Career Interview with renowned Speech Therapist Olwen Morgen

Where do you currently work?

I work in both Zimbabwe and the UK.

What does your firm/ Organisation do?

My organisation 'Playing Talking Learning - UK & Africa' is involved with individuals, groups, parents, professionals, others, schools, health services, organisations for the purpose of raising the skills and outcomes of children.  This includes children who are developing typically but who may be doing so in difficult circumstances, and those children with a range of learning/developmental difficulties, most particularly speech, language and communication difficulties.  Playing Talking Learning does work directly with children with developmental difficulties, including language and communication impairments, but most commonly our work is with parents, carers, professionals, others, schools, health services and organisations to provide training and support (Learning for adults) to these groups to assist them to more effectively support children's development, i.e. children's playing, talking and learning. 

Tell us a little bit about your career history?

I have worked as a speech and language therapist, therapy service manager, professional advisor, trainer & consultant.  My career, spanning 30 years so far, has taken me from Zimbabwe to South Africa, the UK, Denmark and Australia - and back!  My first jobs were in Harare with a rehabilitation centre and the Ministry of Education.  I have spent the majority of my professional career working in the NHS, in the UK.  Absolutely brilliant experience and opportunities to develop and deliver high quality therapy services.  I most love working in communities that do not typically receive services and those that are receptive and responsive to input.  Zimbabwean parents have shown themselves to be some of the most responsive, motivated and able parents that I have worked with over the years!

Was this always your dream career or it changed somewhere along the line?

My dream career was to be involved in bringing benefit and support to those who needed it.  Speech and Language Therapy and the wide-ranging role of my profession has meant that I have been able to contribute significantly to the development and benefit of individuals, groups, communities in different countries and in different ways.  Changes in my focus over the course of my career have led me to develop, set up and deliver services and training in such a way that the greatest benefit is brought to the greatest number of people.  This is evidenced by the projects I have set up to train professionals in Zimbabwe since 2013, most recently training health professionals to run parent workshops for parents of children with disabilities.  It has always been important for me to work with/collaborate with others - this very important work in Zimbabwe to support parents of disabled children to develop their child's language and communication would not have been achievable without the organisation Safe Haven Zimbabwe. Look for Safe Have Zimbabwe and Playing Talking Learning on Facebook.

What qualifications do you hold?

I gained my BSc (Logopaedics) (Speech and Hearing Therapy) at the University of Cape Town in 1987, and my MSc (Global Health and Development) at University College London in 2010.  I have attended numerous informal and formal continuing professional development courses.  Most recently I have been certified as an observer for CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring Scale) © which means that I am able to rate the quality of teachers' interactions with children and then mentor teachers to increase the quality of their instruction to and interactions with children and to thereby ensure enhanced outcomes for children in education.

How closely does your academic education fit in with your job?

I could not practice as a speech and language therapist if I did not have a degree in Speech and Language Therapy.  In addition, in most countries, registration with Professional Councils is mandatory to ensure therapists' professional conduct, the protection of the public and as a deterrent to rogue practitioners. 

Could you have made the educational path shorter?

No!  A four year under-graduate degree is the basic.  Two year post-graduate diplomas/degrees after a more general under-graduate degree are also offered in the UK.  Zimbabwe hopes to have its own speech and language therapy degree within the coming year.

What are the tasks that you do regularly in your profession?

Oh, where do I begin!

Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) comprises a range of approaches to assessment, diagnosis and intervention for those individuals who present with speech, language and communication delays and disorders, and swallowing difficulties.  The aim of SLT is to address speech, language and communication disorders (SLCD) in order to reduce or resolve the impact of the SLCD on an individual and to ensure that the individual is able to communicate as well as possible within his or her ability.  Speech and language therapists are an integral part of the multi-disciplinary team that deals with eating and drinking difficulties which may arise, for example, as a result of a developmental disorder such as cerebral palsy or a stroke.  The aim of intervention is to support the individual to achieve more typical swallowing patterns and/or to compensate for differences in this pattern.

I therefore assess, diagnose and intervene when it comes to working with individuals or groups.  I also consult with schools, health services and organisations regarding the structure and focus of therapy services and how best to deliver this limited service for increased benefit to the greatest number of people.  I spend a lot of time enabling others to support individuals to further develop language and communication skills, e.g. with parents, teaching staff, health professionals.  In the Zimbabwean context, there is no publicly provided speech and language therapy service -  speech and language therapists therefore have a significant role in raising awareness of the range of speech, language and communication difficulties that individuals experience and the universal and targeted strategies that parents and professionals alike can use to support individuals with these difficulties. And, there is so much more!

What is it that excites you the most when you are doing your job?

When the work I do enables, for example, children to play and talk more, parents to connect with their child in a way they did not think was possible and teachers to support a child to understand what is being said so that they can then learn.  In Zimbabwe, I have been astounded by the awe-inspiring work that parents with few resources who have again and again taken a few of my words of advice and encouragement to heart and returned to our workshops to report on the success of their child-focused targets for improving their child's speech, language and communication skills.  Enormously exciting and evidence of the incredible resilience and commitment of Zimbabwean parents.

What bits do you find boring in your daily tasks?

My job is not usually onerous or repetitive.  It can be exceedingly boring to work with some professionals who are unable or unwilling to distinguish one therapy from another and to understand the importance of a profession such as speech and language therapy for its very significant and important contribution to the well-being and health of children and adults. 

Any advice to those studying or aiming at this job or career?

Prior to seriously considering Speech and Language Therapy as your chosen career, it will be helpful to observe in a rehabilitation setting or to team up with a speech and language therapist (there are SLTs in private practice in Zimbabwe) to observe his/her work.