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Learning the Ropes in Barbados

When I first heard that I’d be going to Barbados for a 17-day placement as a speech and language therapy (SLT) student, my first thoughts were of idyllic white sand beaches, relaxed island living, and infamous rum punches. I knew little about the clinical side of my stay aside from the names of the two clinicians I’d be working with and the fact that I’d be seeing a mix of adults and children.

Our days began at 7:30 am as we travelled throughout the island – from the clinics, to private schools and nurseries, and to the homes of those who weren’t able to travel – seeing clients from preschool age to mid-’90s, and with conditions ranging from speech sound disorders to severe dysphagia.

As a student, this was my first exposure to speech and language therapy in an adult population, as well as my first experience of home visits.

The clinicians in Barbados play a bigger role in helping with literacy needs than in the UK because there is less Additional Needs support in schools. They are also mostly able to take on whatever cases come their way, and so the range of clients in any one day could include traumatic brain injury, dyslexia, somatic symptom disorders or hearing impairment.

Culture also plays a big part in how the clinicians approach clients and their families. A lot of the SLT work that takes place in Barbados is about bringing speech and language development to the forefront of minds of teachers, parents, and care givers – the clinicians have forged stable relationships with several private schools across the island, delivering screening programs to identify any children with communication needs who may benefit from SLT input that may have otherwise gone unaddressed.

I also saw adults who had acquired communication difficulties as a result of strokes or progressive neurological conditions, particularly Parkinson’s disease.

As a student, this was my first exposure to speech and language therapy in an adult population, as well as my first experience of home visits.

Some clients were new – I attended an initial swallowing assessment the same day that the referral had come in – and some had been on the clinicians’ caseloads for years. Regardless of how far they were in their journey, I was welcomed warmly – able to step into their lives for 45 minutes and try to understand what it must feel like to acquire a communication difficulty after so many years of being able to communicate freely.

Speech and language therapy in Barbados is all-encompassing. I saw and spoke to far more people than I had expected, and learnt more than I can succinctly express in an article.

We know that communication is essential to living well. In Barbados, that means taking on clients outside of the ‘traditional’ boundaries, travelling across the country to see whoever needs seeing, and working to educate, inform and (attempt to) instigate some attitude change, while providing therapy to a different assortment of clients every day.


Written by Ellen Pusey, a first-year postgraduate student at Queen Margaret University in Scotland who completed a clinical placement in Barbados.