If you want to work as a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA), you may need to be licensed in your state. Once licensed you can work closely with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) by assisting with patient screenings, helping maintain documentation on the patients, checking the equipment and following through with treatment plans outlined by the pathologist. Although you may not earn as much as the pathologist, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) finds most SLPAs earn up to 75% of a pathologist's salary. Before you can begin earning that salary, you need to find the requirements for getting into this field in your state.
Find out if you need a license. Not all states require SLPAs to be licensed or registered. For example, Minnesota requires only that speech-language pathologists who supervise SLPAs ensure their assistants have an associate degree from an SLPA program or a bachelor's degree in communication disorders with a minimum of 100 hours of work experience in the field. However, California requires SLPAs be registered by the state of California's Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Board (SLPAB).
Complete SLPA coursework. Even in states that do not require you to be registered or licensed to practice, your supervising pathologist will still be required to ensure you are qualified to work with patients and carry out your duties. In states where you must be licensed, you generally need postsecondary college coursework to qualify. In Arizona, you need to complete 60 hours in an SLPA program from an accredited institution, and one-third of those hours must be on technical aspects of the job. Some states require you to have an associate degree from an SLPA program or a bachelor’s degree with a major in communication disorders or a related field.
Find a qualified supervisor. Before you can begin the next portion of your requirements for getting licensed, you need to locate a qualified speech-language pathologist who can supervise you. Each state sets its own guidelines as to who is qualified to be a supervisor. However, ASHA recommends the supervisor be licensed in that state and certified through them with at least two years of practice experience. Also, some states limit the number of assistants a supervisor can have in his practice. For example, Minnesota allows SLPs to supervise only one assistant.
Complete supervised fieldwork. In many states you will be required to complete supervised responsibilities before you can be licensed. ASHA recommends at least 100 hours of supervised patient interaction, and this recommendation has been adopted by some states, including Arizona. Other states, such as California, require 70 hours of supervised fieldwork either as part of an associate degree program or completed separately. California also accepts a minimum of nine months of work experience as the equivalent of an SLPA to meet this requirement. Even states that do not license SLPAs may have supervision requirements. In Minnesota, the SLP must supervise 30 percent of the work done by the SLPA during the first 90 days of employment, then 20 percent of the work thereafter.
If you already have a SLP limited license in some states, including Arizona, you can convert that into an SLPA license by completing additional coursework and supervised fieldwork.
If you want to work in public schools, you may need to complete additional requirements. Check with your state’s licensing board.
Do not become an SLPA if you hope to use the position to move closer to becoming an SLP. Because of differences in the coursework and fieldwork requirements, one career does not usually lead to the other. However, you could check with your state’s licensing board or your academic adviser to see if any of the coursework might transfer to a bachelor’s or master’s degree that would lead to an SLP career.