Do you want to help diagnose and treat disorders that affect speech and prevent communication, including swallowing disorders? Do you want to work with patients on a daily basis and make a personal difference in their lives?
If this sounds like you, then becoming a Speech Pathologist is the right move.
What is the role of a Speech Pathologist—also called a Speech Language Pathologist?
Speech pathologists work closely with patients who have communication and swallowing disorders as a result of a variety of conditions including stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson’s disease, cleft palate, or autism.
It’s also common for Speech Pathologists to work with both children and adults, though demand for the adult sector is expected to develop quickly as the baby-boom population grows older.
Speech Pathology Job Outlook
Becoming a Speech Pathologist is a lucrative career field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for Speech Pathologists to grow 18% from 2016 to 2026—much faster than average for all occupations.
So, it’s no wonder that speech pathology is one of the nine top allied health careers with the most job security.
In addition, speech pathology jobs can cover many different career paths. While over 50% of Speech Pathologists work in schools (ASHA), many other Speech Pathologists work in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, in-home care, at nursing care facilities, and more.
So, what’s the best career path for becoming a Speech Pathologist? We all want to be part of a long-lasting and lucrative career field, and we want to take the right steps to get there.
Let’s take a look at the five main steps to becoming a Speech Language Pathologist.
1. Understand the Important Role of a Speech Pathologist
The first step to becoming a Speech Pathologist is to understand its essential role in healthcare.
Nearly 7.7% of U.S. children ages 3-17 and 7.6% of adults have had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in the past 12 months (NIDCD). A Speech Language Pathologist is vital to helping these individuals live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.
As for what you can expect to do on a day-to-day basis? The typical duties as outlined in the Speech Pathologist job description, include:
- Evaluating levels of speech, language, and swallowing difficulty as well as the treatment options.
- Creating individualized treatment plans that address specific needs.
- Teaching children and adults how to improve their voice and make sounds.
- Improving vocabulary and sentence structure in oral and written communication.
- Offering techniques for cultivating a patient’s voice pitch and language fluency.
- Monitoring and evaluating progress.
- Developing and strengthening muscles used to swallow.
- Counseling individuals and families to cope with their disorders.
Depending on your specific career path, how, where, and with whom you carry out these duties will vary widely.
Speech Language Pathologists work with all ages and in a variety of locales ranging from schools and hospitals to private practices and clinics. In addition, becoming a Speech Language Pathologist also means that you’ll work with many other professionals including social workers, physicians, teachers, and psychologists.
You can also choose to focus your work on specific communication or swallowing problems such as those related to autism or for individuals who have a cleft palate.
The opportunities are endless—it’s one of the five allied health careers in demand with excellent growth—so each career path should be considered before you take the next step.
2. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders
Now that you understand the importance of becoming a Speech Pathologist, you have to obtain the education necessary to start your career.
The first thing you need to do is earn your bachelor’s degree. While there is no specific bachelor’s degree required, most students earn their degree in communication sciences and disorders.
This major will provide you with the prerequisite courses necessary to gain admission to a graduate-level speech pathology program.
During the course of your bachelor’s degree, you will learn about language development and function while also fulfilling your initial clinical experience requirements. Some of the classes that you will take may include subjects such as linguistics, phonetics, psychology, audiology, and general science.
A bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders is a four-year degree available at many traditional universities as well as approved online programs and is a key step in becoming a Speech Pathologist.
During your studies, it will be important to maintain a high grade-point average (GPA) to be accepted into an accredited graduate degree program.
3. Earn a Master’s in Speech Pathology
The next steps to becoming a Speech Pathologist include earning your masters in speech pathology.
You should choose a master’s degree that is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). There are currently 272 CAA accredited programs in the U.S.
These CAA programs meet all compliance standards and will train you how to become a Speech Pathologist, preparing you with the necessary skills and educational requirements to succeed.
During your master’s program, you will be introduced to concepts such as:
- Voice articulation,
- Phonology, and
- Neurological substrates.
Additionally, you may have the opportunity to specialize your education in an area such as neurogenic disorders or early intervention.
Supervised clinical practicums—totaling 400 hours—will also be a part of your SLP continuing education. These practicums will teach you how to diagnose and treat patients who come from a variety of different socioeconomic and linguistic backgrounds.
During your supervised clinical experience, you will spend at least 25 hours in clinical observation and 375 hours in direct client/patient contact. This is the minimum required to graduate.
To improve your speech pathology job outlook post-graduation, some master’s students may also decide to become bilingual. Being fluent in more than one language can open up additional job opportunities and assist you in developing extensive speech language skills.
Another step a graduate student might take before becoming a Speech Pathologist is to opt to participate in a clinical fellowship. This fellowship typically lasts 36 weeks and will provide you with the opportunity to work full-time in your chosen career field.
4. Complete State-Level Speech Pathology Certification
After graduating with your masters in speech pathology, your next step will be to earn a speech pathology certification at the state level.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is responsible for credentialing Speech Pathologists through academic programs, clinical practices, and continuing education.
To earn your speech language pathology certification, there are four steps required to meet your licensure requirements in most states. Those steps to becoming a Speech Pathologist include:
- Supervised Clinical Experience: 400 hours—25 hours of clinical observation and 375 hours of client/patient contact.
- Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY): 36 weeks (1260 hours) of clinical practice—completed by working at least 5 hours per week.
- Pass Praxis Exam: A passing score on the Praxis Exam is a requirement for obtaining ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, a state license, and a state teaching certificate.
- Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC): You can become “certified” by obtaining the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC). While a CCC is not always required for state licensure, it may be required for employment. The certification is denoted as CCC-SLP.
If planning to work in a school, you may also need a state teaching certification. You should consult with your particular state education board for a full list of requirements needed to teach.
Remember, each state has their own set of requirements for becoming a Speech Pathologist and will require a specific license. It’s important to consult with your state’s licensure board to fully understand what will be required of you.
5. Attend Continuing Education for Speech Pathology
After graduating with your master’s degree, there are still many opportunities for continuing your education for speech pathology.
In fact, to renew a license, some states may require you to take a minimum number of continuing education units (CEUs). Consult your state occupational therapy licensure board requirements.
These continuing education credits can be satisfied in a multitude of ways including completing classes, attending seminars, or participating in workshops.
Even if CEUs are not required by your state, taking advantage of these educational opportunities is a great way for Speech Pathologists to stay current on industry standards and trends. They are also invaluable tools for building your resume and improving your speech pathology job outlook.
You might also consider joining a professional organization that accepts members of the speech pathology community. Membership in such organizations provides exceptional networking opportunities and access to continuing education credits.
Finding Speech Pathology Jobs
With over 145,000 jobs available in speech pathology, there are many incredible opportunities for employment in your chosen career field.
Many Speech Pathologists may choose to work in a local school system and deal with toddlers and children.
However, there are many other permanent positions available for Speech Pathologists who want to work in a hospital or enjoy travel.
Becoming a Speech Pathologist who travels can be a highly lucrative career choice. In many cases, these positions offer better benefits and higher compensation. In addition, travel Speech Pathologists are guaranteed forty-hour work weeks and have the opportunity to live and work with many different client populations, for a range of experience.
To help you with your speech pathology job search, you might consider working with a staffing agency.
A staffing agency can be an invaluable tool for discovering the latest employment opportunities—including those that may not show up on search engines or typical job sites. Read more about how a recruiter can improve your speech pathology job outlook.
Becoming a Speech Pathologist is both exciting and rewarding. It’s a long-lasting career field with many incredible job opportunities. If you’re ready to embark on this journey remember to follow each step as outlined:
- Understand the role of a Speech Pathologist
- Earn your bachelor’s degree
- Earn your Master’s in Speech Pathology
- Complete your state-level certification
- Continue your education
- Find a job
And don’t hesitate to contact us for help as you dedicate yourself to this new career path.
On the career path to becoming a Speech Pathologist, what step are you most excited about?
Share with us in the comments below!