Speech-Language Pathologists


Quick Facts: Speech-Language Pathologists
2017 Median Pay $76,610 per year 
$36.83 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Internship/residency
Number of Jobs, 2016 145,100
Job Outlook, 2016-26 18% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 25,900

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Speech-Language Pathologists Career, Salary, and Education Information

What Speech-Language Pathologists Do

Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson’s disease, a cleft palate, or autism.

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Speech-Language Pathologists

Duties of Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists typically do the following:

  • Evaluate levels of speech, language, or swallowing difficulty

  • Identify treatment options

  • Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan that addresses specific functional needs

  • Teach children and adults how to make sounds and improve their voices and maintain fluency

  • Help individuals improve vocabulary and sentence structure used in oral and written language

  • Work with children and adults to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow

  • Counsel individuals and families on how to cope with communication and swallowing disorders

Speech-language pathologists work with children and adults who have problems with speech and language, including related cognitive or social communication problems. They may be unable to speak at all, or they may speak with difficulty or have rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering. Speech-language pathologists may work with people who are unable to understand language or with those who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.

Speech-language pathologists also must complete administrative tasks, including keeping accurate records and documenting billing information. They record their initial evaluations and diagnoses, track treatment progress, and note any changes in a individual’s condition or treatment plan.

Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes, trauma, or a cleft palate.

In medical facilities, speech-language pathologists work with physicians and surgeonssocial workerspsychologistsoccupational therapistsphysical therapists, and other healthcare workers. In schools, they evaluate students for speech and language disorders and work with teachers, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities. For more information on teachers, see the profiles on preschool teacherskindergarten and elementary school teachersmiddle school teachershigh school teachers, and special education teachers.


Work Environment Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists held about 145,100 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of speech-language pathologists were as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private: 43%

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: 20%

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 14%

Nursing and residential care facilities: 5%

Self-employed workers: 5%

Work Schedules

Most speech-language pathologists work full time. About 1 out of 4 worked part time in 2016. Some speech-language pathologists, such as those working for schools, may need to travel between different schools or facilities.


How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. Most states require that speech-language pathologists be licensed. Requirements vary by state.

Education

Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. Although master’s programs do not require a particular undergraduate degree for admission, certain courses must be taken before entering a program. Required courses vary by institution.

Graduate programs often include courses in speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical experience.

The Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, accredits education programs in speech-language pathology. Graduation from an accredited program is required for certification and, often, for state licensure.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states regulate speech-language pathologists. Most states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed; other states require registration. Licensure typically requires at least a master’s degree from an accredited program, supervised clinical experience, and passing an exam. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health licensure board.

Speech-language pathologists can earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Certification typically satisfies some or all of the requirements for state licensure and may be required by some employers. To earn CCC-SLP certification, candidates must graduate from an accredited program, pass an exam, and complete a fellowship under the supervision of a certified speech-language pathologist. To maintain the CCC-SLP credential, speech-language pathologists must complete 30 hours of continuing education every 3 years.

Speech-language pathologists who work in schools may need a specific teaching certification. For specific requirements, contact your state’s department of education or the private institution in which you are interested.

Speech language pathologists may choose to earn specialty certifications in child language, fluency, or swallowing. Candidates who hold the CCC-SLP, meet work experience requirements, and pass a specialty certification exam may use the title Board Certified Specialist. Three organizations offer specialty certifications: American Board of Child Language and Language DisordersAmerican Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders.

Training

Candidates can gain hands-on experience through supervised clinical work, which is typically referred to as a fellowship. This training is a type of internship in that prospective speech-language pathologists apply and refine the skills learned during their academic program under the supervision of a certified speech-language pathologist. The CCC-SLP certification requires candidates to complete a fellowship lasting at least 36 weeks. 

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Speech-language pathologists must select the most appropriate diagnostic tools and analyze results to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Communication skills. Speech-language pathologists need to communicate test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatments in a way that individuals and their families can understand.

Compassion. Speech-language pathologists work with people who are often frustrated by their difficulties. Speech-language pathologists must support emotionally demanding individuals and their families.

Critical-thinking skills. Speech-language pathologists must adjust their treatment plans as needed, finding alternative ways to help.

Detail oriented. Speech-language pathologists must take detailed notes on progress and treatment.

Listening skills. Speech-language pathologists must listen to symptoms and concerns to decide on the appropriate course of treatment.


salaries for Speech-Language Pathologists

The median annual wage for speech-language pathologists was $76,610 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,910.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for speech-language pathologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing and residential care facilities: $93,110

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: $83,800

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $82,830

Educational services; state, local, and private: $66,960

Most speech-language pathologists work full time. About 1 out of 4 worked part time in 2016. Some speech language pathologists, such as those working for schools, may need to travel between different schools or facilities.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, speech-language pathologists had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016.


Job Outlook for speech-language pathologists

Employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the large baby-boom population grows older, there will be more instances of health conditions such as strokes or dementia, which can cause speech or language impairments. Speech-language pathologists will be needed to treat the increased number of speech and language disorders in the older population.

Increased awareness of speech and language disorders, such as stuttering, in younger children should lead to a need for more speech-language pathologists who specialize in treating that age group. Also, an increasing number of speech-language pathologists will be needed to work with children with autism to improve their ability to communicate and socialize effectively.

In addition, medical advances are improving the survival rate of premature infants and victims of trauma and strokes, many of whom need help from speech-language pathologists.

Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities for speech-language pathologists are expected to be good. Generally, speech-language pathologists who are willing to relocate will have the best job opportunities.

Employment projections data for Speech-Language Pathologists, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 145,100

Projected Employment, 2026:171,000

Change, 2016-2026: +18%, +25,900


Careers Related to speech-language pathlogists

Audiologists

Audiologists diagnose, manage, and treat a patient’s hearing, balance, or ear problems.

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, also referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare. The scope of practice varies from state to state.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.

Psychologists

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.

Recreational Therapists

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
AudiologistsDoctoral or professional degree$75,920
Occupational TherapistsMaster's degree$83,200
Physical TherapistsDoctoral or professional degree$86,850
Physician AssistantsMaster's degree$104,860
Psychologists$77,030
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse PractitionersMaster's degree$110,930
Recreational TherapistsBachelor's degree$47,680
Respiratory TherapistsAssociate's degree$59,710

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Speech-Language Pathologists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm