Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, evaluate, and treat speech, language, and swallowing problems. The SLP domain includes a diverse patient population and an equally diverse set of disorders, covering everything from communicative disorders among adults, speech and fluency issues common among elderly stroke victims, and even life-threatening feeding and swallowing problems affecting premature infants.
The attributes of speech-language pathologists extend beyond their knowledge of communicative sciences and disorders. They also have compassion for those struggling with speech and language disorders, the patience to help those they work with achieve their goals, and a genuine desire to make a difference in the world.
Strong Job Growth in a High-Demand Field
In 2014, there were 135,400 speech-language pathologist licensed to practice in the U.S. By 2024, an additional 28,900 SLPs will be needed to fill the demand—that’s a 21 percent increase in the number of speech-language pathologist jobs that are expected to become available during this period.
Factors contributing to the growing demand include:
- An expanding population of older Americans
- Increased survival rates among those who have experienced strokes and other issues that affect speech
- Early identification and diagnosis
- Increased elementary and secondary school enrollment
Speech-language pathologist jobs are dynamic and varied, as these professionals work in a variety of roles and settings, with many different population groups, and people of all ages. Perhaps the most unique characteristic of the speech-language pathology profession is the wide variety of settings in which speech therapy is applied and the many people and patient populations that benefit from it.
Thanks to the evolving nature of therapeutic technology, assessment and intervention methods and procedures, and an increased emphasis on prevention, the demand for this personally rewarding and intellectually stimulating profession continues to increase.
Speech Pathology Graduate Programs by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
A Snapshot of Speech-Language Pathology Jobs
Statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders highlight the demand for speech-language pathologists in the U.S.:
- Nearly 1 in 12 U.S. children (ages 3-17) has had a disorder related to speech, language, voice, or swallowing in the past 12 months.
- An estimated 17.9 million U.S. adults (ages 18 and older) reported having a problem with their voice in the past 12 months.
- About 5 percent of U.S. children (ages 3-17) have a speech disorder that lasted for a week or longer in the past 12 months.
- More than 3 million Americans stutter.
- Nearly 180,000 Americans acquire aphasia (the loss of ability to use or understand language) every year; about 1 million Americans currently have aphasia.
Speech-language pathologists provide services to individuals and groups in a wide variety of settings that include:
- Preschools, daycare centers and other early intervention settings
- Healthcare settings
- Rehabilitation centers
- Long-term care facilities
- Home health agencies
- Behavioral/mental health facilities
- Private practice
- Universities and university clinics
- Private homes and community residences
- Community, state, and federal agencies and institutions
- Correctional institutions
- Research facilities
- Corporate and industrial settings
According to the BLS, the largest employers of speech-language pathologists, as of May 2015, were:
- Elementary and secondary schools
- Offices of health practitioners
- General medical and surgical hospitals
- Nursing care facilities
- Home healthcare services
The Speech-Language Pathologist’s Scope of Practice
Speech-language pathologists focus on a range of human communication and swallowing disorders for people of all ages, from pediatrics to geriatrics. Their broad scope of practice encompasses the prevention, assessment, habilitation/rehabilitation, enhancements, and the scientific investigation of communication and swallowing.
Regardless of the practice setting or patient population an SLP may routinely work with, a career in speech-language pathology would virtually always involve some degree of:
- Clinical service
Speech-language pathologists provide an array of clinical services that range from counseling and consultation to screening, diagnosis, and treatment.
Some of their job duties include:
- Collaborating with other professionals, including audiologists, palliative care teams, social workers, occupational therapists, physicians, etc.
- Conducting initial and ongoing assessments and evaluations
- Determining the appropriate delivery method for services (home, school, community, etc.)
- Making decisions regarding admission, eligibility, duration, and discharge
- Providing intervention and support services for patients with speech and language disorders
- Selecting and fitting adaptive devices for communication and swallowing
- Serving as case managers and service delivery coordinators and providing referrals to other professionals, agencies, or consumer organizations
Advocacy and prevention activities are an important aspect of speech-language pathology:
- Promoting communication wellness and healthy lifestyle practices that can help prevent communication and swallowing disorders
- Presenting prevention information to individuals and groups at risk for communication disorders
- Providing early identification and early intervention services for at-risk individuals and groups
- Providing community awareness, health literacy, education and training programs
- Advising regulatory and legislative agencies on emergency treatment for individuals with communication and swallowing disorders
- Advocating at the local, state, and national levels for improved policies regarding access to speech-language services
- Advocating at the local, state, and national levels for better funding of research activities related to speech-language pathology
- Actively participating in professional organizations as to contribute to best practices in the profession
Education, Research, and Administration
Even as clinicians, speech-language pathologists often serve in a multi-faceted role as educators, administrators, and researchers:
- Administering and managing clinical and academic programs
- Conducting research related to communication sciences and disorders and swallowing disorders
- Developing policies, operational procedures, and professional standards
- Educating and providing in-service training to families, caregivers, and other professionals
- Educating the public about communication and swallowing disorders
- Educating, supervising, and managing speech-language pathology assistants and other support personnel
- Educating, supervising, and mentoring current and future speech-language pathologists
Job Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (AHSA) offers a number of resources for aspiring and current SLPs looking to explore job opportunities:
- The ASHA Online Career Center features both job and externship postings, as well as clinical fellow positions. Those new the field or otherwise looking for new opportunities can post their resume and apply to fill vacancies through the Career Center.
- The ASHA Leader features national job listings, arranged by state.
- ASHA’s Career Fair gives job seekers an opportunity to talk with prospective employers and even interview on the spot.
The federal government is a large employer of speech-language pathologists, particularly in administrative and clinical capacities. The U.S. military employs speech-language pathologists in both military and civilian positions. Other federal government employers of these professionals include:
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- Administration for Children and Families
- U.S. Department of Education
- Department of Health and Human Services
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Job seekers can search www.usajobs.gov for federal employment opportunities in speech-language pathology.