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

Explore the career requirements for speech therapists. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Bilingual and Multicultural Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Speech Therapist?

Speech therapists aid individuals with voice, speech, fluency, language or swallowing disorders by providing evaluation, treatment, therapy and alternative methods of communicating. These professionals may need to work with other healthcare workers or the staff in a school to help provide the best care for their patients. They also communicate and work with the families of their patients to help them learn how to handle communication disorders.

With their patients, speech therapists begin by assessing the levels of speech and language (or swallowing issues), and then create an individualized treatment plan. This treatment plan typically helps improve the patient's voice and the sounds he or she is able to make. If the patient has problems swallowing, speech therapists will work to strengthen the muscles used for swallowing. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a speech therapist.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Speech therapy, speech-language pathology
Licensure and/or Certification All states require licensure; professional certification may be required by some employers
Key Skills Diagnose speech and swallowing disorders; create treatment plan and revise according to patient progress; teach patients exercises to strengthen speech and swallowing muscles and improve vocalization skills; teach alternative methods of communication
Job Growth (2014-2024)21%*
Median Salary (2015) $73,410*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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 2015 that approximately 58,280 speech-language pathologists in the United States worked in elementary and secondary schools. 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 21% between 2014 and 2024. 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. Mean annual incomes for speech-language pathologists were $76,900 in 2015. Speech therapists who worked in home health care services averaged about $97,410, and those employed by nursing facilities earned average salaries of $91,560 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 2016, over 300 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.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in a related career that requires a master's degree, you may consider occupational therapy. Occupational therapists work to improve a patient's ability to perform everyday tasks. This is accomplished through therapy, and they often serve injured, disabled or ill individuals. Physical therapists also work with injured or ill people, but are required to have a doctoral or professional degree. They use therapy to improve a patient's movements and help them cope with their pain. Audiologists also require a doctoral or professional degree, but are very similar to speech therapists. These professionals do a lot of the same things as speech therapists, but for patients with hearing problems or issues with their ears.

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