Speech therapists help patients with conditions ranging from hearing loss to cleft palate or brain injury. They evaluate difficulties with swallowing, speech and communication, plan treatments and carry them out in diverse settings, including schools and hospitals. In addition to the satisfaction of serving others, speech therapy has many advantages as a career, but it also has some disadvantages.
Speech therapists, also called speech-language pathologists, enjoy the opportunity of choosing among a wide variety of work environments, ranging from schools and hospitals to private homes. As of 2014, approximately 44 percent worked in private and public elementary and secondary schools, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 19 percent worked in speech therapy or audiology offices or in the offices of physical and occupational therapists. Hospitals employed another 13 percent, while nursing facilities employed five percent. Home healthcare agencies employed an additional 4 percent.
CNN Money ranked speech-language pathologist as the number one job for working parents in 2011, largely because of family-friendly hours. The many therapists working in schools typically work school hours, with school holidays and no summer work requirement. About 20 percent of speech therapists work part-time, and a majority have flexible schedules, according to a PayScale survey reported by CNN Money. Some speech therapists also work as contract employees and travel from site to site.
The field of speech therapy is extremely diverse, giving therapists the opportunity to specialize in the area that particularly interests them. For example, they can work with a specific age group, such as infants, school-aged children or the elderly. They can specialize in swallowing problems or in a particular condition, such as cleft palate or autism. Some therapists teach alternate means of communication, such as sign language, or help students with basic reading and writing skills. Still others train the next generation of speech therapists, conduct research or develop new methods of treatment.
Good Outlook and Pay
Speech therapists can expect a favorable job outlook, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau predicts a job increase of 21 percent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Therapists received an average hourly wage of $35.90 in 2016, or $74,680 for a full-time year, according to the BLS. Those employed by the offices of other health practitioners averaged $83,440 in full-time annual income, while those working for elementary and secondary schools earned $69,890 per year. Hospital speech therapists averaged $82,620 annually, and the top-earning 10 percent of therapists reported at least $116,810 for full-time work.
The road to a speech therapy career is long and arduous, requiring at least a master's degree. You must first complete a bachelor's degree with necessary prerequisites, including science classes, psychology and linguistics. Then you must complete a two-year master's program, including both coursework and clinical practice. Depending on the type of job, most states require speech therapists to become licensed or achieve teacher certification or both. Professional licensing typically requires a graduate degree, 36 weeks of full-time supervised clinical work and a passing score on a national exam. Jobs in research or teaching usually require a Ph.D.
Satisfaction and Frustration
Speech therapists can take pride in their important role in helping patients with serious communication problems. CNN Money gives the job an "A" ranking for benefit to society, but it receives only a "B" for personal satisfaction and a "C" for stress. Working with people whose problems sometimes make them difficult patients requires a lot of compassion. Speech therapists also need good listening skills, keen attention to detail and a large measure of patience. For example, treating stroke victims who make progress at a snail's pace can be frustrating.