What Does an SLP Do? 5 Things I Love Most About Being an SLP

There’s no such thing as a job completely free of stressors. But there are some jobs that seem to have that magic blend of professional growth opportunities, flexibility, good pay, and personal satisfaction.

We talked to a couple seasoned SLPs that aren’t just tolerating their job or waiting for something better to come along— they love the work, and love the people they work with.

Lindsey Spilecki, who works in the public schools, and Briana Ralph, who works for a private clinic and provides in-home services, are a couple of board-certified (CCC-SLP) SLPs working in very different parts of the field. What they have in common is a genuine love for the profession.

Responding to one simple question, here’s what they had to share about the best part of being an SLP: What do you love most about being an SLP?

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It feels good to be part of a team working toward common goals…

Working in a collaborative environment has its perks. Working alongside other like-minded professionals – occupational therapists, PTs, applied behavior analysts, psychologists, teachers, counselors and social workers – is not only something that helps put the SLP component of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or therapy regimen into context, if you love the folks you work with it also provides plenty of opportunities for camaraderie, support and laughs.

Lindsey Spilecki, CCC-SLP, who works for Hancock County Schools in West Virginia, has come to rely on collaboration as a way to create a support system for her students that stays in place even after they leave her resource room. Lindsey says that she can go to anyone in the school, from the janitors to the school psychologists, and fill them in on the unique needs of her students, so that support is comprehensive and continual throughout the entire school day.

Lindsey says she can go to her fellow faculty members at any time to let them know if a certain child is having issues that require some additional support. Lindsey says it may be something as simple as someone saying to the child, “Hey, repeat that again, so I can understand you.”

“Everybody’s there for these students, and they understand that there’s more going on than just what they see.” As a matter of policy, all teachers who have kids in class with an IEP must be familiar with all aspects of the plan, not just the ones that pertain to accommodating the student in their own classroom. This helps ensure teachers fully appreciate all of the accommodations, individualized approaches to teaching, and therapy taking place throughout the school day.

Lindsey says she gets emotional when she thinks about the school’s staff coming together for the benefit of the children. “I have an entire staff of people who are here just for these students.”

Briana Ralph, CCC-SLP, who works with a small community hospital in West Virginia but also provides home care services for her patients, which range from newborns to toddlers as old as three., also collaborates with physiotherapists and OTs.

 “We have a lot of kids come in and have all three disciplines [SLP, occupational therapy, physical therapy] so sometimes we co-treat. If there’s a feeding issue, PT works on positioning them, OT works with hand-to-mouth, and I’m working on feeding.”

Briana says sometimes collaboration is a little more informal. For example, if the physical therapist is working on a child’s walking, she may sit a few feet away and entice the child with a toy. It’s all about teamwork with these speech-language pathologists, and the children reap the rewards.

Nothing is as rewarding as seeing someone become confident in their own voice…

It’s not always a rosy picture, and successes are often a long time in the making, but throwing in the towel is never an option. It may be the same exercises over and over for days, weeks, even months, but these pros are in it for the long haul.

When asked about how she handles the students she can’t reach, Lindsey simply says, “I just don’t give up…we collaborate, and we never give up. There are endless ways, endless possibilities, so we just have to find the one that works.” And when it does, there is nothing more rewarding.

Lindsey lights up when she tells the story of a boy she started working with at age three. At that time, she said his vocabulary was limited to just two sounds: ‘ooh’ and ‘eee.’ Thanks to intensive early intervention services, this same boy is now a talkative third grader. Lindsey laughs, saying, “Now we can’t get him to stop [talking]—ever!”

But in this field, successes certainly aren’t limited to the youngest patients. In fact, Briana says some of her cases with the oldest patients have proven to be the most rewarding. She said seeing the happiness on the faces of her nursing home patients when they could move from thin liquids to more satisfying foods was great.

But one of her most rewarding cases involved a patient who had her larynx and tongue removed due to laryngeal cancer. Briana said her patient couldn’t make any sounds at all, eliminating the use of devices like artificial larynxes. So, she gave her an augmentative communication device, which allowed her to type what she wanted to say and hit enter, and then a digital voice would speak her text.

She said she was typing something funny about her husband, and he laughed. This amazing moment brought the patient to tears because she could finally say something and have her husband hear it. “It was so sweet, it was the best thing,” says Briana.

You got to love a career that offers a lot of specialties and practice settings…

A master’s in speech-language pathology along with the clinical preparation that accompanies it, can be used to prepare you to enter any number of a wide array of practice areas.

Have an interest in education? You’re not alone. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (AHSA), about 56 percent of all SLPs are employed in educational settings, including K-12 schools, preschools, early intervention programs, and colleges and universities.

But your degree certainly won’t limit you to the confines of the classroom. In fact, ASHA estimates that about 39 percent of all SLPs are employed in healthcare settings. Choose this path and you’ll find jobs in residential healthcare facilities, hospitals, non-residential facilities, hospitals, and private practice.

That’s not all. Some SLPs work through local, state, and federal government agencies, including public health departments.

Your practicums and internships provide no shortage of opportunities to experience what it’s like working in these settings. But don’t think that because you choose to work in one setting upon graduation that you’ll be pigeonholed there for your entire career. One of the cool things about this field is that changing it up is always an option.

For example, Briana’s current job in a hospital has provided her with opportunities to work in an outpatient clinic and an inpatient clinic, in early intervention services, and in-home healthcare.  She says that she may decide to go into the schools once she decides to have kids, an option that would allow her to work a more regular schedule.

Lindsey, on the other hand, chose to work in a school setting and has remained there since her clinical fellowship. According to Lindsey, “I don’t think I’ll ever leave; I think I’ll retire here. If I could, I would. This is my dream job.”

It sure is sweet getting a nice paycheck…

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nationwide, the average annual salary for speech-language pathologists was $74,680 as of May 2016.

The BLS reported that SLPs working in nursing homes and residential care facilities made the most, earning $92,220 on average, followed by those working in hospitals ($81,090), and private practice ($80,580).

I really enjoy the stability that comes with being in a high-growth field…

We all want to find a career that we love – that’s a given. But it’s also important to choose a career that will go the distance. Lucky for you, the SLP profession continues to experience faster-than-average growth.

In fact, between 2014 and 2024, the number of jobs in the field is projected to increase by 21 percent.

Why? According to ASHA, several factors are in play…

  • Post-stroke patients and those with medical conditions like Parkinson’s that are common among the aging Baby Boomer population often result in problems with speech, language, and swallowing.
  • The survival rate of premature infants and victims of trauma and stroke also continues to increase.
  • Better methods of assessment resulting in early diagnoses and interventions means an increase in services for the youngest of children.

With a growing demand coming from every patient population – from newborns to the elderly – the number of contract services in hospitals, schools, and assisted living facilities continues to increase, creating a growing demand for SLPs that will only continue.