Before Nicole Spruill opened her own practice as a speech and voice coach, she often saw patients with voice injuries in the North Carolina hospital where she worked as a speech language pathologist (SLP). She taught pastors, teachers, cheerleaders and singers to heal vocal nodules and properly use their voices without causing more harm.
“Most of it was just an abuse of the voice,” she said.
Spruill is among the speech pathologists applying their knowledge outside clinical and classroom environments. While most speech language pathologists work in schools or health care facilities, there are other therapy settings that benefit from an SLP’s expertise.
“I can listen to people on the news or even people on the radio or analysts, and I can hear that they’re just misusing their voice. And I can automatically tell where that tension is,” Spruill said. “We are trained to know what it looks like and what it should sound like.”
Speech Pathologist Job Outlook
The need for speech pathologists is being driven by a combination of factors including an aging population; increased survival rates for premature infants, trauma victims and stroke victims; increased school enrollments and bilingualism, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Where Do Speech Language Pathologists Work?
Most SLPs work in educational and health care settings, but there are other workplace environments available to SLPs, according to the BLS. Some SLPs even travel between different facilities or fill temporary positions for weeks or months in different states or countries.
- Schools 40%
- Therapists’ offices 23%
- Hospitals 14%
- Nursing and residential care facilities 5%
- Self-employed 3%
5 Alternative Career Options for Speech Language Pathologists
Additional education is not always necessary for SLPs to make a career change, but it can be helpful to take coursework in specific concentrations of speech language pathology to further professional development.
To maintain their certification with ASHA, SLPs are required to complete 30 hours of Certification Maintenance Hours (CMHs) every three years. Concentrating those professional development courses in a preferred area can help SLPs direct their career path toward areas of interest. Working with mentors and taking on side work can also help SLPs transition into new fields.
Voice and speech coaches can train actors, executives and others to reduce their accents, adapt new dialects, and heal and prevent voice injuries by using their voices properly. Although no additional education is required to become a voice coach, Spruill suggests taking continuing education courses in voice and speech. Certifications like the Compton PESL (Pronouncing English as a Second Language) can also help coaches specializing in accent modification.
SLPs have a strong understanding of mechanisms of the voice and an edge in working with injured voices, Spruill said.
“A lot of people get vocal nodules because they are misusing their voices. But why are you misusing your voice? What muscles are you using?” Spruill said. “We can hear it immediately. Especially those of us who are trained in voice know exactly where that breakdown is.”
Executive communication coach or corporate SLP
Similar to voice coaches, corporate SLPs train executives to communicate more clearly by addressing vocal misuse, improving social skills and reducing accents. Spruill said she works with a number of executive clients to reduce their accents and adapt regional dialects that make them more relatable to their coworkers and customers.
In addition to speech and voice courses, taking business classes can also help SLPs prepare to work in a corporate setting.
Traveling SLPs take on temporary assignments in a range of clinical settings domestically and abroad. Traveling positions typically require at least two years of experience working in a permanent clinical setting. Traveling SLPs can work with therapy or medical staffing agencies to secure contracts at hospitals, schools and other facilities that need to fill SLP positions quickly.
Julia Kuhn, an SLP who has traveled for work during the last decade to destinations including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Texas, California and Hawaii, said it can be helpful for SLPs to be flexible in their search.
“Be positive, be flexible, and be prepared to hit the ground running and go to work in any situation,” said Kuhn. “Be open to new possibilities. Travelers go where therapists are needed. If you are really stuck on going to one location or working in one specific setting, it may never happen.”
Researcher or professor
SLPs in academia can teach other prospective speech pathologists and conduct research in the field of speech language pathology.
Unlike other SLP careers, obtaining an academic position typically requires a PhD. There’s a need for more PhD-prepared SLPs to fill faculty and scientist positions, according to ASHA.
“Careers as teachers, scholars, and researchers can be pursued at many different types of universities and colleges,” according to ASHA. “Individuals with a PhD may also be employed at hospitals or clinics where clinical research is a part of the institution’s mission or in an industry-related organization (e.g., hearing aid manufacturer) for product research and development.”
Interpreter or translator
Interpreters and translators often work closely with SLPs alongside clients who speak other languages, including sign language.
Becoming an interpreter or translator requires fluency in a second language or sign language. Interpreters and translators must also undergo training and obtain certification, such as certification from the American Translators Association.
Speech Language Pathology Specializations
In addition to alternative careers, SLPs can choose to specialize in particular areas. Specialty certification is not required to practice in any area within the Speech Language Pathology Scopes of Practice, but board certification in a specialty signifies that an SLP has advanced skills and experience beyond the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) in a specific area of clinical practice.