Choosing Between Speech Pathology or Occupational Therapy

Speech Pathology vs Occupational Therapy

For those with a desire to help others develop, improve, recover, or find alternatives to the skills needed in everyday life, speech pathology and occupational therapy are both excellent career choices. Because these careers help others in a similar way, many aspiring healthcare professionals have difficulty deciding which field they would like to pursue. While there are many similarities between the two fields in terms of how both professionals work with patients, this article will talk about some of the differences that may help you decide which path to choose.

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Earn Your Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders Online at NYU Steinhardt

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Earn your Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders Online from Baylor University

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What do Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists do?

Occupational Therapist Job Description

Occupational therapists (OTs) use everyday activities as therapy for the treatment of disability, illness, or injury. The goal of occupational therapy is to optimize a patient’s daily living and working experience, either through the improvement, development, or recovery of skills, as well as adaptation of a patient’s environment. Occupational Therapists help patients across the lifespan, from children with developmental disability to seniors undergoing cognitive change. Since occupational therapists are working on movements and activities involving the whole body, they are more likely to be more physically active during the work day as they demonstrate exercises and move equipment.

Speech Pathologist Job Description

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) treat patients with a wide range of speech, language, swallowing, fluency, voice, and cognitive disorders in order to help them better communicate. Like OT’s, the goal of SLPs is to optimize their patient’s living experience, either through the improvement of their ability to communicate or by providing them with alternative ways of communicating so that they can be heard. SLPs also treat across age groups in a variety of settings. 

So, if you are interested in helping people improve their ability to communicate, speech pathology careers may be of interest to you. If you are more interested in helping others develop the skills needed to complete physical tasks, occupational therapy may be the best fit.

Similarities Between Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy

While speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists work with patients on different sets of issues, there are many similarities in the approach to helping patients in both careers:

Evaluation: Assessing and evaluating patients for issues and disorders is a key responsibility for both SLPs and OTs

Treatment and Treatment Plans: Both OTs and SLPs must use what they have learned from evaluating their patients to come up with treatment plans and to execute those plans. Both professions are highly evidenced based, utilizing research to implement proven treatments

Evaluate Treatment Effectiveness: Once speech pathology or occupational therapy treatment plans are in place, it is important to be able to evaluate whether or not they are working, so that those plans can be adjusted to optimize outcomes for patients

Family Education: Many therapy patients either have disabilities that require help from caregivers, are young children who need help continuing treatment outside of therapy sessions, or have other needs that require family education. SLPs and OTs are charged with educating families on injuries and disorders, including what families can do to help patients benefit from therapy as much as possible, as well as making patient home environments better for the patient’s condition.

Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy Education Requirements

Both speech pathology careers and occupational therapy careers require master’s degrees and state certification. Here is some more information on the path to becoming each.

Speech Pathology Certification Requirements

Speech Pathology Master’s Program Prerequisites

Before applying to a speech pathology master’s program, students must meet prerequisite requirements. While some programs allow students to complete foundational speech pathology coursework in the earlier semesters of a program, most programs require that speech students complete several foundational courses before applying. Some programs will also require that the student has spent a certain amount of hours observing speech pathologists before applying.

Speech Pathology Master’s Programs

Speech pathologists must earn a master’s degree, which typically takes 2-3 years to complete. As part of this degree, students will complete the coursework needed to prepare to become speech pathologists, and will also complete clinical and field requirements that will be required by most states for certification. Accredited speech pathology master’s programs require 400 clinical practicum hours, often divided over several experiences.

Sponsored Online Speech Pathology Programs

Sponsored Program

Earn your Online Master’s in Speech Pathology from Emerson College

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • Prepares you to pursue certification as an SLP generalist
  • 5-term and 9-term study options
  • Now accepting applications

NYU Campus

Sponsored Program

Earn Your Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders Online at NYU Steinhardt

  • Live, online classes of no more than 15 students
  • Prepare for SLP licensure from anywhere in the country using a state-of-the-art online platform
  • Now accepting applications

Sponsored Program

Earn your Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders Online from Baylor University

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • Full-time and part-time options available
  • Same standards as the on-campus program, which has 50+ years educating SLPs
  • Now accepting applications

Speech pathologists do not need a doctorate degree to become certified and practice in any state.

Speech Pathology Clinical Fellowship Year

After completing a speech pathology graduate program, students in most states must complete a Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY). The CFY is a 9 month, 1260 hour experience completed under an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) supervisor. During the CFY, fellows gain professional experience through observation and supervisory activities.

Speech Pathology Praxis Exam

Those who want to become a speech pathologist must pass the Praxis exam with a score of 162 or higher. It is recommended that the exam be taken during the Clinical Fellowship Year.

Speech Pathology Certification

Speech pathologists must be certified in order to practice. While ASHA provides a national certification, this certification is not required in all states (though most states have equivalent standards). In order to become certified, you must work with your state’s speech pathology board or other governing body to determine what specific requirements you must meet and how to apply. Once your application is accepted, you can practice as a speech pathologist, as long as you continue to meet certification maintenance requirements!

Occupational Therapy Certification Requirements

Occupational Therapy Master’s Program Prerequisites

While the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has not published a list of specific requirements, schools often require that you complete foundational coursework in various areas of science before you apply, so that you are prepared to begin a graduate level occupational therapy program.

Occupational Therapy Master’s Programs

Occupational therapy master’s programs typically take 2-3 years to complete. In addition to required coursework, students must complete Level I and Level II Fieldwork as part of the program. The requirements for Level I Fieldwork are determined by your program, but AOTA requires that Level II Fieldwork consist of at least 24 weeks of full time experience or the part time equivalent. Students must work with a variety of populations in multiple settings during their fieldwork.

Although a master’s degree will suffice for earning certification at this time, AOTA/Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) will require all entry-level OTs to have a doctorate from July 1, 2027 onward.

Occupational Therapy Certification Exam

To become certified as an occupational therapist, you must pass the national certification exam. You must apply to take this exam, which requires submitting your occupational therapy master’s program transcript as well as a character review. Applicants who meet the requirements will receive an Authorization to Test. After taking the test, if you pass, you will be nationally certified as an OT!

Occupational Therapy State Licensure

After earning your national certification, make sure to check with your state on occupational therapy licensure requirements so that you can become licensed to practice in that state. After receiving state licensure, continue to follow all state and national renewal requirements.

Speech Pathology vs Occupational Therapy Salary and Outlook

Speech pathology and occupational therapy are both high growth fields with strong earning opportunity:

  • For occupational therapists, the average salary is $84,270 with 18% predicted growth in demand from 2018-2028
  • For speech-language pathologists, average salary is $77,510 with 27% predicted growth in demand from 2018-2028
  • For both occupations, the top 10% of salaries top $120,000.

Speech Pathology vs  Occupational Therapy Work Settings

Although both SLPs and OTs are needed in many different settings, and provide services to a variety of populations, there are some differences in where these professionals typically work. While 40% of speech pathologists work in schools, only 11% of OTs do. There are certainly many occupational therapists in educational settings, but one who has a goal of working in a school may want to keep this in mind.

The most common setting for an occupational therapist to work is a medical setting. Forty-five percent of OTs work in hospitals, nursing facilities, or home health care, while only 19% of SLPs do.

SLPs and OTs are equally likely to work in an office of OTs, SLPs, and physical therapists (PTs). About 25% of these professionals choose to do so.