Is Speech-Language Pathology the Right Career for You?
January 17, 2019
Speech-language pathologist Robert Melchionna was helping a client who had been in an accident that left him paralyzed and unable to speak clearly. Melchionna, now president of the Massachusetts Speech-Language Hearing Association, was teaching the patient to use a Dynavox, a speech-generating device that allows the user to communicate without using his or her voice.
Just as the lesson was underway, the client’s fiancée walked through the door. Using head movements, the patient typed, “I love you.” It was the first time he’d communicated with anyone in months.
“That moment was amazing,” said Melchionna, an Emerson College alumnus. “No two clients are ever the same, and the challenges of the job can simultaneously be [some] of the best parts.”
Speech-language pathologists have a deep concentration in the practice of evaluating and treating speech, language, voice, and swallowing disorders. Job creation in the profession is outpacing other occupations and is expected to grow by 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of 2018, job site Glassdoor rated speech-language pathology as the 35th best job in the United States.
“There has been a steady increase in demand for speech-language professionals and that’s a great thing,” Melchionna said. “Baby boomers are getting older and autism rates are higher, and I think we’re just going to see increased growth overall.”
So what does a career in speech-language pathology look like?
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with a diverse client population across a variety of settings including schools, pediatric practices, home health agencies, nursing facilities, hospitals, inpatient and outpatient clinics, and rehabilitation centers. They can treat a range of clients, from NICU infants to geriatric patients to people recovering from brain injuries.
Melchionna’s specialty is swallowing disorders. He said one of the great joys of his job is sending “people home eating and swallowing who never thought they could do that again.”
In 2016, the median annual wage for SLPs was $74,680, with an hourly median pay of $35.90 per hour, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Compensation varies by state and setting, with nursing and residential care facilities typically paying the highest wages (median of $92,220) and educational services providing the lowest compensation (median of $65,540).
As a research-driven field, speech-language pathology is always evolving and SLPs must be constantly learning to stay on top of advances in the field. Those advances play a big role in the day-to-day dynamics of the occupation.
Master’s programs in speech-language pathology consist of both coursework and clinical practicum in which graduate students gain hands-on experience assessing and treating clients.
Speech-language pathology is “at the forefront of embracing innovation and change,” Melchionna said. He said teletherapy, for example, is a growth area, and “a big part of our future in which SLPs deliver services to clients over the internet.”
A career in speech-language pathology comes with a good deal of flexibility, with about one out of four SLPs working part time in 2016, according to BLS data. SLPs also have opportunities for short-term local or travel assignments and PRN or “as needed” assignments.
Master’s programs in speech-language pathology consist of both coursework and clinical practicum in which graduate students gain hands-on experience assessing and treating clients. Typically, master’s programs require some sort of “capstone” experience, such as a research project or comprehensive exams.
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Emerson College’s Master of Science in Communication Disorders emphasizes community and collaboration, training students with a family-focused approach to care. With early exposure to inpatient and outpatient settings, Emerson’s curriculum aims to prepare graduates to treat not only clients but to support their families and caregivers as well.
The clinical fellowship is a mentored program that must be completed before a graduate can practice independently. The fellowship is typically completed in 36 weeks of full-time employment, but it can be completed on a part-time basis until equivalent hours are met. State licensure is also required for practice. Requirements vary by state but typically do not exceed ASHA’s requirements.
Continuing education is required by both ASHA and state licensing boards to maintain certification, ensuring that practitioners are staying up to date with the latest advances and relying on an evidence-based approach to care.
It’s evident that leaders in the field, like Melchionna, see speech-language pathology as stable, innovative and fulfilling: “I always tell people, you do this long enough and you tend to see some really transformative moments.”