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What does a Speech Pathologist do?

Speech pathologists work as therapists for people who have speech or language disorders. They diagnose and treat patients with conditions that prevent them from communicating clearly. Common issues include stuttering, inappropriate pitch, cognitive communication impairments, memory problems and even swallowing difficulty.

Speech pathologist: the job description

Speech pathologists, also called speech-language pathologists, coach patients to confront and overcome challenges to clear verbal communication. Problems people encounter may be congenital, developmental or acquired. Speech impediments may be related to stroke or brain injury, learning disability, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, hearing loss or emotional problems.

As a speech pathologist, you can expect to:
  • Assess a patient's speech abilities using special instruments and standardized tests
  • Develop a customized plan of care for each patient
  • Execute the care plan
  • Keep records of patient progress
The speech pathology care plan may include using alternative communication methods and adaptive technology. Using automated devices and sign language, for example, a speech pathologist may teach patients how to make sound and develop their speaking skills.

Speech pathology specialists focus on certain patient populations (children or elderly, for example) or particular disorders (aphasia, learning disabilities, etc.). Specialties include child language acquisition, fleuncy, feeding and swallowing.

Training to become a speech pathologist

Most states require a college degree for licensure as a speech pathologist. The master's degree in speech-language pathology is a common educational path. About 240 colleges and universities offered accredited degrees in speech pathology at both the master's and doctorate levels. Speech pathology degrees include the Master of Science, Master of Education, Doctor of Audiology and Ph.D. The Council on Academic Accreditation, part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), is the main accrediting body for speech pathologist degrees.

Speech pathology degrees cover the science and technology of speech and language issues. Courses in the field include:
  • Anatomy and physiology of hearing and speaking
  • Speech and language development
  • Acoustics
  • Psychological aspects of communication
  • Instrumentation for speech sciences
  • Speech perception
  • Neurogenic communication disorders
Many speech pathology programs also require a clinical practicum alongside classroom training in order to support applied training in speech counseling.

In addition to a college degree, most state licensure programs require a passing score on the national speech pathology examination as well as 300-375 hours of supervised clinical experience and nine months of post-graduate clinical experience. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) also offers the professional Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP).

Careers in speech pathology

Speech pathologists generally work in a clinical setting such as a medical facility or school health service. About half of speech pathologists work in educational services. The remainder takes jobs in healthcare and social assistance facilities such as outpatient care centers, child day care centers, nursing care facilities and home healthcare. Just under one in ten speech pathologists are self-employed.

Job prospects are strong for speech pathologists. In the coming years, employment will increase an estimated 19 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth will be strongest in educational services.

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