In the first of a new series, Through The Telescope meets Career Changer Sinead Rothrie who quit her career in Media in 2012 to retrain as a Speech and Language Therapist. Here she talks us through her journey and the lessons she learned along the way….
You’ve been through a pretty big career change in the last couple of years; can you tell me a bit about what you did before and what you do now?
I used to work in media, specialising in syndication sales. My job basically entailed selling content from national UK publications into international newspapers and magazines. I started in an admin job at a national newspaper group within the syndication and copyright team, from there I became an account manager and then moved onto another syndication job at a well known UK news magazine. It definitely had its interesting times, and I used to love the interactions between us and our clients.
Now, I work as an adult speech and language therapist in a busy NHS London Trust. I work with adults with acquired communication and swallowing difficulties. This includes elderly patients with cognitive impairments (eg. dementia), those who have suffered strokes/other traumatic brain injuries or have other progressive neurological conditions such as Parkinson's, MS or MND. My work is centred around trying to support and facilitate patients to have the best communication or swallow that they can, working within a large multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians and more!
"7 years into my career where I turned around and looked at what I was doing and thought, ‘hold on, it seems like I’m making a career out of this and I’m not sure I want to!’"
Those two roles sound worlds apart, what prompted you to make the change?
This might sound a little silly but I just had this moment about 7 years into my career where I turned around and looked at what I was doing and thought, ‘hold on, it seems like I’m making a career out of this and I’m not sure I want to!’ I had been through a few lifestyle changes at that time, breaking up with a partner, moving to a new flat and I was just starting to realise that I wasn't sure I was really living the life I wanted. I started to think about what other options there might be.
When you were planning your career change what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
I think one of the biggest obstacles I faced early on was actually deciding what I wanted to do. I knew I had certain interests, I loved working with people and getting to know them and spending time with them. This definitely helped me to narrow the field down a bit. I did also have an interest in speech therapy having had some first-hand experience of it. Although it was far away from what I have ended up doing in the field, It did give me a starting point explore from.
Once I had a few ideas on paper, the next thing was to decide which direction I wanted to go in. This was hard to do at first because I was scared of going down the wrong path. I spoke with a careers adviser, which I found useful because I had all the ideas, I just needed someone to help me shape them. By the end of the first meeting with her, I realised that actually the things I had researched and looked into were pointing me down one path.
The next big obstacle for me was how difficult speech therapy is to breakinto . There is a lot of competition for the two-year condensed post grad courses in London so I needed to show a lot of practical experience that was relevant to the training. This was actually a blessing in disguise. It took me 18 months to get onto the course I wanted and to do so I had to take part in a lot of relevant volunteering. I worked for charities and organisations that work with people with communication difficulties, as well as shadowing anyone in the profession I could get my hands on! I did all this while working full time, which meant quite a few of my evenings would be busy with various other projects.
I say it was a blessing because it confirmed that this was something I really wanted to do. I also learned that speech therapists work with much wider clients groups than I ever thought possible.
"I spoke with a careers adviser, which I found useful because I had all the ideas, I just needed someone to help me shape them."
What sort of sacrifices did you have to make?
My own personal time was often taken up with volunteering and this definitely had an impact on my social life. I still went out but I did try and dedicate more of my free time to exploring this career I wanted to do - I didn't want to to end up getting it wrong again!
Also, money was definitely something I had to consider. I earned 20-25% more than I knew a newly qualified therapist would and I had to consider carefully whether I was willing to take the pay cut. The course I took is paid for by the NHS, which really helped but I still needed money to live, especially in London. I was very lucky to meet my partner about 6 months before I began retraining and he's been very supportive in my change of career - although I'm sure sometimes he wondered why he decided to marry a mature student!
What was different about studying the second time round?
I really enjoyed studying the second time around, it felt like much more of a considered choice and as such I was really interested in what I was doing. I'm sure other people did this for their first degree but not me! I was much more engaged with the essays and research, and more motivated to study.
The course was really well designed and it was refreshing that there were students from lots of different backgrounds. I don't know if this is reflective of other post-graduate courses but it really was an asset to our learning that people had so many different experiences to bring to the table.
I suppose I also felt it was different because I wasn't living near the university, and I wasn't so interested in taking part of the social side eg. the union bar, although I did, of course, meet some great people who I have continued to be friends with.
What would your advice be to someone making the same move now?
It might sound simple but research. Really look into it. Find people who do the job now and ask them about the good, bad, and the surprising bits. You need to know what you are getting into.
Try and get as much as experience as you can before, especially if your course is competitive. I found that to begin with it was hard to get volunteering opportunities but once I had one, I met other people interested in the same things and we shared contacts. Once I had a network, it got easier to find the next opportunity.
I would also advise you to talk to your work about taking time out of your work day for volunteering. I would take a longer lunch break on Wednesday's and go and work at a local group for adults who had suffered strokes. I didn't tell my work exactly why I wanted to do it but found that HR was very supportive of staff volunteering and I think a lot of places have a sense of corporate responsibility these days.
Looking back was it worth it and what's different?
It was worth it! Sometimes, I have a really hard day and it feels like you haven't achieved that much but I definitely never regret doing it, and am far happier in my current job than I ever was in my last. My days often whizz by and that never happened in my last job! I get to work with really interesting patients and I never cease to be amazed by how resilient and strong people can be in the face of real difficulty.
Would you do it again?
Jess Wright is a Career Coach working in London and Manchester and Online. If you want to make a Career Change and think coaching might help, or if you're looking for Career Advice send Jess an email to email@example.com