American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Careers in Speech-Language Pathology

Speech-Language Pathology: Many Careers, Many Rewards

Working with the full range of human communication, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) evaluate and diagnose speech, language, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders and treat such disorders in individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly.

In addition, SLPs may

  • prepare future professionals in college and universities
  • manage agencies, clinics, organizations, or private practices
  • engage in research to enhance knowledge about human communication processes
  • supervise and direct public school or clinical programs
  • develop new methods and equipment to evaluate problems
  • establish more effective treatments
  • investigate behavioral patterns associated with communication disorders

SLPs often work as part of a team, which may include teachers, physicians, audiologists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation counselors, and others. Corporate SLPs work with employees to improve communication with customers.

Your Work Environment

SLPs practice in various settings:

  • public and private schools
  • hospitals
  • rehabilitation centers
  • short- and long-term nursing care facilities
  • community clinics
  • colleges and universities
  • private practice offices
  • state and local health departments
  • state and federal government agencies
  • home health agencies (home care)
  • adult day care centers
  • centers for persons with developmental disabilities
  • research laboratories

With such a wide variety of settings, working conditions also vary. Facilities in most school systems and clinics are comfortable and adequately equipped, as are most research facilities, colleges, and private practices.

Because of the increasing demand for SLP services, work schedules may be heavy. An additional challenge is the constant need to update knowledge through education and periodicals. These challenges are balanced by the satisfaction of contributing to the quality of life of adults and children.

Skills You'll Need

SLPs must have

  • a sincere interest in helping people
  • above‑average intellectual aptitude
  • the sensitivity, personal warmth, and perspective to interact
    with a person who has a communication problem
  • scientific aptitude, patience, emotional stability, tolerance,
    and persistence
  • resourcefulness and imagination
  • a commitment to work cooperatively with others
  • the ability to communicate both orally and in writing

What You'll Earn

Salaries of SLPs depend on their educational background, specialty, and experience, along with geographic location and work setting. Good benefits packages, such as insurance programs and leave, are usually available.

How You'll Get Started

  • During high school, you should consider courses in biology, physics, social sciences, English, mathematics, public speaking, language, and psychology.
  • On the undergraduate level, a strong arts and sciences focus is recommended, with course work in linguistics, phonetics, anatomy, psychology, human development, biology, physiology, mathematics, physical science, social/behavioral sciences, and semantics. A program of study in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) is available at the undergraduate level.

Applicants in speech-language pathology must earn a graduate degree, successfully complete the required clinical experiences, and pass a national examination. In some areas, such as college teaching, research, and private practice, a PhD degree is desirable.

Strength in Numbers

  • ASHA represents over 166,000 professionals, including over 135,948 ASHA-certified SLPs.
  • More than half of SLPs (57.0%) are employed in educational settings, including 53.9% in schools and 3.1% in colleges and
    universities. An additional 38.1% are employed in health care settings, including 15.6% in nonresidential health care facilities, 12.6% in hospitals, and 9.9% in residential health care facilities. Nearly one fifth (17.6%) are employed full‐ or part‐time in private practice.
  • More than 1,100 persons hold dual ASHA certification. That is, they are certified as both audiologists and SLPs. These individuals hold many major positions in clinical, academic, and research fields.

An Even Brighter Future

  • The SLP profession is expected to grow faster than average through the year 2014. Members of the baby boom generation are now in middle age and beyond, when the possibility of neurological disorders and associated speech, language, swallowing, and hearing impairments increases.
  • Medical advances are improving the survival rate of premature infants and trauma and stroke victims, who then need assessment and possible treatment. Many states now require newborns to be screened for hearing loss and receive early intervention services.
  • Employment in educational services will increase along with growth in elementary and secondary school enrollments, including special education. Federal law guarantees special education and related services to all eligible children with disabilities. Greater awareness of the importance of early identification and diagnosis of speech, language, swallowing, and hearing disorders will also increase employment.
  • The number of SLPs in private practice will rise due to the increasing use of contract services by hospitals, schools, and
    nursing care facilities. In addition to the need for SLPs to fill jobs resulting from employment growth, new SLPs will be needed to replace those who leave the occupation.

For more detailed information, visit Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012–13 Edition, Speech-Language Pathologists.

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