What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?
Speech is one of our most valuable abilities. Whether spoken or written, most of us rely on our ability to use words to communicate our thoughts and feelings, ask questions, and get essential information every day.
But for many people, expressing themselves through speech can be a problem. Whether it's due to a thinking difference such as autism spectrum disorder, a physical injury or disability involving the mouth and throat, or a life change such as learning a new language or undergoing gender confirmation treatment, many people can benefit from working with a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Speech-Language Pathology is a diverse job field. Speech-Language Pathologists may work with people of all ages, ranging from small children to the elderly. They may work with people with thinking differences and disabilities, and with patients who have had strokes or oral surgeries. They may work in schools, clinics, or research labs.
But all Speech-Language Pathologists have one shared goal: to help people express themselves, whether that means better control of the muscles of the mouth and throat, or developing skills to put their feelings into words.
Read on to learn more about what Speech-Language Pathologists do, how much they are paid, and how to become one!
Speech-Language Pathologist Job Description
Speech-Language Pathologists may work in many different settings, with many types of patients. However, their purpose is always the same: to help people communicate better.
The Role of Speech-Language Pathologists
Speech-Language Pathologists may work anywhere there are people who have difficulty speaking and communicating. Their role is simply to give their patients and students the best support they can in learning to express themselves, ask and answer questions, and be perceived the way they want to be perceived.
Some Speech-Language Pathologists may even work with people who are learning a new language or undergoing gender confirmation treatments to help their students and patients learn to communicate clearly and present the image they want to present to the world.
This can mean clinics and healthcare settings that see people with brain injuries or mouth and throat injuries, schools that see children with thinking differences and disabilities, private clinics, and research labs that study the best ways to help people communicate better.
However, some specific daily job duties are likely to be universal:
- Evaluating students or patients. To come up with a plan to help their student or patient, a Speech-Language Pathologist must determine what their speech capabilities and difficulties are. Does the patient have trouble forming words? Do they have trouble finding words to express their feelings? Do they have difficulty noticing and understanding when people speak to them?
- Creating a plan of action. Once the Speech-Language Pathologist knows where the patient's strengths and weaknesses are, they will come up with a plan of action to achieve the patient's goals. Like any lesson plan or treatment plan, this may involve planning out specific lessons, goals, and timelines.
- Use a variety of techniques and exercises. From strengthening the muscles of the mouth and throat to helping patients find the right words to express their feelings, Speech-Language Pathologists must be familiar with a wide variety of techniques to help people learn to speak the way they want to speak. We'll explore a little bit of how and where Speech-Language Pathologists learn these skills later in this article.
- Keep records and report results. Many parties, from schools and parents to insurance companies, may need to be updated on the patient's progress and their ongoing needs. Speech-Language Pathologists will have to be organized and have a good ability to meet deadlines to report the information these parties need to know.
Speech-Language Pathologist Salary
As with all jobs, the salary of Speech-Language Pathologists is influenced by the amount of experience the individual practitioner, and the geographic area.
Areas with higher costs of living may have higher salaries - but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to put more into savings. It's a good idea to consult an online cost-of-living calculator when deciding whether to move to accept a job with a higher salary.
Speech-Language Pathologist salaries may also vary by the setting in which the practitioner works. Schools may pay less than private practice clinics, for example.
In 2018, the median salary for a Speech-Language Pathologist was $77,500. Most Speech-Language Pathologists in the U.S. made between $60,500 and $97,500 that year.
To help you get the highest salary possible in your Speech-Language Pathologist job, take a look at these tips for salary negotiation.
How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist
Speech-Language Pathologists need a variety of skills and experience, including people skills, a Speech-Language Pathologist degree, and some on-the-job training for those who want to work in schools. Read on to learn what skills and experience are necessary, and how to get them!
Skills of a Speech-Language Pathologist
Like all jobs working with patients or students, a Speech-Language pathologist needs both knowledge of their subject area and people skills. In addition to their educational requirements, Speech-Language pathologists must have:
- Warmth. People who are struggling to speak may need reassurance and a safe, friendly presence to help them open up.
- Patience. People who struggle with speech or expression may become frustrated or discouraged, so it's important to have a patient and reassuring presence in their Speech-Language Pathologist.
- Educational and work experience. Becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist who can be employed in any job title requires a bachelor's and a master's degree, and some professional experience gained under the supervision of a more senior Speech-Language Pathologist.
- Professional accreditations. Organizations like ASHA and the CAA make sure that schools and programs are teaching people the real skills they need to do this job. Make sure that any school you consider attending for Speech-Language Pathology is CAA-accredited, and prepare yourself to pass the ASHA certification exam.
Many schools, both online and in-person, offer bachelor's and master's degrees in Speech-Language Pathology. U.S. News & World Report provides a list of the best schools in the country for this job field.
Remember to balance quality with affordability - you may not need a degree from one of the nation's top 20 schools to get a job as a Speech-Language Pathologist. However, you will want to make sure that your school is accredited by the CAA, as it may be possible for some colleges and universities to offer programs that are not accredited by this important organization.
- A bachelor's degree in a communication-related field such as Linguistics or Psychology, AND
- A master's degree in audiology or speech-language pathology from a CAA-accredited school.
- Completion of 400 hours of supervised clinical experience, followed by one year of a clinical fellowship. This requires 36 weeks of full-time clinical practice and hands-on experience.
- To work in schools, a Speech-Language Pathologist must pass the Praxis exam to obtain the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology.
- Finally, a Speech-Language pathologist who wants to work in a school must have a teaching certificate, which qualifies them to teach in a school setting.
Speech-Language Pathologist Cover Letter
Like all cover letters, a Speech-Language Pathologist cover letter should be short and sweet. It should open with a powerful statement of your interest in this specific job title or employer and should tell parts of your story that may not be obvious from reading your resume.
You may wish to include details like:
- 1-2 sentences about why you are interested in this specific job title. What is it about the employer or the job description that seems ideal to help you do what you are passionate about?
- 1-2 sentences about any personal reasons you may have for being passionate about Speech-Language pathology. Have you known people who benefitted from this service, or been in a situation that taught you the importance of clear communication?
- 1-2 sentences about your experience working with people who have speech and language difficulties. This can occur as part of your coursework, as a volunteer, or as part of a part-time job you worked while studying for your degree.
- Any other pieces of information that are important for understanding your employment history. For example, if there is a gap of more than a few months on your resume due to illness, injury, or family caregiving, the cover letter is a good place to briefly explain why you were not employed for that period of time.
Speech-Language Pathologist Resume
As you may have gathered, there are many educational credentials and certifications that your resume will require! You will need to show:
- Your bachelor's degree, including the university from which you obtained it. You may wish to include your GPA if it was above 3.5. If not, leave it off.
- Your master's degree, including the graduate school from which you obtained it. The same rule applies to GPA here!
- Any professional certifications you have such as your ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence (if you don't have this, get it!) or your teaching certificate.
- Any relevant work or professional history you have. Try to list 2-4 past jobs, even if they are high school or summer jobs, to demonstrate that you have experience dutifully working for an employer.
If you have more than 2-4 jobs in your employment history put those which are MOST relevant to Speech-Language pathology at the top of your list.
- Any volunteer experience you have. Experience working with the population you want to work with (such as children, elderly people, disabled people, people with English as a second language, etc.) will be important for showing your employer that you are passionate about caring for this group of people and you are comfortable handling their needs.
- Any hobbies which highlight your community involvement, passion for community service, or leadership abilities. For example, if you have won awards or contests, or founded clubs or organizations, that shows employers that you are proactive and dedicated to excellence.
Speech-Language Pathologist Interview Questions
Some interview questions are similar no matter what the career field, while others might be unique to Speech-Language Pathology. You can expect questions like:
- What tools, techniques, or approaches would you use with this patient population?
- What's your opinion of new theories, techniques, or guidelines presented by clinical associations?
- Questions about the content of the ASHA Praxis exam.
- Tell us about a time you have failed. This is an excellent opportunity to show employers that you take responsibility, and learn from your mistakes.
- What is your greatest weakness? This is a good time to highlight the skills or personality traits you are actively working on and let the employer know you are very open to feedback about them. Commonly cited examples of weaknesses include workaholic tendencies and a need to become more assertive.
- What moment in your Speech-Language Pathology academic or work career so far are you most proud of?
Practicing answering these questions with warmth and confidence will give you what you need to ace your interview! Don't be afraid to practice out loud to yourself, in the mirror, or with a friend.
In summary, Speech-Language Pathologists are superheroes to people who struggle to communicate. Whether it's because of an illness, injury, disability, or major life change, many people need the skills of a Speech-Language Pathologist at some point in their life.
The bar is high for professional excellence in this field, with people skills being required as well as a master's degree and professional certifications. But the rewards are rich.
Seeing a patient or student successfully communicate in a way that serves them best is priceless.
Looking for your next Speech-Language Pathology job? Soliant can help you find opportunities in your area. Start your search here.