Written By: Samantha Walker, MA, CF-SLP (2023)
If you were to ask me what a speech-language pathologist was at the age of 16, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a definition. In fact, I would have never even heard of the profession, much less know what they did. Only 14% of my own graduate school cohort were pursuing speech-language pathology as their second (or third) career.
Kids entering the workforce or college after high school are expected to have a “plan” and launch into their lifelong career pathways. However, in a survey completed by YouScience, a staggering 41% of high school graduates felt unsure about choosing a career. My goal is to enlighten you with an overview of a career pathway that is somewhat niche among the options typically presented, yet the scope is actually quite broad.
What Is an “SLP” and What Do They Do?
“SLP” stands for Speech-Language Pathologist, a career which the American Speech-Language & Hearing Association (ASHA) describes as professionals that, “work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.”
Essentially, a Speech-Language Pathologist is a specialist in communication and swallowing disorders. This casts a wide net as to what an SLP could encounter in their field. Communication disorders include anything from accurately producing speech sounds, to assisting a person who is hard of hearing in adjusting to a cochlear implant. Swallowing disorders typically stem from other medical complications, such as head/neck cancer, strokes, or traumatic brain injuries.
The following list includes (but is certainly not limited to) facets of speech-language pathology:
- Speech sound disorders
- Swallowing (Dysphagia, oral-motor concerns, feeding)
- Cognitive-communication disorders (Dementia, aphasia, stroke, mild cognitive impairment)
- Voice disorders
- Head/neck cancer
Where Do SLPs Work?
As the scope of practice for an SLP is broad, so are the contexts in which they work. SLPs can work with anyone across the age span (newborns to age 99+), so you can find SLPs all over! SLP’s work in places such as:
- Early intervention clinics
- Private clinics
- Nursing homes
- Rehabilitation centers
How Do I Become an SLP?
Academically, the pathway to becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist requires 6 years of schooling. Let’s break down those steps:
- Earn a Bachelor’s degree (this degree can be in communication sciences/disorders OR an alternative major area of study, as long as you complete the prerequisites for the graduate school program)
- Earn a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology
- Obtain temporary licensure to complete a fellowship under a supervising SLP
- Complete a 36-week clinical fellowship
- Obtain certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association to earn your CCC’s (Certificate of Clinical Competence)
- Complete continuing education units, or CEUs, every three years to maintain licensure and certification
Why Should I Become an SLP?
Did you know that SLPs are in high demand across the country? The profession of Speech-Language Pathologists is expected to grow by 19% in the next 10 years, which is substantially faster than average. Rather than explaining all of the benefits of being an SLP from my own experience, I thought, “What better way to give you a well-rounded picture of the profession than asking my colleagues?”
“Speech-language pathology has been a perfect career fit for me. There is no better feeling than seeing the moment a child succeeds in an area in which they have struggled. Partnering with families to facilitate that success is priceless.”
— Jaimi Bird, M.A. CCC-SLP
“I always knew that I wanted to find a career that would allow me to make a direct and positive impact on my community. I think I often took my ability to communicate without problems for granted until I started to meet people with communication disorders. It made me realize the importance of speech therapy because the ability to communicate effectively is a fundamental right that everyone deserves.”
— Suzanne Schuchert, M.S. CCC-SLP
“It is rare to find a career as fulfilling as one that allows you to instill confidence in such a core life skill: communication. As a speech-language pathologist, my passions are identifying a child’s unique speech/language needs and facilitating success in both academic and social realms of life with individualized therapy. I have a special interest in pediatric populations with cleft lip and/or palate and resonance/voice disorders.”
— Samantha Walker, M.A., CF-SLP