Career guide: Speech-language pathologist

  • Speech therapy involves helping patients with communication disorders.
    Speech therapy involves helping patients with communication disorders.

    Career guide: Speech-language pathologist

    If you're interested in pursuing a career in the health care sector upon graduation, but are not necessarily eager to head to medical school, there are still a number of potential career paths you can follow that center on patient care. One particularly rewarding role is that of a speech-language pathologist. Found in an array of settings, these professionals work with patients experiencing difficulties with speech and language. Eager to learn more? Review the guide below:

    What do speech-language pathologists do?
    As detailed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, speech-language pathologists, more commonly known as speech therapists, work with patients across a spectrum of ages and backgrounds to diagnose and treat any number of issues pertaining to communication. In addition to diagnostic and treatment efforts, speech-language pathologists may work to spread awareness of communication disorders, and may work with patients to develop preventative strategies.

    The ASLHA provided a breakdown of some of the most common forms of communication problems that these professionals help address. They include:

    1. Cognitive communication disorders
    A cognitive communication disorder is typically a consequence of a major medical condition, whether it be dementia, a stroke or a serious brain injury. The disorder occurs when patients struggle with any number of the following skills: remembering important details, solving basic problems, maintaining a normal attention span and organizing thoughts in ways that their articulation makes sense. 

    2. Language disorders
    Language disorders can take a number of forms. For example if a patient has difficulty expressing themselves via either written or verbal language, that can be regarded as a language disorder. Another form of the issue occurs when a patient struggles to make sense of language that is being conveyed from another, which is understood as receptive language. 

    3. Speech disorders
    When patients face difficulty with the way they sound when speaking, they are said to be experiencing a speech disorder. For example, a patient may have difficulty controlling the volume of his or her voice, or have issues enunciating words and sentences in a way that most effectively conveys meaning. The ASLHA explained that speech disorders can vary and range in severity. Stuttering, for example, is a widely recognized speech disorder.

    4. Social communication disorders
    Social communication disorders are said to be present when patients face problems relating to others effectively in a social setting. For example, a patient may have issues with reading non-verbal social cues or he may be unable to appreciate what kinds of topics of discussion are appropriate, contingent on context. He may also be unable to recognize when to use typical speech conventions, such as saying hello or goodbye. There may also be problems with cadence, tone and voice pitch. The ASLHA explained how patients are typically born with social communication disorders – they are major components of autism spectrum conditions, for example – although it is possible to develop social communication disorders after an accident or illness, such as a stroke. 

    In addition to the above disorders, the ALSHA noted that speech-language pathologists also commonly work with patients who are experiencing trouble swallowing.

    Common duties
    According to Truity, speech-language pathologists will work on a one-on-one basis with patients. This relationship typically begins with an assessment, wherein the speech-language pathologist will discern the extent of the patient's disorder. This may be achieved by communication openly with the patient, or via certain forms of testing or both. Once the scope of the issue is nailed down, it is the responsibility of the speech-language pathologist to cultivate a treatment plan. Once the plan is settled the professional will get to work, helping the patient to improve in the area in which she is struggling. 

    In addition to helping patients, Truity explained that speech-language pathologists may also work closely with the families of those who are being treated, helping them to better adjust to their loved one's condition.

    What education is needed?
    As detailed by trusted careers website Monster, to qualify as a speech-language pathologist, candidates must earn a master's degree from an accredited program. After graduation it is then mandatory to become certified. This is achieved by studying for and successfully passing state-mandated exams. 

    What are the salary prospects?
    The median salary for a speech-language pathologist in the U.S. is close to $75,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries well in excess of $90,000 a year are not uncommon, however, as noted by Monster.

    Job outlook
    The job outlook for speech-language pathologists is highly promising. As reported by the BLS, notable growth is expected in the decade spanning 2014 to 2024 – the bureau projects that there will be a 21 percent growth in employment during this time. 

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