Experts in Communication Help People of All Ages

Being able to communicate is how people connect with one another to share ideas, thoughts and emotions. Imagine how difficult life can be for individuals who experience problems with communication. Speech pathologists use their knowledge and training to help patients interact more effectively with others.

Job Description

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) works to assess, diagnose, treat and prevent speech, language, communications and swallowing disorders in children and adults. They may assist individuals who have problems making or understanding sounds. They can help people who have difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and social communications. Many SLPs work as part of inter-disciplinary teams that can include teachers, physicians, audiologists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists and physical and occupational therapists. SLPs may also work with the families of their clients as part of a treatment plan.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional, scientific and credentialing body for more than 191,000 members and affiliates. Membership is open to speech-language pathologists, speech, language and audiology scientists, audiology and speech-language support personnel and students of these disciplines.

Education Requirements

A master's degree is the minimum requirement for a speech-language pathologist. There are more than 300 accredited programs in the United States and admission is competitive. There is no specific undergraduate degree required for entry into the master's program. A bachelor's degree in communications, education or speech and hearing science can be the most pertinent, as these often provide the necessary prerequisite courses for the master's.

Coursework in a master's program covers diagnosis and treatment of various disorders. It may include the study of American Sign Language. As part of the degree program, students must complete at least 400 hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a certified SLP. After graduation, speech-language pathologists complete an additional year of supervised practice, called a clinical fellowship, before applying for a license. Most states require licensure. Graduate school advisers can help you navigate the regulations in your state.

In order to maintain certification, speech-language pathologists must accumulate 30 hours of professional development every three years. Credits can be earned at state and national conferences, through post-graduate coursework and online. ASHA's website has information about current options.

About the Industry

Fifty-six percent of SLPs are employed in educational settings, from early intervention programs to K-12 schools. About three percent work in colleges and universities. Opportunities exist in hospitals, public health departments, residential and non-residential health care facilities, uniformed services and government services at all levels. There are also many opportunities in teaching and research.

Because of the high demand for speech-language pathologists, there are full- and part-time opportunities with above-average pay. Women make up 95 percent of the workforce in the field, so it is a great career opportunity for working mothers. SLPs report higher than average levels of stress but also very high job satisfaction.

Years of Experience

Speech-language pathologists tend to earn more in healthcare and industrial settings than in schools. According to the latest information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for SLPs is $74,680. Salaries, depending on location and experience, range from $48,478 to $100,598. Here are some average yearly salaries depending on where someone is in her career:

  • Entry-level: $63,700
  • Mid-career: $71,400
  • Experienced: $78,400
  • Late-career: $83,300

Job Growth Trend

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for speech-language pathologists is expected to be higher than average. As the large population of Baby Boomers ages, there will be a higher incidence of speech-related disorders caused by health issues such as strokes, Parkinson's disease and dementia. Greater awareness of speech-related disorders in children is also expected to increase the demand for speech-language pathologists.

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