Career spotlight: Speech-language pathologist

  • Career spotlight: Speech-language pathologist

    If you're on the hunt for a career path that is rewarding, rigorous and motivating, you may find that the job of a speech-language pathologist checks all your boxes.

    Whether they're working with younger generations or the aging population, speech-language pathologists get a sense of joy and satisfaction from the impactful work they do each day. We'll walk you through the basics of this career path, touching on what these professionals do, how much they can expect to earn, the demand for these jobs and how you can become a speech-language pathologist.

    What speech-language pathologists do

    Like most professions related to either education and/or medical treatment, the career of a speech-language pathologist is difficult yet extremely rewarding. Speech therapists assess, diagnose and treat communication disorders in children, adults and senior citizens. Speech and language disorders can emerge in children at a young age, through development delays, cleft palates or autism, or can result from trauma or health conditions later on in life, such as strokes, brain injury, hearing loss, Parkinson's disease and other medical causes, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    In their day-to-day, a speech-language pathologist meets with clients to observe and evaluate their present speech abilities, tracking any progress they've made or identifying potential treatment methods, if applicable. They work one-on-one with children, adults and seniors to improve their voices and increase verbal fluency. In the instance a speech-language pathologist works with a client with a swallowing disorder, they will assist the individual to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow.

    These professionals work closely with others, depending on their specific work environment. Speech-language pathologists working in medical facilities coordinate with social workers, physicians, occupational and physical therapists and other healthcare workers. Speech therapists who work in schools perform their duties alongside teachers, parents, administrators and other education personnel.

    Salary potential

    According to the BLS, the median annual salary for speech-language pathologists was $77,510 in May 2018, with the highest 10% of earners making $120,060. However, the earnings of speech-language pathologists often depend on the professional's work environment. A projected salary breakdown is as follows:

    • Nursing and residential care facilities: $94,680
    • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists: $84,390
    • Hospitals: $83,970
    • Educational services: $68,270

    In addition to work environment, a speech professionals'  experience and education level also influence their earnings. Many speech-language pathologists belong to unions, which grant and protect their rights regarding pay, sick and bereavement leave, among other benefits.

    Job outlook

    According to the BLS, the employment of speech language pathologists is expected to rise 27% between 2016 and 2026, at a much faster rate than the average for all professions. As the baby boomer generation is aging, they will be in need of more speech and language professionals to assist them should health conditions like dementia and/or strokes emerge. Another age group that will need particular attention in present and upcoming years is the population of children and young teenagers. As parents, teachers and education support professionals are becoming increasingly aware of speech and language disabilities, as well as autism spectrum disorders, they have begun assigning speech and language professionals to accommodate their needs, provide prognoses and improve their communication and socialization skills over time.

    How to become a speech-language pathologist

    Though each state has different requirements for speech-language pathologists, the qualifications for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) are as follows, as cited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA):

    • Graduate degree from an accredited program
    • Completed clinical experiences
    • Passing score on the national exam

    If you are interested in becoming a speech-language pathologist, you may need to earn a master's degree in Speech Therapy. The Council of Academic Accreditation (CAA), in association with ASHA, accredits graduate programs in speech-language pathology that can then lead to national and state licensure.  Many graduate programs in speech-language pathology require clinical experience, in which future speech therapists can gain hands-on experience observing and shadowing professionals as they work with clients with speech and language disorders. Many speech-language pathologists find it beneficial to earn a PhD in the field, particularly if they are pursuing research, private practice or teaching at the college level.

    To find the right advanced degree that will lead you on the right path to a speech-language pathologist career, browse our selection of graduate schools to find the right program for your learning goals, location and budget.

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