What Degree is Needed to Become a Speech Pathologist?

Individuals who aspire to a career as a speech pathologist must earn a master's degree. Also known as speech therapists or speech-language pathologists, these individuals must complete not only specific degrees, but must also complete speech and therapy related courses. Speech pathology programs are offered at many colleges and universities. Here is some information to help you get started towards a career as a speech pathologist.

Resource: Top 50 Master's in Speech Language Pathology Degrees

Job Description

Speech-language pathologists work with patients to diagnose, treat and prevent swallowing and speech disorders. They evaluate patients, discuss treatment plans and often perform treatments. They also assist patients in strengthening the muscles used to swallow, while helping them improve their speech, by learning to make specific sounds.

Speech-language pathologists also work with family members and offer suggestions on how to both help the patient and cope with the disorder. Speech pathologists work in hospitals, nursing homes and also educational facilities.

Education Requirements

To work as a speech pathologist, individuals must have at least a master's degree. Depending on the school, the student may or may not be required to have an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for admission into the program. Students who do not have an undergraduate degree may be required to complete certain courses before entering the graduate program, and this also varies by institution.

Those who do get a bachelor's degree first are advised to major in speech and hearing science; communication sciences and disorders; or American Sign Language. Course topics in the master's program include age-specific speech disorders; speech and language development; swallowing disorders; and alternative communication methods. Participants in the program are also required to complete a supervised clinical experience.

When choosing a speech pathology graduate program, make sure it's one that is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation, which is a division of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, to be eligible for state licensure or certification.

Certification/Licensure Requirements

Speech-language pathologists are required to be either licensed or registered by the state in which they work; although, states differ in their requirements. To obtain licensure, most pathologists must complete the master's degree program, including the clinical education, and pass a licensing exam. Requirements can be found through the state's health or medical licensure board.

There are different types of certification a speech pathologist can earn, and each one has its own eligibility requirements. For instance, the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) can be earned by completing a master's degree from an accredited program, passing an exam and completing a supervised fellowship. Speech pathologists who work in educational facilities may also need a specific type of certification, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Candidates who want the title of Board Certified Specialist must earn the CCC-SLP certification, pass a specialty certification exam and meet work experience requirements. Specialty certifications can be obtained from the following agencies.

  • American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders
  • American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders
  • American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders

Career Outlook

Speech-language pathologists are expected to see employment growth of 18 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the BLS. They also report that these medical professionals earned an annual average wage of $79,770 as of May 2017. U.S. News & World Report ranked speech-language pathologist No. 20 among best health care jobs and No.28 among 100 best jobs.

While speech therapy is typically associated with children, there is a need for speech pathologists who want to help people across all age groups. From childhood development to surgical recovery, the need for these medical professionals is high. Working as a speech pathologist can be challenging yet very rewarding for the right individual.

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