Speech pathologists, officially called speech-language pathologists and sometimes called speech therapists, work with people who have a variety of speech-related disorders. These disorders can include the inability to produce certain sounds, speech rhythm and fluency problems, and voice disorders. They also help people who want to modify accents or who have swallowing difficulties. Speech pathologists' work involves assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of speech-related disorders.
Speech pathologists held about 123,000 jobs in 2010. Approximately half of these jobs were in pre-schools and elementary and secondary schools. Other speech pathologists worked in hospitals, offices of other health practitioners, including speech-language pathologists, nursing care facilities, home health care services, individual and family services, outpatient care centers and child day care services. Some speech pathologists were self-employed.
In most states one must have a master's degree in speech-language pathology to practice. Some states will only license speech pathologists who have graduated from a program that is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, the nature of disorders and the principles of acoustics. Students receive supervised clinical training.
Speech pathologists working in most states must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but usually include passing the Praxis Exam in Speech-Language Pathology, a national exam administered by the Educational Testing Service. To learn more about the state in which you plan to practice, see the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's (ASHA) State-by-State list.
ASHA offers the Certificate in Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). It is considered voluntary certification but it is important to note that those with it may be more desirable job candidates. In addition, according to ASHA, some states and school districts offer those who have it pay supplements.
While your formal training will provide you with technical skills, you will need certain soft skills—personal qualities—to succeed in this field. Speech pathologists must be compassionate, patient and have good active listening and speaking skills. They must be able to think critically in order to evaluate their patients' progress and adjust their treatment plans when necessary. They must be detail oriented as well.
Employment of speech pathologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2020. Bilingual speech pathologists will be most in demand, particularly those who speak Spanish and English. More speech pathologists will work in private practices as hospitals and other health care facilities, as well as schools, will contract out for services.
Speech pathologists earned a median annual salary of $69,870 and median hourly wages of $33.59 in 2012.
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A Day in a Speech Pathologist's Life:
On a typical day a speech pathologist will:
- Diagnose the nature and extent of impairment and record and analyze speech, language, and swallowing irregularities by using written and oral tests, as well as special instruments.
- Develop individualized plans of care for patients.
- Select augmentative or alternative communication methods for their patients that could include automated devices and sign language. They also teach them to use these methods.
- Teach those with little or no speech capability how to make sounds, improve their voices, or increase their language skills to communicate more effectively.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Speech-Language Pathologist, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Speech-language-pathologists.htm (visited November 20, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Speech-Language Pathologists, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/29-1127.00 (visited November 20, 2013).