The pathway to become a speech-language pathologist includes graduate level coursework and clinical rotations, also known as internships and/or externships. Required for Master's level programs in speech-language pathology, these experiences are completed in a variety of settings, and help graduate students determine in which settings they might pursue employment upon graduation. As is often the case in clinical professional training, graduate students are required to complete a certain number of clinical hours with several categories of patient or client populations, and with a designated variety of speech-language assessment and treatment types.
The first clinical experience for graduate speech-language pathology students is generally the university clinic. University speech programs contain an on-site clinic, in which graduate students gain experience working under supervision with clients from the community who come as outpatients. The university clinic provides a solid training ground with supervisors, often professors in the program, who are familiar to students. Graduate students are sometimes grouped in their experiences, adding to the collaboration and ease of transition from coursework to clinical work.
After a semester or two in the university clinic, graduate speech language pathology students look forward to putting their coursework into practice in another clinical setting, like a school. Clinical experience with pediatrics can be obtained in public schools (elementary, middle or high schools), or a variety of self contained special education settings that service children with special needs. These usually have teams of therapists and educators, and provide a broad range of assessment and treatment experiences with multi-disciplinary professionals on site: physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, teachers, and nurses.
In some areas the hospital experience can be difficult to obtain, due to a small number of available spots, or a limited number of area hospitals. These clinical placement sites sometimes can be selective in which students they will accept, and often want graduate students who have had some coursework in neurogenic speech language disorders or in dysphagia. This is not always the case, and many hospitals also have an outpatient clinic that services children from the community with speech-language disorders as well. There is opportunity to collaborate with a team of professionals in various roles including, medicine, radiology, psych, social work, making this an exciting clinical opportunity.
Speech-language pathology majors complete coursework in audiology and even a clinical rotation in audiology as part of the program of study. Most speech-language pathology programs contain audiology as the "sister" program and many of the students of both programs will be in classes together before going on to their more discipline specific specialties. This clinical experience offers students a finer understanding of the types of people they will later see in the speech clinics, and may even spark one's interest in the field of audiology more deeply.
Skilled Nursing Facilities
Another setting in which to gain adult experience is the skilled nursing facility, also called sub-acute rehabilitation or long term care. The population referred for speech services in these clinical settings have a variety of diagnoses and will offer a varied caseload for graduate students while providing opportunities to collaborate with other disciplines such as dietary, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, social work, and medicine. For students interested in working more with adults, this clinical setting is ideal.
Graduate training for speech language pathology master's students offers a broad range of experiences and opportunities to put coursework into practice quickly, and in supportive environments. The field is expected to continue to increase in terms of job opportunities, making this a fantastic educational and career track for today's students.