One of the most exciting parts of your training to become a speech language pathologist is taking part in internships. No matter how interesting and exciting your classroom experiences are, they don’t hold a candle to the thrill of actually stepping into the job of offering speech therapy to real-world patients.
That’s what an internship gives you. You are placed in a real job, handling the real challenge of speech language therapy on a daily basis. All those examples you read about in the classroom are suddenly walking in the door. You get the intense experience of interacting with patients who need you, and the important guidance of colleagues who have come before you.
It’s not all wine and roses, though. Becoming a speech language pathologist is serious business, and an internship is hard work. You need to be a sponge, soaking up everything you see, absorbing knowledge and skills. You need to model your behavior and practices on the experienced professionals around you. At the same time, you need to constantly be thinking about how you can do it different, do it better, once you are licensed and responsible for your own patients.
It’s a lot to wrap up in a few months, but it’s an experience you’ll have to master on the path to becoming an SLP.
Speech Language Pathology Internships Are Important On-The-Job Training
As a profession that lives and breathes clinical practice, speech language pathology follows the same educational path as other medical and psychological roles. That is, in addition to extensive classroom and simulation training, it includes practical, on-the-job training as a standard part of learning how to be an SLP therapist.
In fact, every graduate SLP program will include some kind of internship arrangement for practical experience. The ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) requires that accredited programs include supervised clinical experience of sufficient depth and breadth to fulfill the standards expected in knowledge and skills. That clinical practice is almost always only accomplished through internship rotations.
Your SLP internship will help build the skills you need to succeed in the industry and will shape your entire career as a speech therapist.
Most schools include more than one rotation as a part of the typical master’s program. That gives you not only the breadth of experience, but also a chance to sample the potential specialization areas within the field. It also exposes you to different work settings, so you can decide what kind of patients and what sort of jobs you are interested in pursuing after graduation.
Do SLP interns get paid?
There is no hard and fast rule about internship pay for speech language pathology placements. Whether or not your internship hours will be compensated, or if you will effectively be trading your time for on-the-job training depends on the specific internship arrangement.
How long do SLP internships last?
SLP internships typically last from a few months up to a year. The placement is designed to give you enough time to absorb some of the real-world lessons that come with active clinical practice, so you can expect an internship to last long enough for you to get comfortable in your work and deliver some real assessment and therapy services.
What is an SLP medical internship?
According to ASHA, over 40 percent of SLPs work in schools or educational environments. But there is also a sizable percentage of SLPs who work primarily in medical environments such as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, or long-term care settings. An SLP medical internship takes place in one of these settings rather than a school or independent therapy practice. Although qualifications for medical SLPs are no different than regular speech therapists, the work setting does mean dealing with different types of problems and working with different kinds of care teams. These internships are valuable for anyone heading to medical practice instead of educational or private settings.
Speech Pathology Internships for Undergraduates
Direct internships in speech pathology are not usually available to undergraduate students, even if you are majoring in SLP or audiology for your bachelor’s. The kind of work that SLP internships involve really require that you have at least started your graduate education in the field. Even senior undergrad students just don’t have the kind of skillsets required.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find volunteer or sub-clinical employment opportunities as an undergrad that can serve as a sort of shadow internship in SLP. Or you can find non-clinical internship opportunities in organizations that offer speech language therapy, working as an office assistant or in caregiver positions. Any of these options help you get exposure to the field and boost your chances of being accepted into a graduate program in SLP.
SLP Internships vs Other Kinds of Clinical Experiences
Internships are important learning mechanisms, but they aren’t the only kind of clinical placement you will find in the world of speech pathology.
One of the more popular options you will hear about is the externship. Externship placements give you observational positions in hospitals, clinics, schools, or other environments where SLP services are offered. They give you a short-term exposure to the realities of SLP therapy work without completely immersing you for long periods. That makes them a great choice for getting an idea of what type of specialization you might be interested in pursuing in SLP.
Externships offer a preview of what life is like in a particular kind of SLP position without actually putting you in that position.
An SLP clinical fellowship is an option after graduation, but it is not the same thing as an externship. Fellowships are a type of time-limited job that are designed as a way to get highly specialized training in a particular area of SLP. Examples include:
- Intensive Care
- Neurological Rehabilitation
- Acute Care
- Pediatric Care
Fellowships typically last a year. You are paid for your work there, but it’s as much a learning and training experience as a functional position. Instead, it’s just a longer and more intensive kind of on-the-job training than an internship, at a more advanced level.
What’s the difference between a speech pathology internship and externship?
An SLP internship is designed to deliver practical, on-the-job experience working with patients as a speech-language pathologist. An externship, on the other hand, is built to offer you an overview of the position. Externships may last only days or weeks while internships are months or more. You have no real responsibility and possibly no patient contact in an externship position, where an internship gives you genuine tasks and responsibilities to complete as part of the learning experience.
Resources for Finding Speech Therapy Internships
Your career in speech language pathology will get a big boost from finding the right internship opportunities early on. So it’s important to start consulting these resources and getting familiar with the options as soon as possible.
Internships for SLP students aren’t all that easy to find, however.
Your first stop in internship searches should be your master’s program. Since internships are a required part of the program, you can be sure they have worked out arrangements with various local providers to place students in a variety of positions. Odds are, they have a good working relationship with most local SLP employers and probably even trained some of the staff at those organizations, so there is already an inside track set up for you.
Hunting Down Internship Opportunities Independently
Sometimes, though, you may be interested in interning in a type of setting that your program hasn’t dealt with before, or outside the local area. Your counselors and professors are likely to be supportive, but you are going to be left to do a lot of footwork on your own if that’s your goal.
Many clinics are happy to have the extra set of hands around at a low cost that an intern represents. But they aren’t always familiar with the process of hiring and managing interns. So you may have to do some convincing to get your foot in the door.
Checking job listings, whether on the ASHA website or just regular job boards, can sometimes net you internship positions. If they aren’t marked as such, it’s sometimes useful to just look for organizations hiring entry-level SLPs. That tells you they are in the market for someone at a beginner level and maybe not wanting to pay a lot—perfect candidates to talk into an internship offer.
Making the Most of Your Speech Language Pathology Internship
An internship is always a time-limited opportunity. So, you need to be prepared to make the most of that experience starting on day one. And the single most important factor you can control is your attitude toward learning.
Your goals need to be an asset that is low-maintenance and high-value… the person who brings the coffee and donuts in the morning and doesn’t complain about the hours. No one at your placement owes you anything. You need them to want to ask you to sit in on the most interesting cases, to chat with you over lunch about the tips and tricks that have made their careers a success.
Other winning techniques to get the most out of your internship include:
- Learn everyone’s name on day one
- Be excited about what you are seeing and learning
- Be respectful and don’t overstep your bounds
- Go to work with goals for what you want to learn every day
- Be flexible about what you are willing to take on
- Prepare for both your cases and for professional interaction and communication
Although it can be intimidating to show up for the first day of an internship placement, keep in mind that everyone at your placement went through the same thing. They are going to understand your challenges and help you through. You’ll fit in in no time at all.
What Comes After Your Speech Pathology Internship?
Internships for SLP students aren’t the end of the road in your education. You might look for a fellowship opportunity, but most new SLP graduates are likely to put in a few years on the job before making such a serious decision.
Even after your master’s degree and internship experience, almost no employer is truly going to consider you to be fully trained in your first full-time position. You can expect to aim for entry-level positions that are going to include a lot of basic cases and mentorship from other staff while you get up to speed.
But don’t forget what you learn in your internship placements, either. You should treat them as a full dress rehearsal for the reality of day-to-day work in speech therapy. Whether it’s handling yourself as a professional or dealing with a tricky swallowing issue, you can take all that valuable real-world experience with you to build on when you get started in your first real position.
- Emerson College offers a Master's in Speech-Language Pathology online - Prepare to become an SLP in as few as 20 months. No GRE required. Scholarships available.
- NYU Steinhardt's Master of Science in Communicative Sciences and Disorders online - ASHA-accredited. GRE and bachelor's degree required. Graduate prepared to pursue licensure.
- Calvin University’s online Master of Speech-Language Pathology degree program - Prepares you to become a certified speech-language pathologist.