Speech Language Pathology Education

Whether it is a child suffering from a cleft palate, an elderly victim of a stroke or a solider dealing with a brain injury sustained in combat, all may find themselves in need of a speech-language pathologist to help them deal with their communication disorders. Considered one of today's fastest-growing fields of employment, the need for trained speech-language pathologists to work in hospitals, schools, residential care facilities and in private practice is expected to increase 19 percent between now and 2022, according to research conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there are many excellent schools across the country offering Speech Pathology programs, there are also many factors that must be taken into consideration by those students wanting to pursue training in this field.

Directory of Speech Language Pathology Education by state:

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What Classes Will I Take?

Students enrolled in these programs will take a variety of classes that will prepare them for the many situations they will face with their patients. Along with the typical general education classes in English, Math, History and Science they will also learn about swallowing disorders, age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, physiology of speech and hearing and more. Most pathologists are also trained in sign language, which allows them to work with patients who have little or no ability to speak. Counseling skills classes are also taken, which trains a pathologist on how to work with the families of patients suffering from these disorders. They must also be able to maintain accurate records pertaining to the treatment of each patient, and are responsible for conducting an initial analysis as well as developing a treatment plan for each patient. The ability to write clear and concise reports is extremely important in this field, so students take courses in business writing, medical report writing and medical records administration as part of their program of study. For those who wish to work with specific populations such as young children or the elderly, courses in gerontology or pediatrics are also taken.

What Degree Will I Need?

For most positions in Speech Pathology, a Master's degree is the minimum requirement. Most students earn Bachelor's degrees in this specialty, then attend graduate school to earn their Master's and Doctoral degrees. As with most specialties in the medical field, it's vital to attend a school whose program has full accreditation. According to the Council on Academic Accreditation, which is a part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, there are currently 253 Master's degree programs across the United States that have full accreditation.

Virtually all Speech Pathology programs include clinical internships that go along with classroom coursework to provide practical experience to students. Many schools have Speech-Language centers on campus, where students get practical experience working with patients in their own community. Some schools, such as Purdue University and Arizona State University, offer study abroad programs for students who wish to travel the world and help others overcome their difficulties. For example, Purdue University undergraduate and graduate students can travel to Zambia to work with children who have cleft palates or other physical ailments that have led to their communication disorders. For students at Arizona State University who are enrolled in the school's Hearing for Humanity Program, they can travel to Malawi and treat both children and adults who suffer from stuttering and other problems.

While these schools offer the chance to travel the world, others like Indiana University have developed programs that deal with specific populations in their communities. The school currently offers the STEPS program for Latino families and children in the state, allowing students who are trained in bilingual studies to work with patients from different cultures. Others, like Florida State University, give students practical experience by offering an annual summer camp for children with speech disorders. For students who are earning their Master's or Doctoral degrees, these programs offer invaluable practical experience while helping others overcome their physical and emotional problems.

What Certifications and Licenses are Available?

For speech-language pathologists to be able to obtain most positions for which they would apply, being certified and licensed in their field is a must. Almost all states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed, with many requiring graduation from an accredited Master's degree program along with supervised clinical experience before granting a license. Licenses are granted by each state's medical or health licensure board, and each state can have varying requirements when it comes to granting a license. These can include requiring a certain number of hours of supervised experience, letters of recommendation from professors or other healthcare professionals or completion of an application or exam.

Most speech-language pathologists choose to earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Some employers will require this prior to employment, while others will accept licensure in place of the certification. Students usually complete their licensures or certifications just as they are finishing their degrees, allowing them to have all the necessary requirements most employers expect.

To excel in this field, speech-language pathologists should possess patience and compassion along with critical-thinking and listening skills when working with patients. For those who do, the number of specialties in this field is considered wide-open. For example, the University of Washington offers such cutting-edge specialties as psychoacoustics, computer recognition technology and speech production and perception, while the University of Florida offers students nine research labs that are always looking to make the latest innovative discovery.

As the United States population ages, health conditions such as strokes and hearing loss will lead to increased demand for speech pathology services. In addition, medical advances in helping premature babies survive will also result in more children needing help with communication disorders. With technology continuing to make amazing advances regarding speech and hearing problems, the role of the speech-language pathologist will come to play a more vital role in helping people overcome their disorders. And with the many colleges and universities across the U.S. making their programs stronger than ever before, graduates will be well-prepared to help those in need.