Speech Therapist: Career Summary, Occupational Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Speech therapists aid individuals with voice, speech, fluency, language or swallowing disorders by providing evaluation, treatment, therapy and alternative methods of communicating. Continue reading for details on job outlook, academic programs and licensure requirements for speech therapists. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is the Career Summary of a Speech Therapist?

Speech therapists utilize techniques and instruments to test and improve their patient's communication abilities in cases of trauma, injury, congenital disease, developmental challenge, hearing loss or stroke. Their treatment methods focus on muscle control, exercises, repetition, sign language and automated devices. They work with individuals who face challenges while providing emotional support for the patient and his or her family. Speech therapists might work in conjunction with audiologists, doctors, teachers, social workers or psychologists.

What is the Occupational Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2009 that approximately 57,620 speech-language pathologists in the United States worked in elementary and secondary schools (www.bls.gov). In smaller numbers, these professionals also worked in hospitals, nursing homes and private practices. It was predicted that jobs for speech pathologists would grow about 19% between 2008 and 2018. As educational enrollments increased, so would the need for qualified speech-language pathologists.

Excellent job opportunities for speech therapists were predicted due to expanding numbers of surviving premature babies and trauma victims who might benefit from speech therapy and increased recognition of the benefits of early intervention. The BLS reported that speech therapists who were proficient in a second language would have the best job prospects. Average annual incomes for speech-language pathologists who worked in schools were $62,860 in 2009. Speech therapists who worked in home health care services earned about $87,820, and those employed by nursing facilities earned salaries of $80,500 annually.

What Educational Requirements Must I Fulfill?

You should obtain a master's degree if your goal is to become a speech therapist because it is the minimum educational requirement. Your path to a career as a speech therapist should include an undergraduate degree as a first step. A Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders is one option, but you can major in a different area if it includes courses in physiology, human development, biology, behavioral sciences and linguistics. Bachelor's-level communication sciences and disorders coursework might include language development, audiology, voice and fluency disorders, deaf education and phonetics.

Earning a Master's Degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences will be the next step you should take toward becoming a speech therapist. If possible, your program should be accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. As of 2009, about 240 graduate degree programs in the United States were accredited. Your program's curriculum should consist of courses such as speech science, aural rehabilitation, motor speech disorders, articulation disorders and therapies and swallowing disorders.

Will I Need a License?

Most states require speech therapists to become licensed. To obtain a license, you will need a master's degree from an accredited institution and a passing grade on the national speech pathology examination. Up to 375 hours of supervised practical experience and 9 months of postgraduate professional experience will also be needed for licensure.

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