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Speech Pathologist Careers

Speech-language pathologists guide patients through complex treatments for swallowing disorders, as well as for speech and language impairments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, speech pathologist jobs often involve working closely with educators, physicians and psychologists assigned to a patient's case, usually during recovery from challenges such as trauma, emotional issues or birth defects. Professionals in this field help patients learn how to communicate effectively, either with their own voices or through alternative methods (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

The BLS reports that nearly half of U.S. speech pathologists work in schools. About a third of professionals work in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. Other speech pathologist jobs involve field work in patients' homes (bls.gov/oes, 2013). Most speech pathologists work full-time. Speech pathologists must make careful records of patient progress, enabling them to measure results and celebrate achievements over time.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Individuals interested in becoming speech pathologists must earn a master's degree in the field and licensure in most states. Speech pathologist training may not require a specific undergraduate degree provided applicants complete required courses before beginning the program. The following steps may help individuals enter the field of speech-language pathology, although employment cannot be guaranteed:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  2. Achieve a bachelor's degree in a field related to speech-language pathology, with exposure to common prerequisite courses such as communications, physiology, statistics and audiology.
  3. Research state regulations for speech pathologists, for example, requirements for school accreditation and professional licensing or certification.
  4. Complete a master's degree program in the field.
  5. Participate in a supervised clinical fellowship, usually in conjunction with a master's degree program.
  6. Obtain professional certification, which some employers may require, according to the BLS.
  7. Seek licensure from a state supervisory board, if necessary. The BLS reports that in many states, requirements for licensure are similar to those for professional certification.
  8. Apply to entry-level speech pathology jobs.
  9. Maintain certification through continuing education courses or re-examination.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensure

Graduates of a speech-language pathology degree program can pursue professional certification through a credentialing association, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. ASHA offers a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP).

As mentioned previously, state licensure is required in most states. Gaining CCC-SLP certification may satisfy many state licensing requirements according to the BLS, but it's best to check with your state's health board for complete details.

Speech Pathologist Specialties

Speech-language pathologists sometimes choose to specialize in focus areas that include:

  • Childhood Speech Development: Helping children overcome communication impediments.
  • Cleft Palate Treatment: Working with patients learning to speak again after mouth surgery.
  • Stroke Recovery: Helping patients regain speech after brain trauma.
  • Swallowing Disorder Treatment: Develop programs for those with swallowing or feeding disorders.

Specialties in this field often determine a professional's work location and environment. Speech pathologists who work with patients after surgery or trauma usually work in healthcare facilities, while professionals specializing in treating children often practice inside school buildings.

Speech Pathologist Job Growth and Average Salary

The BLS reports two trends driving growth in the speech-language pathology field. In schools, educators have allocated increased attention and funding for treatment of early childhood communication disorders. Meanwhile, a growing number of older Americans require specialized treatment after strokes and other medical conditions. The BLS expects speech pathologist jobs to grow by 23 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020. Just over 121,000 speech pathologists were employed in the U.S. in May 2012. At that time, the median speech pathologist salary was $69,870 per year, with the top 10 percent earning more than $107,650 and the bottom 10 percent earning under $44,380 (bls.gov/oes, 2013). Speech pathologist salary figures can vary according to factors such as location, experience and education.

List of Related Careers

Speech pathologist training may cover areas such as patient care, critical thinking, speaking and listening. Careers with similar areas of focus include:

  • Audiologists: Use advanced technology and specialized tests to diagnose hearing problems and related disorders. A doctorate or professional degree is required, along with state licensure.
  • Occupational Therapists: Make use of everyday activities, tests and exercises to help patients return to work and leisure routines after injuries or surgeries. A master's degree and state licensure is required.
  • Psychologists: Observe, interpret and record human behavior with the goal of helping patients make desired changes in their lives. A master's degree may qualify candidates for some positions, such as those in schools, but clinical psychologists typically hold a doctorate. State licensure is generally required.
  • Recreational Therapists: Organize activities designed to help maintain or improve the physical and emotional well-being of individuals with disabilities or illnesses. Recreation could encompass arts and crafts, the performing arts, sports, games and field trips. Qualifications generally include a bachelor's degree and certification.

Links to Sources and Associations

Websites such as the following offer more information on speech pathologist careers:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Speech-Language Pathologists, 2013

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Speech-Language Pathologists, 2012