Community & Development, My working life - Susie Williams, Specialist SLT (stroke)

Community & Development, My working life - Susie Williams, Specialist SLT (stroke)

Hello, my name is Susie. I lead the speech therapy team on the stroke unit at Ipswich Hospital.

Ever since I was a student SLT, I’ve been interested in academic research. When I graduated, I threw myself into clinical work, as I enjoyed working with patients and families. I always tried to base my practice on the best available evidence but found myself asking clinical questions for which there weren’t always clear academic answers.

I thought that the door to a research career had closed: I wasn’t in a position to give up work and self-fund a PhD. But then I discovered it was possible to train as a clinical academic, completing research alongside and inspired by my clinical work.

I applied for a Health Education England/National Institute for Health Research integrated clinical academic internship, which funded release time so I could complete 48 days of study leave. During this time, I completed a 20-credit module in research methods at the University of East Anglia.

I learnt about qualitative and quantitative research, critical appraisal, and how research can be applied to clinical practice. I also completed a scoping review examining the academic literature in my area of interest (aphasia), where I successfully identified research gaps.

The rest of the time was flexible. At first, this was daunting, but I quickly identified learning opportunities.

I used the time to attend inspiring online conferences and apply for the British Aphasiology Society (BAS) Special Award for Jargon Aphasia to research the support needs of carers of people with jargon aphasia. I was matched with a mentor, Sarah Northcott, who helped me to form my ideas into action, while the other allied health professionals on the internship provided me with peer support. My manager, team and the hospital library also offered useful advice and encouragement. I reached out by email to academics, who have been universally warm and supportive.

Completing the internship alongside my clinical work during the pandemic had its challenges. The internship was paused for three months when the pandemic was at its height and all the content was delivered online, which allowed me to study flexibly. Getting the balance right between direct clinical work, managerial work and research is something that I will work on going forward.

My funding application for the BAS Special Award was successful and I’m now working on my first primary research study. I’m being supported by academics I met during the internship and supported by my trust. I’ve also started a Pre-Doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship to continue my research journey and answer some more of those burning questions.