Language Therapy and shared it on YouTube


In October 2011, I attended a Mass Mobilisation event with lots of other Speech and Language Therapists, where we all arranged to meet our MP in the Houses of Parliament to talk about Speech and Language Therapy and Giving Voice. That evening I was delighted to be awarded a Giving Voice award at the RCSLT awards ceremony for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the profession’. The North of Tyne SLTs also won the Service Award for England, and it was a privilege to be part of the team.

Winning an RCSLT Giving Voice award, is something I am still extremely proud of, especially as it was so early in my career. To read more about my campaigning and the events I organised you can look at the Giving Voice blog which I updated from 2011-2019. 

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Kamini Gadhok, CEO of RCSLT and John Bercow, (then) Speaker of the House with Julie Cota (me!)

Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson 2011

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North of Tyne Collaboration: Service Award for England winners. 

 Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson 2011

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Julie Cota and Gareth Gates with Giving Voice Awards  in London

 Photo Credit: Paul Carr 2011

The Later Days

While the job search continued I begun a voluntary position as an SLT assistant in the NHS in Sunderland. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet other SLTs and deliver intervention to a range of children with Developmental Language Disorder and Speech Sound Disorders. This is where my interest in these areas really begun to develop.

Early in 2012, I secured a position as a research assistant (RA) with Newcastle University (Professor James Law) and Northumbria Healthcare. This was another brilliant opportunity and enabled me to further develop my skills and also led to some other short term RA work which I did alongside voluntary work, working as an SLT assistant in a school and also for the North East Trust for Aphasia (NETA). Throughout this year I also continued to actively campaign with Giving Voice, and won another award (Newly Qualified Practitioner of the Year). I also nominated Lost Voice Guy and NETA for Giving Voice awards the same year and they won too! Sadly, we didn’t make it to the ceremony in London as the trains were cancelled. We still held a small celebration at Newcastle University, where NETA is based and we presented each other with the awards.

 
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Janet Speight, Chair of North East Trust for Aphasia and Julie Cota, Speech and Language Therapist

 

In 2013 I secured a short term temporary position in the NHS in County Durham where I delivered assessment and intervention to a range of children in mainstream schools. When this post ended I decided to widen my geographical search and secured another temporary NHS SLT position, this time in Leeds. This was a fantastic experience and I worked in a wonderful primary school with some amazing students and staff. Whilst there, I supported children to participate in the national RCSLT Voice Box joke competition and arranged a Leeds final between a number of schools. Two of the children were lucky enough to make it to the final at the Houses of Parliament in London and one child went on to be the overall national winner!

I was fortunate that the role in Leeds became a permanent position and I was then promoted to Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. I really loved this role, but my heart was still in North East England so I knew I wouldn’t stay in Leeds forever. I spent 2 years working in some wonderful schools and with some amazing Speech and Language Therapists. Some of the SLTs I met in this team, are some of my best Speech Therapist friends to date. I kept an eye on jobs in the local area at home and was excited to see a unique opportunity in an academy of primary schools in my home town and surrounding area.

I worked in the academy for 3 years and this was an incredible opportunity to deliver universal, targeted and specialist interventions across a wide range of Speech, Language and Communication Needs. I delivered a range of training, led a small team of amazing Speech and Language Therapy Assistants, delivered parent workshops, group therapy and intensive 1:1 therapy for children with more complex SLCN. I was also able to encourage school wide initiatives such as involvement in No Pens Day, RCSLT Voice Box (where a number of children attended the final in London), and a vocabulary parade!

 
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Houses of Parliament, London

 

I also had the opportunity to do some assessments and advice sessions for some students within the secondary school too. Although I was employed by the school directly I had brilliant links with the local NHS SLT team and accessed regular support from them. After 3 years within the school, I felt ready for a new challenge and so I decided to leave my position there and set up as an Independent Practitioner, and that’s when Speech Stuff was born!

I started the latest part of my adventure in July 2019 and since then have supported a large number of children and families to achieve their goals. I genuinely love my job and have met some truly special families, some of whom continue to keep in touch after their child has been discharged. I have the opportunity to really get to know parents and the children and ensure that the sessions are tailored to each individual child. It’s always lovely to get updates from parents about the children’s progress after I’ve stopped working with them too.

Over the last year, most of my work has been carried out via telehealth sessions and I have had excellent results with a large number of families, including some that I have yet to meet in person. It has been a difficult year for us all, and I feel genuinely grateful that I have been able to continue to support children’s communication skills in this time. I have recently started some home visits again and I am loving this part of my role once more. Telehealth will definitely remain an option I provide, as I have been able to work with some children slightly outside of my geographical area and it has and continues to be really effective. Of course, it is not suitable for all children and I will continue to offer sessions face to face as well.

As so much is now online, I have been able to access an amazing amount of Continuing Professional Development over the last year too. I completed my Post Graduate Certificate in Speech Difficulties with the University of Sheffield. I’ve attended a wide range of information sessions and training courses to learn new things and keep up to date with the current evidence, including PECS, Attention Autism, Selective Mutism and Stammering.  

In addition to my clinical work I am also on the Executive Board for ASLTIP (the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice) as their Secretary, which is an exciting addition to the working week. Over the last two years I have also volunteered with a local Autism charity (The Toby Henderson Trust) and look forward to continuing to work with them in the future too.

Reflections

At the beginning of my career it felt like a bumpy road to finding my dream job, but now, with hindsight and reflection, I can see that every opportunity taught me something and helped shape me into the SLT I am today. I am proud of the service I am able to provide and I hope to continue to be able to support a wide range of families. Thank you to everyone who has been part of the journey so far, amazing lecturers at university (I was especially influenced by Dr Helen Stringer and Professor Cristina McKean), RCSLT for being an incredible professional organisation, Speech and Language Therapy friends I’ve made along the way, my family and my husband Tony (who believed in me when Speech Stuff was just a tiny seed of an idea).

An especially big thank you to all of the children I have supported over the last 10+ years, and the families who have chosen and continue to choose me as their Speech and Language Therapist.  I am truly grateful to be part of your journey.

Here’s to the next 10 years and beyond! I can’t wait to share the next steps of my journey with you all.

 

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