Speech-language pathologists work with those who have issues with speech. This is a rewarding career that allows you to work with others in a healthcare setting and help people find their voices. The information below is a general overview about the variety of settings in which a speech pathologist can work and make an impact. Please contact professionals prior to deciding which path is best for you.
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Learn More About Speech Pathology Job Settings
Speech pathologists work with patients that have a variety of issues with their ability to communicate by speaking. Commonly referred to as SLPs (speech-language pathologists), these specialists obtain a speech therapy master’s degree in order to diagnose and treat both language disorders and speech disorders. These communication disorders come in a variety of types with many different causes and treatments—making an SLP’s skills necessary in multiple care settings.
Apraxia of speech—where an individual has a difficult time forming all of the right sounds as they’re speaking words out loud, even though they know what they’re trying to say.
Dysarthria—this occurs when brain damage causes a physical inability to fully communicate by weakening the muscles in patients’ face, mouth, throat or chest.
Stuttering—where the flow of an individual’s speech is involuntarily disrupted by sudden blocks, repetitions or prolongations of certain speech sounds.
Language disorders involve an individual’s ability to process linguistic information—they can be developmental or the result of something like a brain injury. Language disorders often occur in conjunction with other learning disorders, and usually cause difficulties for patients in properly understanding others and expressing themselves.
SLPs treating patients that have language and speech disorders may end up working with, among others, the following:
Head trauma patients
Patients suffering from degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or ALS
Patients with cancers of the mouth or throat
Individuals with autism
Individuals with Down syndrome
Patients with partial or full hearing loss
“Speech disorder” and “language disorder” are often used interchangeably, but they’re two different types of communication disorders. However, it’s common for patients to be dealing with both types. SLPs will often find themselves working as part of a greater, interdisciplinary team of co-therapists and other medical professionals to provide optimal care to these patients.
SLPs can thrive in a number of different work environments, including:
How to Choose Your SLP Work Setting
There are numerous factors to consider when deciding where you want to take your skillset as an SLP, and many of them will have to do with your preferences and what drives you to advance in the speech pathologist career path.
One of the main things an SLP must consider is if they want to work with children or adults. Many students begin studying to become SLPs with a specific idea of the type of demographic or population they’d like to specialize in working with. For them, pursuing a path where they can make a difference for these patients will determine where their career takes them.
Think about how you’d like your day-to-day schedule to look and what you’re hoping to gain. Are you willing to travel to multiple locations per day? What environment is constructive to regularly learning new things and expanding your skills? Is this the next step toward your ideal career, whatever that looks like to you?
It’s also important to keep an open mind when it comes to choosing a work setting. You may not get the exact position you’re looking for right away, but you might find a unique opportunity to better prepare you for the next step in your career. Different experiences in your work will open new doors and may even cause you to reconsider your goals. An SLP could set out to work with children but find out through experience that they have a passion for providing care to patients in the later stages of life.
Common first step for SLPs in any work setting is to complete a graduate program that’s accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). These programs consist of both clinical and academic coursework to prepare students for the next step in their careers—which is the Speech-Language Pathology Clinical Fellowship Year. This post-graduate fellowship is crucial to the career path of an SLP and requires a year of full-time work in a clinical setting. During this time, it’s highly recommended that graduates—now titled CFY-SLPs (Clinical Fellowship Year SLPs)—find a mentor who has experience working with the population they wish to help in their career.
Following the year of full-time fellowship, a CFY-SLP is finally eligible to take the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology. It is important to note that each state determines its own certification and Praxis assessment requirements. Standards for scores vary by state, but successful completion of the exam along with the completed fellowship will earn students their SLP certification.
Once an SLP is licensed in their state, they’ve completed the steps needed to employ their skills in an educational setting. In this environment, SLPs work with children, mainly focusing on prevention and treatment of developmental speech and language disorders at very young ages. SLPs are considered to be crucial in special education.
If an SLP wishes to work in a hospital setting, the process is similar to becoming licensed and qualified to work in an educational environment. Common steps include completing a CAA-accredited speech pathology-related graduate program, finishing their fellowship, passing the Praxis exam according to their state’s standard, and then applying & being accepted for licensure. Once this process is complete, they’re ready to begin sending resumes to hospitals where they’d like to work.
It’s also worth noting that in some states, the minimum score of 162 on the Praxis exam for licensure follows that of AHSA’s CCC-SLP. This means that in many cases, students who pass the exam and obtain state licensure can also apply for the CCC-SLP, but it is important to double check with the state you intend to practice in.
Some SLPs dream of starting a business and doing things the way they see fit in their own private practice. For many, this would be an ideal working environment—and there are many pros to working toward this ambitious goal.
Assuming that you’ve obtained the CCC-SLP, have some experience under your belt, and most importantly, have discovered what types of patients you’re particularly passionate about working with, opening a private practice offers you flexibility and the power to invest in the future of both yourself and your clients. Of course, as a business owner, you’ll have more responsibilities than just SLP—which isn’t appealing to everyone.
Now, we aren’t experts on this topic, but here are some things you’ll need to consider: You’ll need to get into the granular details when you open your own practice. Starting a business involves many steps with your local and state governments, and private practitioners generally recommend that SLPs work closely with an accountant and an attorney throughout the process. The most important thing is to have a feasible plan for your business—resources related to these steps offered by the Small Business Administration.
How to Open Your SLP Telepractice
The great thing about SLPs that offer treatment virtually over video calls is the level of convenience this presents for clients and practitioners alike. The added comfort of remaining at home can also provide benefits to the overall treatment of the client.
While we aren’t experts on this, we have come up with a few things to consider, like to start your own telepractice you’ll need to be licensed with your state as you would in the other scenarios. All online services are subject to the same laws and regulations, so the SLP must be licensed in whichever state their client is in. For this reason, you may opt to obtain licensure in multiple states to expand your network.
You’ll also need to obtain secure software for video conferencing, as common, everyday platforms like Zoom or Skype aren’t HIPAA-compliant due to privacy concerns. A plus side to getting started with telepractice is that many companies exist to connect SLPs with those who need them—often schools that have a shortage. For practitioners that want a flexible and convenient schedule but aren’t interested in a private practice, this might be a good middle-ground option.