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Speech pathologists, more commonly called speech-language pathologists, work with people of all ages who have communication problems, cognitive difficulties that affect their speech or communication, and swallowing disorders related to injuries, diseases or medical conditions. A master’s degree and license are required in most states. Certain characteristics and abilities can make an SLP’s job easier or her work more effective.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has identified several “must have” characteristics for SLPs. First is the desire and interest to help other people, combined with sensitivity, personal warmth and tolerance. Although SLPs are in a helping profession, they are also scientists, and must apply scientific principles to their work. An SLP should be emotionally stable, with the perspective to interact in a way that promotes the relationship between herself and her patients or other health care professionals.
Teamwork and Coordination
SLPs are members of a team, either formally -- as in a stroke rehab treatment center -- or informally, as occurs in a large hospital. The SLP must be able to work with different professionals, ranging from nurses and physicians to social workers. He must be committed to working cooperatively for the patient’s benefit. In some cases, this means being persistent enough to advocate for the services a patient needs or convince a reluctant physician to order further therapy. In others, it may mean coordinating treatments so the patient is not too tired to participate in the cognitive aspects of speech therapy.
SLPs are specialists in communication, so it should not be surprising that they need good communication skills. Oral communication must be clear and concise, and the SLP must be able to switch from professional jargon when communicating with a physician to clear, simple information the patient and family can understand. The SLP’s written documentation must paint a clear picture of her therapeutic interventions and the patient’s response. Her listening skills are also vital. A patient whose communication is impaired, but who is mentally alert, might need to find different ways of conveying information. The SLP must be alert to these efforts and able to decode or infer what the patient means.
Compassion, Patience and Details
Many people with communication difficulties get frustrated by their inability to speak or understand. Patients and families may be emotionally demanding, and the SLP needs compassion to deal with and support people in crisis. Detail orientation is another important characteristic because it gives you the ability to concentrate during patient care and record small changes in a patient's behavior or condition. Patients who have cognitive impairments might need repeated practice to learn new speech skills or cope with deficits, and the SLP might need to repeat her instructions many times, so patience is a necessary quality.
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Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.