I realised that although I’ve cluttered up this blog with posts related to my line of work, I never actually came out and explained what precisely it is that I do, apart from parenthetical asides every now and then. So this one’s to put things across clearly to everyone.
I did my undergraduate degree in a field related to medicine, but not quite medicine, i.e. in allied health sciences. As a result, I am not a medical doctor. I’ve learned some things relating to medicine, and I did study at a medical college where patients called me doctor more often than not simply because doctors were the majority, and I did (and still do) wear a white coat during clinical postings. The difference lies in the fact that while our professionals often are consultants in a patient’s line of management, they don’t prescribe medicines.
Specifically, my major was actually a double-major in audiology and speech-language pathology.
Audiologists diagnose and treat problems related to hearing. This can include hearing loss and other problems. The difference between an ENT doctor and an audiologist is that while an ENT doctor can detect an ear infection and give medicines the audiologist can’t, and similarly while an ENT doctor can maybe suspect a hearing loss, they can’t tell which part of the ear is affected, which kinds of sounds the patient can’t hear, and how severe the loss is. An audiologist can do all these things and also prescribe hearing aids—they can’t just be bought from a store and used, but have to be programmed specifically for the patient’s problem.
Coming back to me for a moment, I decided that after my undergraduate degree I wanted to narrow my focus into the other major: speech-language pathology, which I’ll describe presently. So now I’m doing my master’s degree in speech language pathology in a central institute in India. I could still practise audiology in India if I wanted to with just a bachelor’s degree, but I would be better qualified for speech language pathology.
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) diagnose and treat problems in speech, language, and swallowing. Speech problems may include stuff people have heard of like stammering (remember ‘The King’s Speech?’) or a lisp, and also can include defects because of a cleft lip or palate (remember ‘Smile Pinki?’), or something neurological like Parkinson’s disease, or voice problems. Language delays can occur in young children, and may or may not occur along with other issues like autism or ADHD. Some aspects of learning disability (remember ‘Taare Zameen Par?’) also come under our domain. Also, people can develop a language problem after a stroke or because of neurological diseases like dementia. SLPs also work with identifying and managing swallowing problems that can happen because of cerebral palsy or because of surgery, injury, or something neurological.
This field is simultaneously exhausting (you would not believe the sheer volumes of paperwork involved, and dealing with people in general rather than machines also presents its own unique set of challenges), heartwarming (plenty of sentimental happy moments to look forward to, especially among the paediatric population), and, dare I say it, possibly even fun at times.
So, yeah. Hope this helps. I really should be studying right now.