Speech-Language Pathologists

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What Speech-Language Pathologists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson’s disease, a cleft palate, or autism.

Duties of Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists typically do the following:

  • Evaluate patients’ levels of speech, language, or swallowing difficulty
  • Identify treatment options
  • Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan that addresses patients’ specific functional needs
  • Teach patients how to make sounds and improve their voices
  • Work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
  • Counsel patients and families on how to cope with communication and swallowing disorders

Speech-language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech and language, including related cognitive or social communication problems. Their patients may be unable to speak at all, or they may speak with difficulty or have rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering. Speech-language pathologists may work with people who are unable to understand language or with those who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.

Speech-language pathologists also must complete administrative tasks, including keeping accurate records. They record their initial patient evaluations and diagnoses, track treatment progress, and note any changes in a patient’s condition or treatment plan.

Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes or a cleft palate.

In medical facilities, speech-language pathologists work with physicians and surgeons, social workers, psychologists, and other healthcare workers. In schools, they work with teachers, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities. For more information on teachers, see the profiles on preschool teachers, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, and special education teachers.

Work Environment for Speech-Language Pathologists[About this section] [To Top]

Speech-language pathologists hold about 135,400 jobs. The industries that employ the most speech-language pathologists are as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private 44%
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 19
Hospitals; state, local, and private 13
Nursing and residential care facilities 5
Social assistance 4

About 2 out of 5 speech-language pathologists work in schools. Most others work in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals.

Speech-Language Pathologist Work Schedules

Most speech-language pathologists work full time. About 1 out of 4 work part time. Some speech language pathologists, such as those working for schools, may need to travel between different schools or facilities.

How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Speech-Language Pathologists near you!

Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. They must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.

Speech-Language Pathologist Education

Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. Although master’s programs do not require a particular undergraduate degree for admission, certain courses must be taken before entering a program. Required courses vary by institution.

Graduate programs often include courses in speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical experience.

The Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, accredits education programs in speech-language pathology. Graduation from an accredited program is required for certification and, often, for state licensure.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Almost all states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed. A license requires at least a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience. Many states require graduation from an accredited master’s program to get a license. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health licensure board.

Speech-language pathologists can earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Certification satisfies some or all of the requirements for state licensure and may be required by some employers.

Speech-language pathologists who work in schools may need a specific teaching certification. For specific requirements, contact your state’s department of education or the private institution in which you are interested.

Important Qualities for Speech-Language Pathologists

Analytical skills. Speech-language pathologists must select the most appropriate diagnostic tools and analyze the results to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Communication skills. Speech-language pathologists need to communicate test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatments in a way that patients and their families can understand.

Compassion. Speech-language pathologists work with people who are often frustrated by their difficulties. Speech-language pathologists must be able to support emotionally demanding patients and their families.

Critical-thinking skills. Speech-language pathologists must be able to adjust their treatment plans as needed, finding alternative ways to help their patients.

Detail oriented. Speech-language pathologists must take detailed notes on patient progress and treatment.

Listening skills. Speech-language pathologists must listen to a patient’s symptoms and concerns to decide on the appropriate course of treatment.

Speech-Language Pathologist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for speech-language pathologists is $73,410. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,840.

The median annual wages for speech-language pathologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Nursing and residential care facilities $91,070
Hospitals; state, local, and private 79,550
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 78,760
Social assistance 70,120
Educational services; state, local, and private 64,040

Most speech-language pathologists work full time. About 1 out of 4 work part time. Some speech language pathologists, such as those working for schools, may need to travel between different schools or facilities.

Speech-Language Pathologist Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, speech-language pathologists have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Speech-Language Pathologists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 21 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

As the large baby-boom population grows older, there will be more instances of health conditions, such as strokes and hearing loss that cause speech or language impairments. Speech-language pathologists will be needed to treat the increased number of speech and language disorders in the older population.

Increased awareness of speech and language disorders, such as stuttering, in younger children should lead to a need for more speech-language pathologists who specialize in treating that age group. Also, an increasing number of pathologists will be needed to work with children with autism to improve their ability to communicate and socialize effectively.

In addition, medical advances are improving the survival rate of premature infants and victims of trauma and strokes, many of whom need help from speech-language pathologists.

Speech-Language Pathologists Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities for speech-language pathologists are expected to be good. Generally, speech-language pathologists who are willing to relocate will have the best job opportunities.

Employment projections data for Speech-Language Pathologists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Speech-language pathologists 135,400 164,300 21 28,900


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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