Time to talk about speech

Masters of Speech Pathology students Elly Johnstone and Melissa Mewburn.
Masters of Speech Pathology students Elly Johnstone and Melissa Mewburn.

It’s something most of us take for granted, but 1.1 million Australians have a communication difficulty, from toddlers to the elderly, and all ages in between. As such, the job of a speech pathologist is one of the most diverse in the health sciences field. This week is Speech Pathology Week, and many of our ‘speechie’ students and lecturers will be flying the flag for their field.

“We’re really trying to raise awareness of what we do to help people,” says Elly Johnstone. “We can work in so many different areas, such as in schools, nursing homes and mental health services.”

She says every day speech pathologists create better futures by changing people’s lives. The profession has certainly changed Elly’s life. She grew up in East Gippsland and moved to Geelong after high school to study a Bachelor of Biomedical Science.

“When I finished the course I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to help people,” she says. “I worked as a nanny for a few years. I worked with many different children, some who had communication difficulties. I found it really rewarding to be able to help them.”

Elly started looking for a way to turn her personal experience into something practical. She found speech pathology. “I feel like it’s a perfect fit for me. It just took me a while to find it.”

Fellow student Melissa Mewburn also had a roundabout way of finding the course. “After Year 12 I worked as a young minister for three years, with one year as a faith and ministry trainee at Catholic College Bendigo and another two years as diocesan youth minister for the Sandhurst Diocese,” she says.

“I worked with around ten secondary schools in the region. We provided students with opportunities to explore their faith through retreats and events. It was very different to speech pathology, that’s for sure.”

Melissa had also been a gymnastics coach and swimming teacher. She says she loved working with kids, but teaching didn’t appeal. “I’m drawn to working with children, but I’m not going to narrow my mind to rule out working with adults – I haven’t had an adult placement yet.”

The students are currently on very different work placements, highlighting the opportunities associated with the subject. Elly is gaining experience at Bendigo Health in the acute setting, while Melissa is sitting in on Bendigo Community Health Services’ early intervention program, working with pre-schoolers who need help to improve their speech.

“A lot of our clientele have a developmental delay, or autism,” Melissa says. “We’re trying to provide them with all the necessary skills they’ll need to start school.”

Elly says young children who don’t get the help they need can suffer long-term social, educational and vocational impacts. “We’re really trying to raise awareness of how important it is for that age group to have early intervention if they need it,” she says.

Our speech pathology course will join with Bendigo Health on Monday, August 8, from 5.30pm at the La Trobe University Rural Health School in Arnold Street to present an evening highlighting the contribution of speech pathologists. For more information email olivia.pilcher@bendigohealth.org.au


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