A patient who lost his voice to Leigh syndrome finds an AAC device that allows him to continue communicating. A child manages the challenges of autism spectrum disorder through therapy and targeted education. A three-year-old overcomes language delay through speech therapy.
All these stories of successful interventions—culled from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website—involve speech and language pathology. If you’re looking for a career in which you’ll help people manage and overcome significant obstacles, becoming a speech and language pathologist certainly fits the bill.
It’s also a field in high demand. Communication experts in speech pathology, therapy, and language skills are often recruited by employers before graduation due to a shortage of trained professionals in the field. The specialization boasts a minuscule 0.8 percent rate of unemployment with 17.8 percent job growth projected by 2026.
You can expect to graduate with highly marketable skills that promise a satisfying career—speech-language pathologists rank nineteenth in Glassdoor’s Best Jobs in America for 2019.
On top of earning a master’s degree, you’ll need to complete a rigorous certification process that includes regular professional development and re-certification. Your certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) will qualify you to enter a field in need of much-sought-after experts to work in schools and clinics, or in private practice.
In this article, we’ll cover:
A plurality of speech and language pathologists (40 percent) work in elementary and secondary schools, frequently in special education and early education classrooms. They use their expertise in the biology, anatomy of speech, and the nuances of language and communication to provide diagnosis, remediation, and therapy to children with impairments and disabilities. Nearly as many speech and language pathologists work in healthcare facilities, either in private offices, hospitals, nursing care facilities, or home healthcare services.
Much of the work of speech and language pathology focuses on rehabilitation—therapies and solutions to help people with communication difficulties. Pathologists’ training in phonology (phonetics and speech patterns) prepares them to treat issues that relate to fluency, cognition, and literacy. They also treat disorders related to swallowing, the biomechanics of speech, and the anatomy of vocal expression. And, they sometimes serve individual patients with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs.
A master’s degree in speech and language pathology—a requirement of this job—typically takes two years to complete. Some schools offer an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s program in speech and language pathology that delivers both degrees in five years rather than the usual six.
An undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders will best prepare you for a Master of Science in Speech and Language Pathology program, but students come to these programs with undergraduate majors in many fields, including biology, psychology, and education.
Once enrolled in a master’s program, your studies will encompass a comprehensive examination of communication sciences and disorders. You’ll take classes in:
Most curricula include clinical observation hours, which you’ll need as part of your certification process. In this practicum, you’ll work in clinical settings under the supervision of professionals. Look for master’s degree programs with outplacement opportunities, such as internships, summer programs, and partnerships with local facilities. Some of these opportunities pay, providing a chance to offset some of the cost of your education.
You must complete your master’s degree before you can apply for your certification.
Once you’ve completed your two-year master’s degree program with academic accreditation, you’ll need to show clinical competence in the field. Certification from ASHA is the final step toward professionalization. It can be a time-consuming, intensive process.
Each state has its own requirements for certification and licensure. While requirements vary from state to state, achieving the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) typically exceeds state requirements.
Certification usually requires one to two years of clinical training beyond the master’s degree. The first stage for certification is a clinical practicum, which will likely be included in your master’s curriculum. The practicum requires 400 hours of clinical experience; it usually takes six months to complete. You’ll also need to pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology. This test takes five hours to complete. Test scores are submitted with the final application for certification.
You will then have to complete a Clinical Fellowship for certification. The fellowship involves 1,260 hours and 36 weeks of full-time experience in a mentored clinical setting.
Once certified, you’ll need further accreditation or education for speech and language pathologists. You can maintain your ASHA CCC-SLP certification with 30 maintenance hours of professional development every three years.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the top three graduate programs for speech and language pathologists are:
When choosing a graduate program consider:
You will find some online speech and language pathology master’s programs, including some with accelerated curricula. When considering online programs, be aware that you’ll miss some of the camaraderie and support you’d experience on campus. The role is best for self-starters, as much of the work is self-scheduled.
On the positive side, online study offers lots of flexibility in scheduling and location; it’s a good choice for those who want to work full-time while completing their degrees part-time. Accredited online programs are just as intense and, according to one student, “just as rigorous” as a traditional campus experience.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the “national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 204,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students.” Its website is loaded with invaluable information for speech and language pathologists.
Your advancement path as a speech and language pathologist is driven by your area of specialization. These areas include:
Since there’s high demand for speech therapy, you’ll have several avenues for career placement. Speech-language therapy is a much-needed modality across schools and hospital settings. Career advancement paths include moving into management or team leader positions, in addition to starting a private therapy practice.
You may also advance through a doctorate in the field and career paths that include teaching and research. Speech pathologists who pursue this route often end up teaching and researching in one of the following areas:
Once you’ve achieved certification as a speech and language pathologist, you’re set to begin a fulfilling career focused on helping individual patients in a variety of settings and across a spectrum of ages and clinical needs. You’ll assist patients with arguably the most critical aspect of human experience: communication, the ways we speak, interact, and understand. You’ll also focus on the biomechanics of swallowing and processes of phonology and cognition.
If you’re drawn to helping others and feel an affinity for communication sciences, you’ll find becoming a speech-language pathologist as satisfying as it is practical. You’ll enter a job market that needs your expertise. And you’ll likely find the challenging road through the master’s degree and certification well worth the time, money, and effort you invest.
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