Speech Pathology Education, Schools and Career Overview

Speech Pathology Education, Schools and Career Overview

The ability to convey thoughts, ideas, emotions, and needs by way of speech is something that is entirely unique to humankind. For most of us this is something we take for granted, but for those who struggle with the ability to speak, the most basic interactions with other people in the course of daily life can be agonizing and humbling. 

It is through speech that humans most directly and universally express themselves. A person’s level of self-confidence, and by extension personal success, can sometimes be directly related to their ability to speak confidently. Speech-language pathologists work to give those who struggle with the ability to speak an opportunity to experience unencumbered and unrestricted self-expression through speech. These medical professionals are responsible for helping to facilitate something that is uniquely and fundamentally part of the human experience.

Speech-language pathologists (SLP), often referred to as speech therapists, evaluate, diagnose, and treat speech and language disorders from birth to the geriatric population. Speech language pathologists may be employed in many different settings including schools, private clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and early childhood development facilities.

Speech Pathologist Specializations

Adult clients who need the services of a speech-language pathologist consist mainly of those with voice issues, swallowing issues, trach and vent patients, and stroke victims suffering from aphasia (loss of words).

Speech pathologists spend a lot of their time working with children, especially those employed in the elementary school setting. The vast majority of SLPs are employed by schools and see only children. Typically the children who see an SLP are between the ages of 3-12, and mainly elementary school aged, although in some cases infants and older children also need speech therapy. Speech therapy can be needed for a range of disorders, including articulation disorder, phonological disorder, apraxia and language disorders.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

The following are the most direct steps to pursuing a career in this exciting field.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology or something in the biology or liberal arts field. Examples of possible majors that will tie in well for a career in speech pathology include: English, Communication, Linguistics, Phonics, Anatomy, Psychology, Human Development, Biology, and Physiology.
  2. Earn a master’s degree in speech pathology from an accredited program. In this program one must earn 400 clinical experience hours.
  3. Complete a Clinical Fellowship Year by applying for various speech pathologist positions. This CFY will involve being closely supervised and monitored since you’re new to the profession.
  4. Sit for and pass the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association national certification exam to earn the SLP-CCC credentials.
  5. Become licensed by your state. This usually just requires submitting an application, transcripts, and proof of passing the ASHA certification exam.
  6. Find a job in this rewarding field.
  7. Maintain 30 continuing education credits every three years. Also keep up with your state’s continuing education requirements if necessary.

Speech pathologist degree programs

Speech pathology schools offer programs that will allow students to explore the many disorders affecting a person’s ability to speak. This allows students to ultimately arrive at a full understanding of the various disorders and how they affect the function of the organs related to speech. Among these would be such common disorders as dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, as well as more severe disorders related to injury, developmental limitations, or autism. 

Additionally, students can expect to learn all about the motor functions of the organs related to speech, as well as the psychological and emotional aspects of communication. Those interested in knowing how to become a speech pathologist will find it worth noting that the subjects taught in these programs are incredibly diverse since they address a tremendous range of subjects related to speech; from the purely physiological, to the deeply psychological.

The coursework an aspiring SLP can expect to encounter will be extremely diverse. The areas of study that will commonly be included in the programs offered by speech pathology schools are as follows:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Phonology
  • Craniofacial physiology
  • Aerodigestive functionality
  • Aeromechanics
  • Syntax and lexicology
  • Linguistics and morphology
  • Clinical language sciences
  • Physical development of speech organs
  • Principals of acoustics
  • Developmental psychology and child psychology
  • Childhood development
  • Speech disorder evaluation and diagnosis
  • Mechanics of feeding and swallowing
  • Child language development

Most speech language pathologist jobs require applicants to have earned a master’s degree. Typically, aspiring speech pathologists attend college for four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology or a major with a strong liberal arts focus. Following graduation from a bachelor’s degree program, students enter a master’s in speech-language pathology degree program. Master's programs are usually two years in length, often available through either conventional campus based institutions or online schools.

Speech-language pathologists graduate from these programs with a comprehensive understanding of the physical mechanics of speech, and the other functions of speech-related organs including swallowing. Classes likely focus on providing full knowledge of various processes related to these organs such as peristalsis, and the aeromechanics that affect the ability to speak.

Speech pathologist training

Speech-language pathology master’s degree programs are typically two years in duration, the first year and a half consisting mainly of didactic coursework and the last semester consisting of clinical rotations. Typically several different clinical settings, such as hospital and school, are required.  Students typically spend 10-12 weeks in each clinical rotation. Each program varies but most require an SLP student obtain a set number of clinical hours working with both adults and children, and covering a variety of speech and language impairments. 

Upon graduation from an SLP master’s degree program, the first year working in the field is referred to as the Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY) and requires extra supervision. The CFY is a paid position and one must submit a resume and interview for it like they would any other job, but since the individual is newly employed in this field, a supervisor or mentor must be assigned to monitor their work and offer support.

Speech pathologist certification and licensure

In most employment settings SLPs are required to be nationally certified through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To become certified, one must have graduated from an accredited speech-language pathology master’s degree program, have completed 400 supervised hours of clinical experience, completed a year-long Clinical Fellowship (CFY), and passed the computerized ASHA board exam. Upon meeting all the necessary requirements and passing the certification exam, the SLP-CCC credentials are granted which stands for Certificate of Clinical Competency.

In addition to national certification, licensure is also requirement in most states. To become licensed, one must submit an application with transcripts and proof of passing the ASHA board exam. Sometimes having a state teaching certificate is accepted in lieu of or in addition to a state licensure in speech-language pathology.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association requires speech-language pathologists to obtain 30 continuing education credits every three years to maintain their certification status.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are also currently 41 states that require continuing education units to be submitted for licensure renewal. There can be a great deal of overlap between the continuing education units needed for certification and licensure.

Career advancement for speech pathologists

If speech pathologists want to be more competitive in their field, one option is to seek general certification through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Its Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) may be required for licensing in some states or, alternatively, preferred by some employers for hiring. Another way to advance could be to specialize in working with certain populations, such as voice patients or children with apraxia, to name a few. After gaining experience, the speech language pathologist can become board certified through the ASHA in that specialty to increase their credibility in working with these populations, and this may help the speech pathologists earn increased wages. In addition to specializing in work with a specific population, speech language pathologists can also advance to management positions. They can manage other speech language pathologists as well as physical therapists and occupational therapists. Of course, with advancement, the job duties shift from clinical work and seeing patients to administrative duties.

Another option is to teach speech pathology courses at the college level. Some universities require a PhD in order to teach, but others may accept those with a master's in speech pathology.

Speech Pathologist Skills and Qualities

If you’re considering pursuing a career as a speech pathologist, you want to ensure this is a good fit with your skills and personality traits.  Arguably the trait one must possess above all others to succeed in this field is to have a genuine interest in helping others. Other traits necessary for success in this field include having excellent organization skills, a high attention to detail, enjoying working with people and children, and being able to effectively multitask. Also, speech pathologists must be flexible, especially when working with children. They must be willing to deviate from the initial plan of treatment when necessary. Being creative is a huge benefit in this field because with some patients, especially children, it takes outside the box thinking to really help a person and motivate them to succeed through therapy. A speech pathologist must be able to relate to his/her patients.  It also is helpful for a speech pathologist to be able to work well in a team environment since oftentimes he/she is working with several other professionals to help a patient.

Speech Pathologist Salary and Career Outlook

As with any positions, pay for speech pathologists can vary by region, education level, and experience. Here’s an idea of what you might expect for speech pathologist salary and career outlook numbers in the coming years:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Speech-Language Pathologists154,360$82,000
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

1.     Speech-Language Pathologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291127.htm
2.     Speech-Language Pathologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-6

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