Community & Development, My working life - Va Wellings (Retired SLT)

Community & Development, My working life - Va Wellings (Retired SLT)

I attended the Kingdon-Ward School of Speech Therapy and qualified in 1953, so it seemed like losing my right arm when I stopped practising as a clinician in 2017. Lockdown has prompted me to reflect on my years in the profession.

During my studies I was driven to our local station by my mother. If the train was in she would hoot to the driver who would kindly wave, permitting me to alight. Those were the days!

The college was situated in Cavendish Square, behind Oxford Street in London, and offered three-year diploma courses in speech pathology and therapeutics, neurology, psychology, phonetics, anatomy and physiology. During our first year we undertook clinical observation in London and the surrounding areas, later progressing to active therapy under supervision.

Weekly clinics at Middlesex, King’s and Westminster hospitals were held under the tutorship of the late Amy Swallow, a founder fellow of the College of Speech Therapists and principal of Kingdon-Ward.

Previously a nurse in the First World War, with a gentle sense of humour and a shrewd understanding of people, her warm and relaxed manner inspired confidence in her patients and students. I can still hear her saying (often with a cigarette lolling in hand), “Patients should leave the treatment room feeling better than when they came in.”

Clinical cases I saw then involved stammering groups (for example of young RAF men), laryngectomy, voice, and speech and language disorders. Following qualification, two of us were privileged to be asked by Swallow to live in her flat and be in charge of her clinics while she was on holiday – a daunting but hugely fulfilling experience.

My first job was for South East Devon, reporting to the County Medical Officer and receiving a monthly salary of £38. Clinics were basic, usually in an empty house used for other county employees.

Children with speech difficulties formed most of my caseload, along with a few stroke patients. Following marriage I worked in Surrey, stopping in 1959 to have a family.

In 1982 I returned to the profession, joining the Chichester Health Authority paediatric team. That led to 20 happy years in a much updated world of speech and language therapy.

After retiring from the NHS in 2002 and losing my husband, I became an independent SLT. I saw children across the locality, and was asked to follow a boy from primary into a secondary school for learning difficulties. I remained there for 15 years, treating boys with Asperger’s, dyslexia, and speech and language disorders.

Though no longer practising, I work part-time as a member of a support team for one of my original primary schools, and continue to be in touch with past staff, parents and boys.