Language is an ability that lays the foundation for learning, communication, our relationships with others and the world around us.
What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), sometimes informally referred to as “speech therapists,” are health professionals who specialize in identifying and treating communication disorders along with swallowing dysfunction (dysphagia) in children and adults, and feeding disorders in infants.
The broad category of communication disorders includes: the inaccurate production of speech sounds; rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering; impairments of vocal quality such as inappropriate pitch or harshness; cognitive disabilities in understanding and producing language, memory, and problem solving; language rehabilitation for users of hearing aids or cochlear implants; and accent reduction and modification.
The profession draws on knowledge from numerous disciplines: anatomy and physiology, audiology, neurology, linguistics and psychology to name a few.
SLPs work with varied populations: patients with acquired disorders, such as those that result from stroke and brain injury; tracheotomy patients; individuals with dementia and cognitive deterioration; those with organic disease processes such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and ALS. They treat individuals with developmental disorders and organic impairment. In cases where a client is unable to use voice for communication, an SLP will work on developing or identifying an appropriate alternative augmentative means of communication (AAC) such as sign language or electronic communication devices.
SLPs work in countless different settings: hospitals, private practices, outpatient rehabilitation centers, public and private schools, universities, nursing homes, centers for people with disabilities, state sponsored programs and other facilities.
Employment opportunities in the field are expected to increase in the coming years because of the expanding elderly population whose members frequently experience medical conditions that result in speech, language, and swallowing disorders.
A Master’s degree and state license are the minimum credentials for most speech-language pathology positions.
Speech-language pathology Master’s degree programs require extensive graduate coursework, successful completion of clinical competencies, comprehensive supervised clinical experience, and comprehensive exams (or a project), which are followed by 9 months of post-graduate clinical experience.
SLPs will take an exam to qualify for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), which shows that they have met the standards of ASHA, the national certifying body for the profession.
From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook:
“Median annual earnings of wage-and-salary speech-language pathologists were $57,710 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $46,360 and $72,410. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,970, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,400. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of speech-language pathologists were:”
"Nursing care facilities $70,180
Offices of other health practitioners 63,240
General medical and surgical hospitals 61,970
Elementary and secondary schools 53,110"
“Some employers may reimburse speech-language pathologists for their required continuing education credits.
Salary information cited from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition, Speech-Language Pathologists, online at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos099.htm (visited June 3, 2009).