How to Become a Speech Language Pathologist

There is a lot to consider when choosing a career. And if you’re thinking about becoming a Speech Language Pathologist, you’ve come to the right place. This guide contains helpful information about what it takes to become a Speech Language Pathologist, including education requirements, important skills and more.

 

What Does a Speech Language Pathologist Do?

A Speech Language Pathologist works with patients who have problems with speech, language and voice.  They evaluate, diagnose and treat a broad range of speech delays and disorders such as language delays and disorders, fluency disorders like stuttering, voice and resonance disorders. swallowing and feeding disorders in adults, children and infants, as well as cognitive-communicative disorders including social communication skills, reasoning and problem solving,

Speech, language and swallowing disorders are often the result of a stroke, a brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or other emotional problems.

A Speech Language Pathologist works independently or as part of team in a variety of sectors, such as hospitals, clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, early intervention programs, universities, colleges, research centers and private practices.

Schools constitute the single largest employer for a Speech Language Pathologist. School-based Speech Language Pathologists work as part of a team with special education professionals. In addition, general Speech Language Pathologist duties include working closely with physicians, psychologists and teachers to carefully monitor clients’ progress. Additional job duties and responsibilities include:

  • Assessing client needs
  • Conducting specialized testing for clients
  • Providing therapy designed for clients’ needs
  • Developing treatment plans and monitoring progress.
  • Finds alternate ways for patients to communicate if they can’t develop normal speech
  • Keeping long-term records on clients in order to assist them with speech difficulties

Speech Language Pathologist Skills

Being a Speech Language Pathologist means working closely with a client who has speech issues or swallowing disorders that interfere with his or her ability to speak clearly and fluently. Since the role is intimate, Speech Language Pathologists must be compassionate, practicing patience and empathy with their client, especially given that the client may be frustrated that they have not seen results. Patience is important because Speech Language Pathologists work with clients who may be achieving their goals at a slower pace or who may need close attention.

Speech Language Pathologists also must have a strong desire to help the client, as well as be creative and innovative when trying to treat the client’s individual’s needs. A key disposition that Speech Language Pathologists must have is enthusiasm in order to motivate the patient or client.

Other key Speech Language Pathologist skills include:

  • Persistence: Speech-language pathologists work persistently to treat, rehabilitate, and improve the client’s overall quality of life.
  • Adaptability: Speech Language Pathologists need to be adaptive in their field in order to evaluate and treat different clients who each have different disorders.
  • Resourcefulness: Speech Language Pathologists need to keep up with current trends and skills in their field, such as continuing their education or attending conferences.
  • Great interpersonal skills:Speech Language Pathologists need to have good communication skills in order to treat clients and other healthcare professionals who may also be seeing these clients.

 

How Do You Become a Speech Language Pathologist?

Education and Training

According to our analysis of online job postings, employers are looking for Speech Language pathologists who have at least a master’s degree. They must be licensed in most states and requirements vary by state. The master’s degree (usually in speech pathology) is the most common degree in this field, and it is the minimum requirement for obtaining professional certification and state licensure.

To start a career as a Speech Language Pathologist, one should take undergraduate course work in Communication Sciences and Disorders and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Once the person graduates with a bachelor’s degree in a field related to speech and hearing science  he or she can pursue a master’s program in two, or less than two, years. The degree he will receive will be a master’s in speech language pathology. The graduate programs often include courses in age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders.

After graduating with a master’s degree, the potential Speech Language Pathologist who wants to pursue professional certification, state licensure or state teacher certification must pass the Praxis exam, which is administered by the Educational Testing Service. The Praxis exam is the equivalent to a Board Exam. The students must also complete a Clinical Fellow Year in order to acquire a Certificate of Clinical Competence. This takes place for 9 months or up to a year.

Because being a Speech Language Pathologist involves a lengthy education—four years for a BA or BS and two years for a Master’s—the person must have stamina and patience in which to achieve his or her goals.

Speech Language pathologists must be licensed in almost all states. A license requires at least a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience. In addition, the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-Speech Language Pathologist) offered by the  American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA), is required by many employers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, as of 2015, almost all states required licensure for speech-language pathologists. Certification satisfies some or all of the requirements for licensure.

Finding a job

Demand for Speech Language Pathologists is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 21 percent growth for the position through 2024.

Given this projected growth, aspiring Speech-language pathologists are likely to find many job opportunities at hospitals, clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes.

Any successful Speech Language Pathologist job search begins with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at our library of Speech-language pathologists resume samples.

Once your resume is in order, search online for Speech Language Pathologist job opportunities. As you look for openings, be sure to leverage your professional network, including people you met at school or through an internship.

When applying for Speech Language Pathologist jobs, write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you will bring to the role. Need some cover letter inspiration? Check out some cover letter samples for inspiration.

 

Insights from a Speech Language Pathologist

In order to get an inside look at how to become a Speech Language Pathologist, we talked to Jann Fujimoto, a Speech Language Pathologist and owner of SpeechWorks LLC.  Here’s what she had to say.

What is the common career path for a Speech Language Pathologist?

Speech Language Pathologists often have a bachelor’s in the field of communication sciences and disorders.  If a student does not have a degree in this field, then the graduate programs often require a semester’s worth of classes for out of field students.  A master’s degree is required, which is an additional two years and is either a M.S., M.A. or M.Ed., depending on the institution.  Through rotations in graduate school, a student is exposed to a variety of settings and types of people and usually can focus in on an employment setting that appeals to them, such as hospitals, schools or pre-schools.

Upon graduation with a master’s degree, all Speech Language Pathologists undergo their clinical fellowship year. This nine-month full-time paid job  is under the supervision of a mentor who provides feedback throughout the fellowship. 

What should someone consider before becoming a Speech Language Pathologist?

Consider the time of two years of graduate school, the cost of graduate school and if you enjoy working with people, data and things.  We definitely work with people and their families when evaluating and treating them.  The people we serve are newborns to those at the end of life.  We collect data to determine if our patient/client is making progress.  We work with things like food, liquid, computers, books, and toys to enhance and provide patient/client care. 

What type of person excels in this job?

A detail-oriented person with tenacity and communication skills does well as a Speech Language Pathologist.  Sometimes we are the only Speech Language Pathologist in the school, hospital or facility, so Speech Language Pathologists need to have confidence in their knowledge and the ability to communicate technical information using everyday language.  

What are some of the most important skills for Speech Language Pathologist to have?

Critical thinking – Sometimes the Speech Language Pathologist is the professional who sees the bigger picture about a patient or client.  You have to constantly determine if treatment methods are working.  If they aren’t, then you need to determine why and what can be done to move the patient towards increased ability.

Patience – The individuals you will be working with are either learning or re-learning speech-language activities. It may be hard for them – if it were easy, then they wouldn’t be seeing a Speech Language Pathologist. It may be frustrating for them and you will need to provide them and often their families with patience and sensitivity to their situation.

People skills – We celebrate successes when a child produces a sound correctly.  We inform families that their loved one is no longer safe to eat or drink by mouth.  We collaborate with physicians, nurses, dietitians, radiology technicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, teachers, principals, counselors, social workers, reading specialists and others about our patients.  Speaking to these different audiences means responding, reacting and reading the clues to know your audience.

Flexibility – Sometimes students may not come to therapy because of a field trip, for example. Sometimes schedules go awry because a patient’s procedure took longer than expected. Sometimes a patient can’t make it to the clinic because of inclement weather. All of these situations could come up, and they all require flexibility to go with the flow and respond accordingly.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Speech Language Pathologist?

I love the “aha” moment.  That moment when it all clicks for the patient – whether it’s the child who can now consistently place where the tongue goes for the “R” sound, the senior citizen who learns how to use a pill box in order to be safe with medicines, or when someone can safely swallow an upgraded liquid consistently without coughing. 

 

How Much Do Speech Language pathologist Get Paid?

Speech Language Pathologists are typically paid on an annual basis, with the median annual wage in the United States being $73,400, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest-paid Speech Language Pathologist makes about $46,000 per year, while the highest-paid can earn more than $114,800.

Top 10 States for Speech Language Pathologist Salary

Speech Language Pathologist in the following states make the highest median annual wage in the U.S.

  1. Connecticut: $88,600
  2. California: $87,800
  3. Alaska: $87,000
  4. District of Columbia: $86,600
  5. Colorado: $82,700
  6. New Jersey: $81.900
  7. Massachusetts: $80,400
  8. Maryland: $80,000
  9. New York: $79,900
  10. Oregon: $77,800

 

Speech Language Pathologist Resources

We compiled this list of additional resources to help you continue exploring a career as a Speech-language Pathologist.

Professional Groups

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:  The nation’s leading professional, credentialing, and scientific organization for speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech/language/hearing scientists.

American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology: Educates and supports Speech Language Pathologists in both private practice and public service.

On the Web

Speechie Freebies – Offers the best Speech Language Pathologist resources from around the web, like useful print-outs for speech activities to do with kids.

SpeechTechie –  Simple and interactive technologies you can use in language lessons and interventions.

ASHA Leader Blog: The official blog of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. It inspires discussions in the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology, such as posts from a variety of authors.

Books:

Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom CurriculumNow in its 13th printing, this book provides easy to understand lessons and activities for any reading programs.

Speech and Hearing Science: Anatomy and Physiology  – A highly-popular book that includes advance topics on science,  respiration, phonation, articulation, neurology and hearing.

Language Development: An Introduction – Now in its ninth printing, this best-selling book offers a cohesive, easy-to-understand overview of all aspects of the subject, from syntax, morphology, and semantics, to phonology and pragmatics.

The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.

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