Fergus, speech and language therapist, NHS Fife

I'm Fergus and I’m an NHS speech and language therapist. I care for acutely unwell adult patients who have a range of eating, drinking, or communication difficulties. This includes elderly patients, people in intensive care in hospital, and those who are receiving care in the hospice.

I also spend one day a week working as a voice specialist therapist, in an outpatient clinic. I help people who use their voice in their work to manage it effectively. They’ll usually have been referred to me by the ear, nose and throat service.

So, as I’ve described, I meet lots of people and there’s a wide range of work I get to do throughout the week.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

That's quite an interesting and apt question for me. I went to speech therapy as a child, because I used to… Well, I still have a stutter. So, I wanted to be a speech therapist, but I didn’t get the grades at school to study at university.

From a young age, I was also really interested in ships and the sea, and the navy. When I left school, I decided to pursue my other love and go to sea. That’s why I joined the navy.

How long did you serve in the navy?

It was just over 6 years, which included just over 2 years of training. In that time, I did my officer’s training, specialist training and exams. This was followed by about 4 years of qualified serving time.

What did your role entail?

In the navy, I was a small ship’s officer of the watch and a gunnery officer.

The main role I trained for, was as an officer of the watch. I was in charge ship’s navigation and making sure we didn’t crash into anything!

I also had added responsibilities, running the ship’s gunnery department. I made sure the training levels of the gun crews, we had onboard for defence purposes, were maintained. I also directed the upper-deck gun crews when they were needed. Those were the 2 main parts of the job. On top of that, I had other responsibilities, such as being the captain’s correspondence officer and overseeing the ship’s money and accounting. I was also a divisional officer, supervising, mentoring and providing career development support to junior officers.

I had a lot of responsibilities in the navy outside of my core training.

When did you leave the navy?

I served between 2004 and 2010. I really enjoyed the navigation side of things, but I knew I’d have to move away from that eventually.

When I left the Royal Navy, my intention was to join the Merchant Navy because I still believed I wouldn’t get into university to study speech and language therapy. However, decided to apply anyway, as I would never have forgiven myself if I didn’t at least try.

I applied to university thinking I wasn’t going to get in. But the skills and experience I’d learned in the navy, including leadership and management skills, were taken into consideration.

What support did you receive during the transition period?

I didn't get as much support as a lot of other people will have, but that's only because of the time served. Service leavers who have been in the armed forces for longer get more support during resettlement.

The main support I had was through resettlement leave. It gave me more time in the UK to allow me to prepare for university.

While I was in the navy, I also had an annual learning allowance and access to grants, which I used to learn how to drive. I knew that being able to drive and having a car would help me when applying for speech and language therapy jobs in the future.

So, there was a little bit of financial support in terms of personal development courses and then the resettlement leave package I got at the end.

What transferable skills did you bring from your career in the navy to your university studies and then to the job you’re doing now?

I’d say self-admin and self-management. I learned how to manage myself, prioritise tasks and manage my time effectively. I joined the navy when I was 17 years old and had none of that! I learned those skills very quickly.

I’d also say stress management. While I was serving, regardless of the situation I was in, I had to be able to calmly compose myself. Managing high levels of stress and being able to look past it to think logically to do my work effectively is something I continue to use in civilian life. Although, I would say it maybe has a slight downside as well and that you know sometimes a little bit of stress is a good motivator.

Teamwork is also important as well. You're never going to get by just trying to go it alone. Learning to work as part of a team and trust in your team is something I’ve brought to this role as well.

Finally, I’d say that the leadership and management skills I developed in my naval career helped me progress to a more senior level in the NHS more quickly than may otherwise have happened.

During your career as a speech and language therapist, what opportunities have there been to develop your skills and experience?

Dysphagia is a medical term, used to describe difficulty with eating, drinking, or swallowing. When you qualify as a speech and language therapist, you don’t automatically become a dysphagia practitioner. It requires more training after university. Almost all speech and language therapists working with adults need to have dysphagia training.

I started my speech and language therapy career working in paediatrics. I then moved to another role where I had the opportunity to do my dysphagia training. There are different ways of doing the training. For example, you might do a short training course at university, followed by a period of supervised practice. All my training was done in-house at the NHS. It took about a year, but it was worthwhile because I wouldn’t have got my current job if I wasn’t dysphagia qualified.

What’s the best thing about your current role?

The best thing about my job is the variation. I really enjoy working in adult acute care, because it’s quite fast-paced and I’m seeing new people all the time. I have to think on my feet, and I really enjoy that.

The team I work with is amazing. I have a good working relationship with my fellow speech and language therapists, but also with my occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and dietetic colleagues as well as nurses and doctors here at the hospital. All of them are really lovely and fun people to work with.

What do you think about NHSScotland as a place to work?

I absolutely love working here in the NHS. Its intent is pure - to provide care for anyone that needs it.

As with any organisation, it has its good points and bad points. Sometimes, there’s occasional moments of frustration, where you just think ‘why’? For example, with funding for training or more staff. But I know it’s never as easy or as simple as that.

I would say that it is noble with pure intentions and anyone who works for the NHS will only ever be doing it because they want to help care for other people. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to thrive within the NHS. If you care for others and that’s what your primary aim is, then the NHS is the best organisation to work for. It’s an amazing organisation that’s doing the best it can with the resources it has.

What careers advice would you give to someone currently going through resettlement, trying to find a second career?

I’d say the best advice I could give is to stay open-minded. There are so many opportunities that you don’t even know exist yet.

Don't be scared to take what feels like a step back when it's not. You might have had a senior role in the military or been in a middle rank or you had a certain amount of responsibility. But, if you are transitioning to another organisation and to a totally different career, you may have to start in an entry-level role.

Even though it feels like a step back, it’s not. Everything you’re doing is a further step forward. If you’ve got the drive and patience, it will pay off.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when looking for a civilian career that you think could help those currently going through resettlement?

I suppose having more information sooner if that makes any sense. When I decided I was going to leave the navy, I had to give a year’s notice after my return of service. I think it’s still the same now. 

So, I gave my notice and then didn’t really think about it until the last couple of months. I was then thinking about resettlement and what’s available, or what I could do. It was a bit last minute and I suppose that was partly my fault.

When you put in your notice a year in advance, use that year and find out what is available to you. Take advantage of the support that’s out there.

For me, I contacted the university about 6 months before I applied to let them know about my situation. I also wanted to find out what I could do to strengthen my application.

If you’re thinking about applying for a job in the NHS, reach out to the employer to find out more about the role. You can discuss your skills and qualifications and ask for recommendations for learning or training that you could focus on during your resettlement period.