Speech-language pathology is a complex yet rewarding career. It’s a demanding field, but the emotional payoff can be immense. Still, nothing is worse than going into a field with an incomplete understanding of what you're getting into. Here are some things to consider before embarking on a career in the field:
A lot of education is involved.
Becoming a speech pathologist requires a fair bit of time. You'll need a bachelor's degree, as well as a master's degree in speech-language pathology. (The bachelor's degree does not have to be in the same field as the master's, but it helps.) You'll also need to pass an examination, and do some supervised clinical work in order to become certified. You can find more information in the article "How to Become a Speech Pathologist," but the short answer is to expect a time commitment of at least seven years.
There’s plenty of job growth.
The good news is that once you graduate, your job prospects look pretty good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 19% job market growth for speech pathologists from 2012 to 2022 - that's well over the average job growth of 11%. You may need to be flexible in terms of where you work, or what sector you work in, but there are plenty of jobs available in the field. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association projects the biggest growth in elderly and bilingual populations.
The job pays pretty well.
As of May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics cited the mean salary for a speech pathologist as $71,550 per year. There's a fair bit of leeway around that average, but even among professionals employed by elementary or secondary schools, the mean income was $66,910 per year.
A variety of work environments are available.
There are all kinds of places for a speech pathologist to work. Some work in private practices, but most often, they will be attached to other institutions. Elementary and secondary schools are among the most common. Medical clinics and hospitals will also employ SLPs, and nursing homes, retirement communities, and home health services are a growing area of employment.
The one thing to be sure of is that wherever you work, the job requirements will vary from day to day and hour to hour. Every client is different, with unique challenges and new chances to help someone succeed. Very seldom is being an SLP a standard, 9-5 workday on a strict routine.
There are a few advantages...
There are a lot of material benefits to becoming a speech-language pathologist. As mentioned above, the salary is not bad, depending on where you live, and the job market is fairly wide open. But there are other, more important benefits, as well. Speech pathologists get to work hands-on with people in a way that has a tangible, positive impact in their lives. The emotional reward involved with helping somebody learn to speak, or swallow, or any number of things is immense, and the sense of joy when someone makes a breakthrough is immeasurable.
As well as a few disadvantages.
Burnout can become a huge issue for speech pathologists. Between overwhelming patient loads, meetings with fellow staff, bureaucracy, paperwork, and all the other things that practitioners perceive as "getting between" them and their work, it can be a frustratingly emotional job. Remembering to take care of yourself and take time away is important.