Becoming a Speech Therapist: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a speech therapist? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming a speech therapist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Speech Therapist

Speech therapists, also referred to as 'speech-language pathologists' (SLPs), are licensed professionals who work with individuals who have disorders involving speech, swallowing and language. Read on for an analysis of a career in speech therapy using information provided by the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA).

Pros of a Career as a Speech Therapist
Job flexibility; therapists work in a variety of environments, including private practice, hospitals and schools
Good benefits; most therapists receive insurance benefits and leave of absence options from their employers
Comfortable work environments; therapy offices are typically equipped with sufficient resources to engage in the practice
Diverse range of professional duties; therapists may work with children and adults on a range of cognitive, auditory and communication disorders

Cons of a Career as a Speech Therapist
Inadequate pay; in certain work settings, such as public schools, salaries may seem insufficient to compensate for the heavy demands of the job
High stress; certain settings, such as public schools, may present demanding safety and budgetary concerns
Constant need to update professional knowledge
Heavy workloads; increased demand for services may lead to increased caseloads

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

SLPs are responsible for a broad range of duties for treating, diagnosing and preventing speech, language or swallowing disorders. These may include evaluating patient language capabilities, maintaining billing records, monitoring patient progress, scheduling meetings, teaching sign language techniques and creating treatment plans for patients. Some of the patients they may be called to treat may have experienced a stroke, hearing loss or suffer from cerebral palsy.

In addition to these core competencies and depending on their work settings, SLPs may also be required to perform more specialized duties. These may include teaching at the university level and conducting research.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2012 and 2022, national employment of SLPs will grow 19%, faster than the average for all other occupations nationwide. The BLS states that this demand will be caused by an increase in the number of 'baby boomers' reaching middle age and developing neurological disorders. In addition, school enrollment of special education students is expected to rise during that time period.

In 2014, the mean annual wage of SLPs nationwide was $74,900, with the SLPs in the lowest 10th percentile earning around $44,000 a year and those in the 90th percentile earning around $111,000 per year. With the amount of SLPs working on a contractor basis anticipated by the BLS to increase through 2022, the difference in pay between individual SLPs may become even larger.

Career Paths and Specializations

SLPs may work in public and private schools, rehab centers, hospitals, research labs, community clinics and universities. Regardless of where they work, virtually all are required to have at least a master's degree in a field such as speech language pathology. In addition, nearly every state requires SLPs to obtain licensure before beginning to practice. Becoming licensed generally requires possessing a master's degree and having completed a sufficient amount of clinical supervision. SLPs may choose to specialization in an age group, speech/language disorders or swallowing disorders.

Career Skills and Requirements

Useful Skills

Since speech disorders may result from a number of causes and manifest themselves in a variety of ways, SLPs need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete their professional tasks. These may include:

  • The ability to effectively interact in a one-on-one setting
  • The ability to apply principles of fields, such as psychology, to diagnosing disorders
  • Patience for dealing with frustrated patients and family members
  • The ability to effectively communicate with individuals with deficient communication abilities
  • The ability to listen cooperatively and critically

Job Postings from Real Employers

A November 2012 search conducted on shows that most applicants are required to have at least a master's degree, but that licensure requirements were not as explicit. Many also required candidates to hold some kind of proof of clinical competency.

  • A pediatric practice in Hollywood, FL, advertised for an SLP who specializes in pediatric care to work full- or part-time evaluating and treating various communicative disorders.
  • A private practice in Upper Marlboro, MD, sought an SLP licensed in Maryland to work to improve its patient communication skills.
  • A Salisbury, NC, rehab center sought a full-time SLP with at least one year of clinical experience, state licensure and certification of clinical competency to work join its in-house rehab team.

How to Stand Out

One way to stand out in the field of speech therapy is to obtain a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from ASHA, the leading credentialing organization for speech therapists. Certification applicants must have at least a master's degree and a sufficient amount of ASHA-authorized clinical supervision. To become certified, individuals must pass the national certifying exam. Some employers may seek candidates with the CCC credential. In addition to satisfying some employer's requirements, however, the credential also provides an added level of legitimacy in the perception of future employers, clients and professional counterparts.

Other Careers to Consider

Occupational Therapist

If you seek a career with more patient interaction, you may consider becoming an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists target their interventions toward helping patients cope with disabilities in their personal and professional lives. These professionals may be required to visit patients at their homes, assist patients in performing daily activities and teach patients how to operate equipment. Occupational therapists are usually required to have a master's degree in occupational therapy and be licensed by the state in which they practice. In 2011, according to the BLS, the mean annual wage of occupational therapists nationwide was about $75,000.

Recreational Therapist

Recreational therapists help individuals recover from disabilities and debilitating illnesses. The therapy they provide includes using games, sports and music. These professionals are required to have a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation or a similar area. They may also be required by their employers to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. In 2011, according to the BLS, the national mean annual wage of recreational therapists was about $43,000.

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