Many speech-language pathologists work in schools, but about 45 percent practice in other settings, according to Bonnie Lund, Ph.D., associate professor in the Communication Disorders Program and graduate coordinator for the Department of Speech, Hearing & Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota State University at Mankato.
Job opportunities for speech-language pathologists have expanded over the past 30 years as adults live longer and as more premature babies survive. "Some babies may weigh as little as two pounds, and with that, often come additional needs that include speech-language therapy and audiology services," Lund explains.
A variety of work
Speech-language pathologists evaluate and diagnose speech, language, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders, often in young people, but not exclusive to that demographic, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (www.asha.org).
In a medical setting, speech-language pathologists may treat patients once or twice a week for an hour at a time. In a school setting, a speech-language pathologist might see a student two to three times a week for a half-hour at a time. "Within the schools, options for a variety of service delivery, including classroom collaboration, are being incorporated, in addition to more traditional service delivery," says Katie Widestrom, president of the Minnesota Speech-Language Hearing Association (www.msha.net).
Other settings that employ speech-language pathologists are skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home healthcare agencies and outpatient clinics, according Widestrom. Some speech-language pathologists also work in private practice, she adds.
A flexible profession
The profession has a lot of flexibility and students must learn all aspects of it in order to receive a master's degree, Widestrom says. Students may experience a wide range of settings and patient needs while still in college.
"You're required to have a variety of practicum experiences," Widestrom says. "What's nice about that is you then have more insight into your different options, and that's really valuable."
Widestrom advises undergraduate students to work hard and focus on academics. "It's incredibly competitive to get into graduate programs," she explains.
Lund and Widestrom agree that the job outlook for new graduates is bright. "There has always been a need in both speech-language pathology and audiology, and it's even greater now," Lund says. "I tell students, `You will have a job before you even leave here.'"
Nancy Crotti is a freelance writer who lives in St. Paul.