A Speech Pathologist, commonly officially referred to as a Speech Language Pathologist, is a professional that helps individuals with various speech and communication impairments. For instance, the patient may have an overall issue like stuttering. Or, the patient may have a more specific issue with a single letter, like an inability to pronounce the letter "R" correctly.
In some cases, what Speech Language Pathologists do is also work with individuals living with disorders such as autism or down syndrome. Or a person that has suffered a stroke. A Speech Language Pathologist might work with either children or adults, depending on their focus area. In some cases, they may work with both age levels and work is commonly done in a school or office setting.
Once the Speech Language Pathologist has diagnosed the issue, the treatment can begin. Usually the treatment is activity-based, like reading aloud or the completion of other speech drills in order to help the individual overcome their particular impairment. So, if you find yourself wondering “what does a Speech Pathologist do?”, he/she/they basically acts as a dedicated and active guide during this process. Sort of like a coach!
The road to becoming a Speech Language Pathologist ends with a master’s degree, so you should anticipate some additional schooling beyond obtaining a bachelor’s degree. In most cases this entails four (4) years of college undergrad plus two (2) years of graduate school. As you can see, there are no shortcuts with regards to how to become a Speech Language Pathologist.
This is a career that is regulated by each particular state, which means that depending on the state, you will need to be licensed and/or registered to do this job. It is hard to say specifically what degree a Speech Language Pathologist needs.
While there is not one specific bachelor's degree that all graduate programs require for admittance, most programs will require the completion of certain undergraduate classes. You will have to check the individual requirements of the particular graduate program that you are interested in for those details. Some relevant real-world experience, and the passing of an exam may also be required.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Speech Language Pathologist job outlook is strong. The need for these professionals will experience an upward trajectory between the years of 2021-2029. Therefore, the employment will grow at a rate of 25% faster than the average of all other careers over that time. In short, this will likely be an "in-demand" career with positive job prospects.
The BLS also estimates that in the year 2019, there were 162,600 jobs in this field with a median pay of $79,120/year ($38.04/hour). If you are looking for a career in a growing field, the Speech Language Pathologist job outlook speaks for itself!
At Candid Career, we have the privilege of interviewing professionals in a wide variety of fields about their career experiences. We are always interested to learn what they love about the job, what gets them up and motivated each morning. Here is what some of our Speech Language Pathologist interviewees had to say:
Ashleigh - “I just love making a difference in these students’ lives. They are 10-14 years old, so they are still at an age where they want to learn and improve”
Julia - “what I really enjoy is the challenge of meeting new people and working with those different personalities”
Doris - “It’s very fulfilling when you have a pediatric patient who is coming to you for the first time and they can’t say any words and they are learning. They are learning how to produce those early developing sounds. It’s exciting because you had a hand in that”
Kelly - “What keeps me excited about my job is knowing at the end of the day that I helped somebody.”
Every job has its share of challenges. Whether you choose to attack those challenges head on with a fiery determination or dread them every morning when you wake up, they will be there just the same! In speaking with numerous Speech Language Pathologists over the years, here is what they had to say about some of the tougher parts of the job:
Megan - “Every patient is going to be different. We are all different human beings. A patient may be different in how they talk to you, how their disease is presenting to you. So that brings about a unique challenge”
Doris – “Unfortunately, you do have those patients that may not be making the progress, or the disease or medical condition that they have starts winning over. So, you do have to have those tough conversations about moving to comfort care”
Ashleigh – “Working with the middle school population is a challenge to get them to want to be motivated, to want to change”
I would just like to leave you with a few pieces of advice. If you are interested in a career as a Speech Language Pathologist, please keep these things in mind and you will do great!
Be Compassionate and Empathetic – This may seem obvious but is actually overlooked. There is a huge counseling component of this job that sometimes gets forgotten. The individuals you are working with have real struggles, sometimes both mentally and physically. As an SLP, you must show compassion in order to achieve results.
Gain Experience – While you will need to obtain a master’s degree to become a registered Speech Language Pathologist, that does not mean you will know all there is to know about the job once you graduate. Much of the learning occurs on the job, and on the spot. So, a great way to expedite that learning curve is to participate in observation (observing an SLP on the job), trying to become an instructional aide, internships, externships, and volunteer efforts (summer camp, hospital, pre-school, etc.).
These real-world experiences will give you a better glimpse into what the job entails day-to-day. It can also help you determine what area you might want to focus on. For instance, working children or adults.
Prepare for Paperwork – Yes, you will have to do paperwork! One of the best parts about working as a Speech Language Pathologist is the ability to work so closely with individuals and impact lives. However, like any other educator or healthcare professional, there are administrative tasks that you will need to get done.
This fact should not deter you from a career in a field you have a passion for, it is just something to mention and keep in mind. As long as you take good notes, create a system, and stay on top of the paperwork, you will be all set!
In conclusion, how to become a Speech Language Pathologist is not a mystery. There is an academic and experiential path forward that is highly exciting and achievable. In addition, the opportunity to both impact lives in a substantial way and get on board a Speech Language Pathologist job outlook that is on the rise puts you in a unique position. Best of luck on your journey!