Becoming a speech therapist is a rewarding career path for people who want a stable job that allows them to serve their communities by helping individuals lead healthier and happier lives. Any person who experiences speech disorder, language development, or even swallowing disorders will most likely be referred to a speech therapist for treatment.
The ability to communicate is a critical and fundamental part of everyday life. As a speech language therapist, you can have an extraordinary impact on people’s lives by helping them overcome communication challenges.
If you’re interested in the field of speech therapy, this guide will lay out everything you need to know about how to become a speech therapist.
What Does A Speech Therapist Do?
Before getting into the details of speech therapist education and other speech therapist requirements, it’s important to find out exactly what speech therapists do on a daily basis. You’ll want to know exactly what the job entails before you invest time and money into pursuing a career in speech therapy.
Because speech therapists typically meet one-on-one with their patients, it’s a role that requires strong interpersonal skills. So what does a speech therapist do exactly? During these one-on-one sessions, speech therapists commonly perform one or more of the following treatments:
- Help patients strengthen swallowing muscles with exercises for the lips, tongue, and throat
- Demonstrate speech exercises and breathing techniques to amplify the voice
- Help patients learn new words, develop better mental organization of language, and improve memory
- Teach patients speech alternatives and augmentations, such as finger spelling and picture communication
- Practice written language skills
- Put together comprehensive speech disorder treatment plans that patients can follow at home
Speech therapists work with both children as well as adults. Patients may have developmental speech problems, or may have congenital conditions like cerebral palsy and cleft lip. They may also have suffered a stroke or other brain injury that resulted in a loss of language. Other patients include transgender individuals who work with speech therapists to achieve their authentic voice.
In sum, speech therapists must be prepared to interact with various members of the community. If you are looking to learn how to become a speech therapist, you have come to the right place.
Where Do Speech Therapists Work?
Speech therapists are needed in a number of areas in every community, including:
- Schools – Speech therapy specifically focused on education is very common. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), most speech therapy jobs in the educational field take place in K-12 schools. Being part of the everyday landscape of childhood education allows speech therapists to intervene where they see children struggling to communicate, and develop custom learning plans for them.
- Residential health care facilities – Speech therapists are often found in retirement communities and nursing homes. They help elderly patients continue to express themselves as they experience lapses in memory and language.
- Doctor’s offices and hospitals – In the medical field, speech therapists generally work as one part of a larger team of healthcare workers administering comprehensive treatments. For example, speech therapy is commonly prescribed as one important step along the road to recovery for stroke patients.
- Independent practices – Some speech therapists own and operate independent facilities where patients may be referred to from schools or hospitals.
Along with these locations, there are also many employment opportunities as a travel speech therapist. As a certified speech therapist, you can apply to find exciting and high-paying travel assignments that will take you far and wide, leading to both personal and professional development.
How Much Does A Speech Therapist Make?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the average salary for speech therapists working in schools in 2019 was about $79,120 per year, which equates to approximately $38.04 per hour. The BLS also shows that speech therapists who work in hospitals are typically paid more, making around $82,000 per year on average. Those who work in private clinics may earn even more, with the average salary being roughly $93,110 per year.
In addition to a speech therapist’s professional focus, location is another important factor in determining potential income.
For example, the median salary for speech therapists in California is $92,810, while the median salary for speech therapists in Pennsylvania is $57,690. While cost of living obviously plays a role in salary discrepancies, it’s worthwhile to know which places offer the best pay overall.
Some of the highest-paying American cities include:
- San Francisco, California
- Jackson, Michigan
- Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Danbury, Connecticut
- Newark, New Jersey
- New York City, New York
The growth of speech therapy career opportunities is high across the United States. It is actually one of the fastest growing careers in the country. The BLS predicts that the number of speech therapy jobs will increase by 27% between 2018 and 2028. This rate of job growth would be far greater than average.
Speech Therapist Shortages
One way to improve your career prospects, and ultimately increase your chances of being hired as a speech therapist, is to figure out where you’re most likely to succeed. There are many American states where school speech therapists are in high demand, but short supply. A shortage in the number of speech therapists can make the job market work in your favor.
The states experiencing a shortage of school speech therapists include:
- South Carolina
Speech Therapist Education
You may be wondering how long it takes to become a speech therapist? Typically when discussing the speech therapist education requirements, it takes 4 years of an undergraduate degree and 2-4 years of higher education and training to become a certified speech therapist. You will need that certification to be qualified for any kind of job in the field.
Such a commitment may seem daunting at first, but it’s easier to process if you break down the educational requirement into smaller steps.
The first step on the speech therapist career path is to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Speech language therapy is not typically offered as an area of study for undergraduate degree students. Instead, those who go on to earn master’s degrees in speech therapy often get their bachelor’s in education, linguistics, psychology, and other programs within the arts and sciences.
Although you probably won’t be able to major in speech language therapy directly, there are still things you can do during your undergraduate years to improve your chances of becoming a successful speech therapist.
Most speech therapy master’s programs have prerequisite courses that are strictly required for admission. These may include statistics, psychology, phonetics, linguistics, foreign language, and more.
To get ahead, contact some speech therapy programs that you’re interested in and find out exactly what coursework is required for admission. Then, you can knock out all of your prerequisites while earning your bachelor’s degree.
Every speech therapist must obtain a master’s degree that is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). According to US News, some of the top speech therapist degree programs in the United States can be found at:
- Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee
- Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois
- The University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin
- Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana
- The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona
- Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois
If your career plans include working in research, opening a private practice, or teaching at the college level, you will need to attend a doctoral program in speech pathology. This is not necessary for most speech therapy jobs.
Supervised Clinical Experience
Alongside your education, you’ll need to complete 400 hours of supervised clinical observation. Most of these 400 hours will be spent performing direct patient contact.
Once you’ve completed your education and your supervised clinical experience, you’ll then move on to your Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY). You’ll complete 36 weeks of full-time professional speech therapy work in order to gain experience working with language disorders.
Exams and Licensing
To finally achieve your certification as a speech language pathologist, you will have to pass the Praxis exam, which tests your knowledge and readiness to work independently. A passing grade on this test is required for obtaining your ASHA Certification of Clinical Competence, as well as various state licenses and teaching certifications.
48 states and the District of Columbia require speech therapists to obtain a license in order to practice. Most states require that speech therapists who work in school settings obtain a teaching certification and state licensure.
Continuing Education Units
Speech therapy is not a kind of topic that you only have to learn once. Like many professions in the medical field, speech therapy and language pathology requires refresher courses so you can learn new methods and maintain your state licensure. These refresher courses are called continuing education units (CEUs), and you will be required to take a certain number of them in order to renew your speech therapy license.
Work as a Travel Speech Therapist With Host Healthcare
Although the list of requirements is long, the benefits of becoming a speech language therapist are great. The job prospects are growing faster than most other jobs in the United States, and you can make a good return on the money you invest in your education through very high earning potential.
This career gives you the opportunity to make good money while traveling. Occupational therapy and physical therapy careers also have similar perks. If you want to help any patient with their language disorder, you may want to become an occupational therapist. Learn about the difference between occupational therapy vs physical therapy.
At Host Healthcare, you can continue your career as a speech therapist with travel assignments perfectly matched to your unique lifestyle and ideal travel destinations.
Apply today to become a Host Healthcare traveler and get going with your new career.
Find other healthcare jobs that might be more suitable for you.
Advanced Travel Therapy. Steps To Become A Speech-Language Pathologist. https://www.advancedtraveltherapy.com/become-speech-language-pathologist/
Intermountain Healthcare. Speech Therapy. https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/ear-nose-throat/treatment-and-detection-methods/speech therapy/#:~:text=Speech%20therapy%20is%20treatment%20for,to%20make%20the%20right%20sounds.
NYU Steinhardt. Why Become an SLP? https://speech.steinhardt.nyu.edu/become-a-speech-language-pathologist/
Teach. How to Become a Speech Therapist. https://teach.com/careers/healthcare/speech-pathologist/
Teach. Speech Pathologist Salary and Career Outlook. https://teach.com/online-ed/healthcare-degrees/online-masters-speech-language-pathology/career-salary/#:~:text=Speech%20therapists%20in%20New%20York,21.6%25%20between%202016%20and%202026.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291127.htm#st
U.S. News. Best Speech-language pathology Programs. https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/pathology-rankings