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 27% from 2018 to 2028.
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? Let’s take a look at the five main steps to follow.
1. Understand the Important Role of a Speech Pathologist
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, especially when you take into consideration where you work and what your specialty may be.
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.
To start your career, the first thing you need to do is earn your bachelor’s degree. Most students earn their degree in communication sciences and disorders, which 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, but there are also positions available for those who want to work in a hospital or enjoy travel.
To help you with your speech pathology job search, you might consider working with a staffing agency.
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Becoming a Speech Pathologist is both exciting and rewarding. It’s a long-lasting career field with many incredible job opportunities. If you have any questions about embarking on this journey, contact us to learn more.