Monday, 23 June 2014

Meet our staff...

In the run up to Public Health England's Nursing, Midwifery and AHP annual conference on the 1st July, we have interviewed one our Allied Health Professionals, Angie McKenzie, about her role as a Paediatric Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. Here's what she told us...

What does your job involve?

I work with children, usually 2-11 years old, although the childrens' service covers the 0-19 age range. My time is split between working in a community clinic one day a week and the other days are spent in different primary schools. I assess and offer advice on children's speech, their understanding and use of language, and their social interaction skills. I can also give general advice on eating and drinking skills. I work closely with parents/carers and support staff in educational settings. I also liaise with a wide range of other professionals such as Health Visitors, Educational Psychologists, Early Years Service, Social Workers, Doctors, School Nurses and many more. 

Why did you decide to become a AHP professional?

It was having contact with an SLT as a mum and through working in schools. One of my children had trouble saying some sounds; I also worked as a Teaching Assistant in primary schools and began to have training on understanding communication difficulties and how TA's can support children. I worked with children with ADHD, behaviour difficulties, autism, and children who were learning English as an additional language. I also spent a year working with high school pupils who were struggling to read. I kept coming into contact with SLTs, asked loads of questions and decided this was the job for me. The other big appeal was that SLTs can work with all age ranges, with a wide range of different difficulties and needs and they can work in so many different environments! 

How long have you worked as a AHP professional?

It will be five years this October and I can't believe how quickly that time has gone! 

Have you seen the profession change during this time?

I think there has been greater awareness of the role of SLTs in recent years, especially with the film ‘The King's Speech’ and the TV programme ‘Educating Yorkshire’. SLTs are also getting their message across to the wider public and parliament through campaigns such as ‘Giving Voice’.  There is increasing awareness of the significant impact on individuals, their carers and communities that communication difficulties can have; e.g. in the early years, schools, youth offending/prison population, adults and the elderly. The Government is now recognizing that communication skills are a fundamental part of children’s development and difficulties with this key skill directly contribute to educational attainment.   

Do you have a particular highlight from your career to date?

I have two highlights – the first is graduating from university as a mature student from university.  That was something I'd only dreamed I could do, especially as I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do when I left school at 16, apart from wanting to help people. The second highlight happened last year. I was able to work in two of our Child Development Centres as part of a team of medical and allied health professionals who assess pre-school children with complex developmental needs. It was very challenging on many levels but extremely rewarding to be part of such a team supporting families with children who often had significant medical, physical and developmental needs. 

If someone was thinking of becoming a AHP professional, why would you encourage them to do a role like yours?

It can be very hard work, but it's the sense of achievement you get using the knowledge and skills you acquired through your training, and increasing experience, to find that you can make such a difference to people's lives. It's also about being in a position to use those skills to listen, problem-solve, act on concerns, offer solutions and to work as part of a team or partnership. 

Would you like to see the profession change? If so, how?

I'm obviously going to say that we need more SLTs locally and nationally! We are a 'cradle to grave' profession that does so much more than "help people to talk properly". As a children's SLT, I would love to see simple key messages about communicating with babies and young children being put out there by the media regularly for parents. For example, in Leeds we can sign-post parents to locally produced resources and media, such as our interactive website and our online toolkit, to support and educate parents on how to talk to and play with their baby or child. 

What is the best bit about doing your job?

Despite being a difficult and demanding job there are also wonderful rewards. Just this week a little boy began to say his 'tricky' sound correctly after months of struggling, and another little boy began to show real interest in another person and requested a game using eye contact and gesture to say he wanted to play again. These may seem very little highlights but when you have been working with a child for a long time and you see their ‘lightbulb moment’ and their sense of achievement, it's amazing to have been involved in helping them to communicate effectively with another person. 
Many thanks to Angie for sharing this with us.

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