Speech-Language Pathologists Overview
Mostly all States regulate speech-language pathologists, and a masters degree in speech-language pathology is the typical educational requirement; licensing requirements vary depending on the State. Educational services are the most popular industry for speech-language pathologists, employing about 48 percent. Other workers are employed by social assistance facilities and healthcare. Speech-language pathologists should expect good job opportunities.
Nature of the Work for Speech-Language Pathologists
A speech-language pathologists, or speech therapists, work to prevent disorders related to speech, language, swallowing, fluency, cognitive-communication and voice.
Speech-language pathologists work with a variety of patients. Various patients that they work with include those who cannot produce speech sounds or cannot produce them clearly; those with difficulty comprehending and producing language; those with voice disorders; people who wish to improve their communication skills by modify and producing language; those who have trouble swallowing; and those with cognitive communication impairments.
Speech-language pathologists work with patients with congenital, developmental or acquired problems. There is a wide variety of illnesses and disorders that cause speech, language and swallowing difficulties such as stroke, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, developmental delays or disorders, mental retardation, emotional problems and hearing loss. Speech-language pathologists analyze and diagnose the nature and extent of impairments using special instruments and qualitative and quantitative assessment methods.
Speech-language pathologists create in personal care plans, specific to the needs of each patient. They may prescribe augmentative or alternative communication methods, such as sign language or automated devices, for individuals with little to no speech capability. Speech-language pathologists teach people how to improve their voices or increase their written or oral language skills in order to communicate more effectively. Muscle strengthening and compensatory strategies to swallow without inhaling food or liquid, or choking are some of the strategies taught to patients.
In order to pinpoint problems, understand client progress and justify the cost of treatment when applying for reimbursement, speech-language pathologists keep records of the initial evaluation, development and release of clients. They also teach individuals and their families how to cope with the stress of having a communication disorder and misunderstandings that often accompany them. They also show families techniques to enhance communication at home as well as to help them recognize and change behavior patterns that hinder communication and treatment.
People with communication and swallowing disorders get direct clinical services from speech-language pathologists. Those who work in medical facilities may also collaborate with psychologists, physicians, social workers and other therapists. In schools, they work in conjunction with interpreters, special educators, parents, and teachers to create and administer individual or group programs, support classroom activities and provide counseling. Some speech-language pathologists work in research or design equipment or techniques for diagnosing and treating problems.
A speech-language pathologists work environment varies depending on the facility. In a medical facility, they often assist in positioning bedridden patients. Speech-language pathologists who work in schools often work with students in a classroom or office. Others work in the home of a client.
Intense concentration and attention to detail are mandatory traits for this career. Although most speech-language pathologists work a regular 40 hour workweek, about 20 percent work part-time. A large amount of time may be spent traveling between facilities for those who work on a contract basis.
Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Speech-Language Pathologists
Usually, a masters degree is the minimum requirement for jobs in speech-language pathology. The Council on Academic Accreditation, a subset American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, accredits postsecondary degree programs in speech-language pathology. Some States require graduation from an accredited program in order to obtain a license, and it is mandatory to receive professional credentialing from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
There are 240 colleges and universities offering accredited graduate programs. Various courses that an individual pursuing speech-language pathology should take are physiology, anatomy, and the development of areas in the body involved in language, swallowing and speech. Part of the graduate school curriculum involves a supervised clinical practicum in which students learn to evaluate and treat language, speech and swallowing disorders.
There are 47 States regulating speech-language pathologists. Usually a masters degree, passing the national examination on speech-language pathology, 300 to 375 hours of supervised clinical experience and 9 months of postgraduate professional clinical experience is required for licensing. For licensure renewal, many states require continuing education. In order to qualify for reimbursement, Medicaid, Medicare and private health insurers usually require a speech-language pathologist to be licensed.
Speech-language pathologists practicing in schools may follow different State regulations than other pathologists. To gain information on this subject, contact your State’s Department of Education. To earn a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) designation offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, an individual must complete 400-hours of supervised clinical practicum, a 36-week full-time postgraduate clinical fellowship and pass the national examination on speech-language pathology. Though the CCC-SLP is not a requirement for speech-language pathologists, it is recommended as it fills most of the requirements for State licensure.
Strong communication skills are a mandatory for speech-language pathologists as they will have to explain diagnoses, diagnostic test results and proposed treatment in a way that is easily understood by patients and their families. Compassion, patience and good listening skills are also necessary, as speech-language pathologists often work with patient’s who make slow progress.
Speech-language pathologists advance in their careers by continuing education and gaining clinical experience. Through this work, they usually develop expertise with specific populations such as disorders, preschoolers or adolescents, which could lead to board recognition. Others may be promoted to administrative positions or become mentors or supervisors to other therapists.
Employment and Job Outlook for Speech-Language Pathologists
Speech-language pathologists hold about 111,640 jobs and close to 48 percent of those jobs were in the educational services industry. Other places of employment for speech-language pathologists include nursing care facilities, home healthcare services, outpatient care centers, child day care centers or individual and family services.
Self-employed speech-language pathologists contract to provide services in offices of physicians, hospitals, schools, nursing care facilities or work at consultants to industry.
Speech-language pathologists should expect a 19 percent employment growth, which is faster than average for all occupations. Aging baby boomers are at a high risk of developing neurological disorders associated with speech, swallowing and language. Technological advances in medicine have also increased the survival rate of trauma and stroke victims, as well as premature infants, who then need assessments and possibly treatment.
As elementary and secondary school enrollments grows, including enrollment of special education students, employment for speech-pathologists in educational services will increase.
Because there are restrictions on reimbursement for therapy services in healthcare facilities, speech-language pathologists will not enjoy large growth in this industry in the near future. Despite this, the number of people with disabilities or limited function creates a demand for speech-language pathologists. Nursing care facilities, schools and hospitals will contain costs by contracting out speech-language pathologists, which will drive growth in speech-language pathologists in private practice.
Job openings will become available in speech-language pathology due to retirements as well as job growth. Good opportunities should be enjoyed for all, especially for those who speak a second language, such as Spanish. Speech-language pathologists jobs vary by region, so those who are willing to relocate will have better job prospects.
Earnings and Salary for Speech-Language Pathologists
The median annual wage of speech-language pathologists is $65,090, and the middle 50 percent earn between $52,030 and $82,380. The highest 10 percent earn more than $101,820, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $42,310. In some cases, a speech-language pathologist’s employer will reimburse them for required continuing education credits. Close to 40 percent of speech-language pathologists are covered by union contract or union members. The median annual wages in top employing industries for speech-language pathologists are:
Nursing care facilities: $79,120
Home health care services: $77,030
General medical and surgical hospitals: $67,910
Offices of other health practitioners: $67,910
Elementary and secondary schools: $58,140