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What do you want to become?
How to Become a Speech Language Pathologist
Alternate Career Titles:
Speech Therapist, SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist Job Description: Speech-Language Pathologists assess, diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders
Speech-Language Pathologist Salary (Annual): $79,120
Speech-Language Pathologist Salary Range: $49,840 to $121,260
How Long To Become a Speech-Language Pathologist: 6 years
Speech-Language Pathologist Requirements: Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology
Become a Speech-Language Pathologist
A Speech-Language Pathologist focuses on the evaluation of varying levels of speech, language or swallowing challenges of all ages, and those possibly related to cognitive for social problems. To establish and implement appropriate treatment plans, these professionals must first identify which functional needs need to be addressed, assessing all treatment options.
In performing treatments, oftentimes Speech-Language Pathologists or “SLPs” will show patients how to make sounds helping to maintain fluency and ultimately improve their voices. Additionally, they can work with their patients to further develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow, or to help improve sentence structure, vocabulary or the mechanisms used to cope with various communication/swallowing disorders.
Aside from these face-to-face responsibilities, Speech Therapists must complete numerous administrative tasks to help them document their patients progress. Administrative responsibilities also involve keeping accurate patient records and documenting billing information.
“I would describe my career as fun and ever changing, and no day is the same,” Rebecca Ingram Rowe, M.A., CCC-SLP, a Speech-Language Pathologist who practices in North Carolina, said. “I began my career in the school system, transitioned to a inpatient rehabilitation hospital and then started my own practice. In between, I traveled and taught a continuing education unit (CEU) course.”
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Education & Training
When learner how to become a Speech-Language Pathologist, professionals must first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (areas of study may vary), and then go on to obtain their Master’s Degree. During a graduate speech therapy program, students will learn about language development, swallowing disorders, age-specific communication disorders and alternative communication methods (i.e. sign language). These programs will also involve a supervised clinical experience component.
“The training was grueling at times, mostly due to the amount of coursework and clinical rotations required (meaning working for free during the day in a setting with speech therapy to get experience and attending full-time course work at night),” Ingram Rowe explained. “My undergraduate degree was obtained in 4 years and my Master’s Degree in two years.”
After a Master’s Degree is earned, SLPs must go on to obtain a state license (requirement vary depending on the state), and possibly become registered. Additionally, those wishing to find employment within educational settings may need to obtain a specific teaching certification.
“If a Speech-Language Pathologist wants to advance their career, becoming a manager or head of a district department, owning their practice and teaching (adjunct or at the professor level) are ways to advance,” Ingram Rowe advised.
Other ways to advance in a career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, may include choosing to earn specialty certifications in areas such as swallowing, fluency or child language. However, to maintain this credential, Speech Therapists must complete 30 hours of continued education every three years.
Experience & Skills
To become a successful Speech Therapist, these professionals should have strong analytical skills, enabling them to determine proper treatment plans, analyze results and use the appropriate tools for each patient/circumstance. They should also be critical thinkers, capable of adjusting their treatment plans as needed, and able to use resources to find alternative methods of patient care.
Equally as important, these professionals should be great listeners, helping them to decipher a patient’s symptoms and concerns, as well as their current challenges. On a similar note, these healthcare providers should be effective communicators themselves, aiding them not only in conversing with patients to produce improved outcomes, but also to explain methodologies/treatments and best practices to them.
“A good accredited college should provide clinical rotations which cover speech therapy skills from birth to elderly adult. My rotations were at a preschool, elementary, middle and high school as well as a hospital, skilled nursing facility and outpatient clinic,” Ingram Rowe said. “Some great skills for a Speech-Language Pathologist to have are clinical assessment, reading situations well, adequate reading and written expression skills, ability to read through reports and know what they say, great interpersonal skills, awesome teamwork skills and the ability to be extremely flexible.”
“Speech-Language Pathologists are typically classified by other disciplines as being ‘type A,’ but we’re not all like this,” Ingram Rowe explained. “First and foremost, SLPs should be people-oriented and helpful. That is what drives our field.”
Additionally, the personality of a Speech-Language Pathologists should involve being both extremely patient and compassionate. Communication challenges, especially as a child, can be frustrating and subject to bullying, therefore these challenges become sensitive issues. In order to help patients overcome these challenges, Speech Therapists must combat challenges by employing emotional support.
Furthermore, Speech-Language Pathologists should be extremely detail-oriented, because meeting goals and progressing in a treatment plan involves recording the many steps along the way to improvement. Lastly, possessing the desire to want to help others overcome their communication or swallowing challenges is a must. The most effective Speech Therapists are the ones who have a passion for Speech Language and Hearing careers, and genuinely want to help their patients improve.
“It also helps to be organized, responsible, creative and able to speak to others. Being outgoing/extroverted is not a must, but is helpful,” Ingram Rowe said.
“If you work full-time, the lifestyle is busy! I can’t speak to other workplaces but I own my own practice, and on any day I am in my car traveling between homes, daycares, preschools and a clinic to see six to nine patients for treatment sessions in a day, in addition to performing paperwork duties with Health Information Technologists” Ingram Rowe noted. “I also spend 30 minutes to an hour planning future sessions each day, because I both treat and manage and so I switch hats quite often to perform my position adequately.”
Like Ingram Rowe, most Speech Therapists work full-time, and because many work in education, they may need to travel from school to school within a singular work day. However, most of these professionals word fairly “standard” hours, for example 9 am to 5 pm. This is because there is not great need for Speech Therapists in emergency settings, and therefore the majority of their appointments are pre-scheduled within workday hours. This consistency in scheduling makes this career in healthcare extremely appealing to some, especially those with children for families.
A growing industry, employment of Speech Therapists is projected to grow 27 percent over the next decade. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations because as the baby boom population ages, health conditions (heart attack, stroke, dementia, etc.) are causing them to experience interruptions in the fluency of their speech. Furthermore, today there is an increased awareness of speech/language disorders, and technology has contributed more ways to address these personal challenges. Medical advances have also helped improve the survival rate of premature babies, many of which later require speech therapy services.
“Right now, the job market is great for an SLP looking for work in most states and even outside of the U.S.,” Ingram Rowe assured.
Also, the majority of Speech-Language Pathologists work in either state, local or private educational services. However, other Speech Therapists are employed by the offices of Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Audiologists or Speech Therapists themselves. Additionally, employment opportunities for these professionals can also be found at state, local and private hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities and through self-employment. The state with the highest level of employment within this occupation is Texas, followed by California, New York, Florida and Illinois.
“I try to steer SLPs away from taking a job with a national contract company as their expectations are often much higher than getting hired with a company or school directly,” Ingram Rowe said. “Being asked to be as efficient as possible is a huge issue in this field, as there are companies and workplaces that ask their employees to be 90 percent or 95 percent productive which means they have to be with a patient for that percentage of the day. This leads to SLPs being overworked and underpaid with many hours being clocked without pay.”
The median annual wage for Speech-Language Pathologists is $79,120. Whereas the lowest 10 percent of employers in this career were recorded earn less than $49,840, the highest 10 percent earn more than $121,260. Additionally, the highest paying facilities are nursing and residential care facilities, followed by state, local and private hospitals, the offices of Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Audiologists and Speech Therapists and educational services. The top paying state for this occupation is the District of Columbia, followed by Connecticut, California, New York and Alaska.
“As with many jobs in the healthcare, we probably deserve a little more pay,” Ingram Rowe expressed. “The earning potential is okay to good, especially with lowering insurance reimbursement rates right now. However, healthcare is always changing.”
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 191,500 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students.
“Also, any of the Facebook groups that have to do with speech therapy based on setting, like in schools or private practice, are great,” Ingram Rowe added.
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- Observe or shadow a SLP
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All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Rebecca Ingram Rowe
Practice: ACT Speech Therapy
Location: Charlotte, NC
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Make sure you love this career 100 percent before investing time getting a Master’s degree.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“One mistake I see new graduates making is being adamant about working in only a hospital with adults. I think experiencing all the fields is important. I was set on working in a hospital (and I did so for 5 years), but working in home health now is so much flexible for my lifestyle (having a child of my own).”
What are questions people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Do I want to work with adults or children or both? Do I want to be in a clinic, school, hospital, skilled nursing facility or at a university? Do I have the stamina to get on and off the floor if I choose to work with young children?”
Why did you choose to become a Speech-Language Pathologist?
“I’ve wanted to be a Speech-Language Pathologist since I was 14. I originally wanted to be a teacher but once my mother pointed out to me that I would be in the same classroom with the same group of students all day long, I quickly changed my mind. This career allows for many variations of the work environment, which I like.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“My husband would say I am very passionate and motivated.”
For more questions about the Speech-Language Pathologist career, email Ingram Rowe at: [email protected].
Credentialing organizations: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association