What is a speech and language therapist?

Speech and language therapists care for people who have speech and communication difficulties. They also help people with eating, drinking and swallowing problems.

To work in the NHS, speech and language therapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).


Starting your career as a speech and language therapist

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as a speech and language therapist, useful subjects include:

  • Human Biology
  • Psychology
  • Care
  • Childcare and Development
  • Physics
  • English
  • Maths

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college, or a new job with NHSScotland.


Foundation Apprenticeships

A Foundation Apprenticeship could give you the skills, knowledge, and work experience you need to start your career journey as a speech and language therapist.

Learn more about a Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare.

College and university

You'll need a degree to become a speech and language therapist. Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do an HNC in Care and Administrative Practice.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Speech and language therapist degree

Two universities in Scotland offer undergraduate programmes in Speech and Language Therapy or Speech and Language Pathology, approved by the HCPC:

  • Queen Margaret University
  • University of Strathclyde

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes take 4 years full-time.

If you already have relevant qualifications and healthcare experience, you can do a postgraduate diploma or a master’s in Speech and Language Therapy. A pre-registration postgraduate course usually takes 2 to 3years.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work

Speech and language therapist role

As a speech and language therapist, you would work with people who are experiencing communication or swallowing difficulties for a range of reasons. These include:

  • a developmental delay
  • learning disability
  • autism
  • brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or dementia
  • cancer of the mouth and throat
  • a stammer
  • hearing loss

What you’ll do

Some of the typical tasks of a speech and language therapist include:

  • assessing developmental speech and communication difficulties in babies and children
  • creating and implementing therapy programmes and working with clients to monitor progress
  • supporting people, their carers, and family members to use alternative forms of communication
  • training other professionals to deliver communication support
  • assessing swallowing ability
  • working with clients individually or in groups
  • writing client reports
  • supervising students and healthcare support workers

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • working in a team
  • communicating with people
  • problem-solving skills
  • persuading and motivating people
  • observation skills

Who you’ll work with

Speech and language therapists work independently or in multidisciplinary teams with:

  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • healthcare support workers
  • teachers

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • day-care centres
  • rehabilitation units
  • schools
  • young offender’s units
  • prisons
  • in a person’s home

Useful information

To work as a speech and language therapist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

Around 80% of children with emotional and behavioural disorders have significant language deficits. There are around 16,500 registered speech and language therapists in the UK and more than 1,000 working in the NHS in Scotland.

Learning and development

During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) provides courses, conferences, and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

Career progression

With training and experience, you may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as:

  • stroke
  • cleft palate
  • learning disabilities

You could also progress to senior and specialist speech and language therapy roles. As head of a speech and language therapy service, you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

There are also teaching and research opportunities.

Professional bodies

As an NHSScotland speech and language therapist, you must be registered with the HCPC.

Once qualified, you can also join the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).