• Mia

Experience & top tips on being an SLT student during the Covid-19 Pandemic



How was it like being a SLT student during the pandemic?


Learning and Lectures

Since mid-March 2020, I have had all of my SLT lectures and seminars delivered online. Over the last year and a half, I have had mixed opinions towards online learning and have been able to identify both the positive and negative aspects of it.


Positives: One main advantage of online learning, which I actually prefer over in-person teaching, is that all of our lectures from the last year and a half have been recorded. I have personally found this extremely helpful for when I am writing assignments or preparing for exams or placements, as I am able to go back and listen to the recordings to find the exact information I need. Our course is hopefully moving back to predominantly in-person teaching for the next academic year. However, lectures being recorded is something which I would really like to continue in some way when on-person teaching returns, as I have found it invaluable to help me improve on my learning, assignments/exams and practical skills throughout this year.


Negatives: Something which I loved about in-person lectures and seminars in my 1st Year at University was the opportunities it gave me to interact with other students on my course, and to have interesting discussions about topics we were learning about and to gain the insight and opinions of others. I personally found this form of interaction much more difficult to access whilst doing online learning, as we had fewer opportunities for group work and we weren’t able to talk between lectures or during seminars in the same way as were able to when they were in-person.


I also struggled with online learning at times because I am a kinaesthetic learner! This means that I learn better by physically carrying out tasks rather than just watching or listening to how something is done, which is what teaching was like when it was delivered online. However, something which did really help me during Lockdown was that in the weeks leading up to our exams, my friends and I would have weekly Zoom calls where we would practice Phonetics with each other. This personally made learning for me a lot more enjoyable and effective, as I was able to learn from others and also have a catch-up with my friends. I would definitely recommend making lots of friends from your course (especially as courses such as SLT have so many contact hours!) as it allows you to seek help from others when you need it, work collaboratively with others such as by carrying out Assessments on each other to practice your practical skills, and also spend time and get to know each other outside of lecturers and studying.


If you’re not sure what your learning style is and want to find out what type of learner you are, follow this link!


Placement

As my 1st Year placement was cancelled due to Covid-19, my first block placement was pushed to the end of 2nd Year. For me, this was an 8-week Paediatric placement which included a mixture of in-person group therapy at a primary school, and teletherapy appointments with a mixed caseload of community working with children who have speech, language difficulties and learning disabilities.


I was very nervous about starting placement, due to the very limited practical experience I had as a result of previous placements being cancelled, and that the majority of our teaching for these areas had been online.


At first, I found teletherapy quite difficult to deliver as I felt very disconnected from my clients. This was also not helped by technical difficulties which often occurred which meant sessions were cancelled or cut short! I felt as though teletherapy was much more focussed on educating the clients’ families or school teachers/TAs on how to deliver therapy activities outside of therapy sessions, rather than always delivering therapy activities directly to the child. I found this quite challenging at first because, being my first placement, I didn’t feel as though I had the authority or knowledge to be giving advice to the clients’ family/school about what I thought was best for them. However, as my skills developed over the 8 weeks of placement and I received support and advice from my Educators, I definitely became more confident in assessing and delivering therapy session to clients, and also communicating with their support system about how they could continue to support and develop the client’s speech and/or language difficulties outside of therapy sessions.


Whilst I did find placement quite overwhelming at times, I received a lot of support and encouragement from my Placement Educators and was given a lot of opportunities to observe and independently deliver speech and language assessments and therapy to a range of different clients. My educators also always made time for formal and informal supervision, giving me constructive feedback and encouraged me to reflect on what I had learned and achieved each day.


In order to continue developing your skills, I would recommend that when receiving feedback and advice, you should write it down so that you can refer back to it when you need to apply it in the future. During placement I had a specific section of my notebook where I wrote down any feedback and advice given to me by my educators, so it was all in the same place and easily accessible.

Overall, whilst my placement experience was slightly different from what it would have been prior to the pandemic, I was still given a fantastic opportunity to learn from a range of different SLTs who specialised in different areas, and also allowed me to improve and develop my own skills. I feel as though during placement my confidence in my own abilities definitely increased (however this is still something I am working on!)


Here are some of my top tips for any SLT students who are on placement:


Tip #1 - Be open minded:

Go into placement with an open mind and say yes to every opportunity offered to you. This will allow you to practice your skills and identify any areas you need to work on, and also receive feedback from your Educators.


Tip #2- Don’t compare your placement experience with others on your course:

Every Placement Educator organises placement slightly differently and at their own pace, so don’t panic if you know that someone in your year has delivered a few assessments or therapy sessions independently and you’re still just observing your Educator, you will still get just as many opportunities as them!


Tip #3 - Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions:

No question is too silly and your educators want to support you and help you to develop your clinical skills in any way they can, that is why they have agreed to take on the responsibility of being a placement educator!


Tip #4 - Make time for yourself:

My main piece of advice would be to make sure you are still taking time out from doing work and thinking about your to-do list and what you need to prepare for the following week. I am definitely guilty of this and found myself not making time to see my friends or even just have a day off from doing any work, and this made me even more stressed! I know it can sometimes seem impossible to create a good work/life balance when doing our course, especially on placement, but it is so important to take time out for yourself and avoid becoming burnt out, otherwise the standard of your work will suffer in the long-term!


SLT Societies

Something else I would definitely recommend doing is to get involved with your University’s Speech and Language Therapy Society! It’s a fantastic way to meet like minded people from your course who are in other year groups, and attend a range of socials, fundraising events, and talks which can contribute to your CPD portfolio. For example, I am the UEA Speech and Language Therapy Society President for 2021/22 and our society have already started organising a range of socials for our new 1st Years and our society members, fundraising events for Giving Voice Week, and Special Interest Group talks from SLTs who specialise in a range of different areas. If you’re starting speech and language therapy at UEA, or even if you’re studying a different course but are interested in the profession in any way, we’d love to meet you and see you at some of our events!


If you feel like COVID-19 has affected you, you are not alone!

The last year and a half has been extremely difficult for everyone for many different reasons. Whilst research into this area is quite limited because the Pandemic only started a year and a half ago, I have found two studies from Nepal and Saudi Arabia, which have specifically focussed on the mental health of Health Sciences students during the pandemic. Both studies found similar results in that the mental health of those studying health sciences courses has been particularly affected due to the impact of Lockdown and online learning on their studies (Qanash et al., 2020; Yadav et al., 2021). I would definitely agree that my mental health has suffered over the last year and a half due to not being able to see friends and family, and not being able to see my friends from my course and lecturers in-person, and at times struggling with my modules and the content of them. However, I still feel as though I have been supported by my lecturers to reach my potential as an SLT, and I have learned a lot about my learning style and what works for me, the importance and advantages of making friends on my course, and that your Placement Educators are always happy to help in any way they can in order to help you improve on your skills and increase your confidence!


STLinks

I have been involved in the STLinks mentoring programme since April 2021 and it has been a fantastic experience for me! I have had multiple meetings with my mentor, Kate, to discuss various aspects of the SLT course and different SLT specialties. She has also given me some really helpful advice for completing assignments and presentations. As I continue to be a mentee I am hoping to gain some advice about applying for jobs and interview techniques!

I would definitely recommend this mentoring programme to anyone who is studying SLT as I feel as though I have received a massive amount of support from SLTs who are extremely knowledgeable about all things SLT! Read more about what I think about the mentoring programme here!

In addition to the mentoring programme, STLinks also hosts a range of online events to support SLT students, NQPs or those thinking about becoming an SLT. Recently I attended their online Mentoring Circuit event which was a great opportunity to learn from and ask questions to many SLTs who specialise in a range of different areas, and also to listen to questions asked by other attendees that I hadn’t thought of. I will definitely be attending more of their events in the future!


Thank you very much for reading, and I hope any of the information or advice from this post helps in any way! Good luck to everyone who is starting or continuing studying SLT this year!


References:

Yadav, R.K., Baral, S., Khatri, E., Pandey, S., Pandeya, P., Neupane, R., Yadav, D.K., Marahatta, S.B., Kaphle, H.P., Poudyal, J.K. and Adhikari, C. (2021) ‘Anxiety and Depression Among Health Sciences Students in Home Quarantine During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Selected Provinces of Nepal’. Frontiers in Public Health, 9(580561), pp. 1-9. [Online] Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.580561/full. (Accessed: 28/08/2021).


Qanash, S., Al-Husayni, F., Alemam, S., Alqublan, L., Alwafi, E., Mufti, H.N., Qanash, H., Shabrawishi, M. and Ghabashi, A. (2020) ‘Psychological Effects on Health Science Students after Implementation of COVID-19 Quarantine and Distance Learning in Saudi Arabia’. Cureus, 12(11), pp. 1-10. [Online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7779124/. (Accessed: 28/08/2021)



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