Learn About Being a Speech Pathologist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

What does a speech pathologist do?

Speech pathologists work with people who have communication disorders or have difficulty speaking or swallowing. They diagnose and treat speech issues caused by conditions such as stroke, hearing loss, cleft palate, developmental disorders like autism, brain trauma and nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s. Communication challenges might range from a complete inability to speak to stuttering or pitch issues. Some speech pathologists specialize in certain groups of patients, such as children or the elderly, or specific conditions. Speech pathologist responsibilities might include:

  • Evaluating and diagnosing patients’ language disorders

  • Administrative duties such as recording-keeping and billing

  • Creating a treatment plan for each individual

  • Teaching patients how to make sounds, form words and speak correctly

  • Teaching muscle-building exercises to help patients speak and swallow better

  • Advising patients’ families on how to handle communication disorders

  • Performing routine follow-up exams and monitoring patients’ progress

  • Collaborating with other professionals, such as doctors, therapists, psychologists, teachers and counselors 

  • Hosting group programs and classroom activities for individuals or students with similar conditions

Average salary

Speech pathologist salaries vary depending on their years of experience and type of practice. Typically, speech pathologists working in nursing or health care facilities earn higher wages than those working in educational institutions. Demand for speech pathologists is high for treating the growing elderly population, children with autism and trauma and stroke victims.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $42.57 per hour 

  • Some salaries range from $11.30–$93.80 per hour

Speech pathologist requirements

Speech pathologists must have an advanced degree and state licensing or registration to practice legally. Similar to doctors, they must complete years of training in a clinical setting before they can get a job. 

Education

Speech pathologists typically have both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Bachelor’s degrees in topics such as communication sciences or psychology can help prepare you for a master’s in speech language pathology. Look for graduate programs accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. Through these programs, students can take courses in communication methods, speech or swallowing disorders by age, language development and more.

Training

After receiving their master’s degrees, speech pathologists spend 36 weeks to a year completing their fellowship, which is like an internship. During this time, they develop their skills and experience by working in a clinical setting under an experienced speech pathologist’s supervision. They will take part in patient evaluations, treatment plans, counseling and tracking patient progress. Speech pathologists must complete this training period to earn certain certifications. Some states also require speech pathologists to complete a fellowship to get licensed and be able to practice there.

Certifications

States require speech pathologists to be licensed or registered, the specifics of which vary by state. You can find out the exact requirements by contacting your state’s medical board. Typically, however, speech pathologists need to have a master’s degree from an accredited institution, plus clinical experience, and pass the licensing exam. Certifications speech pathologists might need to practice include:

  • The Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). Some employers require speech pathologists to have this American Speech-Language-Hearing Association certification. To earn this credential, pathologists must have their master’s degree, have completed a fellowship and pass the CCC-SLP exam. They must pursue at least 30 hours of continuing education every three years to remain certified.

  • A teaching license. Speech pathologists working in schools might need a teaching license from their state’s Department of Education. Requirements vary by state, but licensing typically includes completing education coursework and passing an exam.

  • Specialty certification. Speech pathologists might specialize in areas such as swallowing or language disorders. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers three Board Certified Specialist certifications in Child Language and Language Disorders, Fluency and Fluency Disorders and Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. To earn these credentials, speech pathologists must have their CCC-SLP and ample clinical experience, then pass a specialty certification exam and interview.

Skills

Speech pathologists are often compassionate people who enjoy helping and teaching others. Because they work with a variety of patients, families and medical professionals, they typically have good interpersonal skills and socialize well. Speech pathologist skills might include:

  • Communication. Speech pathologists should be able to describe complex conditions, diagnoses and treatments in terms that patients and families can understand. 

  • Empathy. Speech pathologists should understand the challenges that patients experiencing frustrating speech conditions face. They should provide them and their families with emotional support.

  • Critical thinking. Speech pathologists should have the analytical and problem-solving skills to come up with individualized treatment plans for each patient.

  • Attention to detail. These professionals should have exceptional listening and awareness skills to pick up on subtle communication issues and patient progress. They should also document treatment and progress in detail.

Speech pathologist work environment

Speech pathologists typically work full time in educational institutions or medical facilities. Some might work on a contract or an independent basis and commute to facilities such as nursing homes or schools to see patients. These professionals can expect to travel frequently.

Speech pathologists in health care facilities collaborate with a variety of doctors and therapists, while those in schools work with teachers, parents and school personnel. Demand is highest in populous states such as California, New York and Texas, and speech pathologists might need to relocate for work.

Speech pathologists’ jobs can be stressful, as working with individuals who have communication barriers is challenging and patients can become easily frustrated.

How to become a speech pathologist

Speech pathologists, like most other medical professionals, must meet a strict set of education and experience requirements to get hired. To become a speech pathologist, you must:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree. Choose a four-year undergraduate degree that will prepare you for your career as a speech pathologist. Possible bachelor’s degrees include psychology, communication sciences, education, literature or speech pathology.

  2. Get a master’s degree. You will need to spend another two years earning your master’s in speech language pathology from an accredited college. Graduate-level courses typically cover phonetics, linguistics, acoustics, physiology, language development and more.

  3. Complete a fellowship. Gain hands-on experience over 36 months to a year doing a clinical fellowship. During this time, you will work under an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association-verified mentor to refine your skills.

  4. Complete certification. Apply for and pass the CCC-SLP exam or any other certifications, such as teaching certificates or board certification, you need to practice in your desired area.

  5. Get licensed. Contact your state’s medical board to find out its requirements for getting licensed to practice, then apply for and pass the licensing exam.

  6. Apply for jobs. Depending on your clinical experience and specialty, you can apply for speech pathologist jobs at schools, nursing homes, hospitals, private occupational or speech therapy practices and other health care facilities.

Speech pathologist job description example

Our assisted living facility is looking for a compassionate and experienced speech pathologist to join our team of caregivers and medical staff. The speech pathologist will be responsible for evaluating and coming up with treatment plans for elderly patients living with a variety of communication issues, from stroke to Parkinson’s disease to dementia. This individual will meet with residents one-on-one to track their progress, as well as design group activities that encourage language development. The speech pathologist should have exceptional communication, patience and critical thinking skills, plus at least eight years of experience working with elderly patients.

Related careers

If you are interested in a career as a speech pathologist, you might also consider similar jobs, such as:

  • Occupational therapist

  • Physical therapist

  • Psychologist

  • Nurse practitioner

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