Becoming a speech pathologist is a rewarding option for anyone wishing to work with individuals who have language-related difficulties as a result of stroke, traumatic brain injury, hearing impairment, developmental disability, cerebral palsy, cleft palate, stuttering, or any other condition. Often referred to as speech therapists, speech pathologists use their knowledge in the communication sciences to evaluate, diagnose, and treat people with speech problems. As the large baby boomer population grows older and medical advances improve survival rates from trauma, it’s predicted that employment of speech pathologists will grow rapidly by 19 percent before 2022. If you’re interested in entering this in-demand field to help people find and improve their voice, below are the steps taken for becoming a speech pathologist.
1. Earn a Relevant Bachelor’s Degree
First, you’ll need to start your academic journey on the right foot by achieving a bachelor’s degree from an accredited post-secondary institution. Although there’s no specific four-year undergraduate degree required for speech pathologists, it’s advised that you select a major that will allow you to begin working with individuals with disabilities. Many aspiring speech pathologists decide to major in communication sciences and disorders, psychology, linguistics, social work, special education, or language development. You have freedom to earn whichever bachelor’s degree you wish, but make sure you’re filling up your electives with courses that will satisfy the prerequisite courses needed for admission to graduate school.
2. Pursue a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology
The next step is to receive your master’s degree program in speech-language pathology or speech therapy to develop the skills needed to make diagnoses and create treatment plans. At this time, the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has given the stamp of approval to 253 master’s programs across the U.S. Choose one of these accredited programs to ensure the highest quality of learning in speech disorders, alternative communication methods, voice articulation, literacy, phonology, neurological disorders, early intervention, and other important topics. These programs will also provide a supervised clinical practicum for gaining experience working with individuals from different linguistic backgrounds.
3. Acquire Licensure and Certification
Every state in the United States then requires that speech pathologists receive licensure from their medical or health board. Though licensing requirements vary by state, you’ll likely need to have a master’s degree, complete a specific number of practice hours, and pass a licensing examination. Many employers will also prefer to hire speech pathologists who have gone the extra step to pursue certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). After paying membership dues, you can earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) credential with a master’s degree, passing Praxis exam scores, and 400 supervised hours of clinical fellowship.
Overall, speech-language pathologists are highly trained health professionals who are given responsibility of treating communication disorders that impact speech, voice, fluency, articulation, and even swallowing. To succeed in this rewarding profession, you’ll need to be patient and compassionate in providing essential emotional support to people who are often frustrated by their language difficulties. Once you follow these steps to become a speech pathologist, you’ll have the knowledge and skills needed to practice in school systems, hospitals, physician offices, nursing homes, home health agencies, rehabilitation centers, non-profit agencies, and clinics or start your own private practice.