Speech-language pathologists do much more than help people to speak clearly and fluently. They can also deal with cognitive (thinking) problems that affect communication, such as memory or attention problems that result from a stroke, brain injury or disease. They can help to diagnose and treat language disorders like aphasia. Even problems with swallowing are diagnosed and treated by speech-language pathologists.

The process of diagnosing patient problems requires use of physical examinations, technology and standardized tests. After the diagnosis, the speech-language pathologist develops a treatment plan that may include anything from a modified diet that makes swallowing easier to a speech-generating device to a program of language skills exercises.

Schools And Medical Settings

About half of the speech-language pathology jobs in the United States are in educational settings ranging from pre-schools to colleges and universities. Speech-language pathologists also work in hospitals, doctors' offices and home health agencies. A small but growing number of speech-language pathologists are in private practice, contracting with a school or agency to provide services.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), opportunities in speech-language pathology will grow. Aging of U.S. population means more people will need help in recovering from strokes and other health problems. In addition, new laws about education require that children get help with disabilities.

In Minnesota, a career in speech-language pathology requires a master's degree from an accredited program. After graduation, there's a nine-month clinical internship under supervision, which usually leads to a full-time position in the same location. After that, speech-language pathologists can apply for certification from the American Speech Language Hearing Association.

Hands-on Clinical Work

Although an "entry-level" position in speech-language pathology requires a master's degree, students receive lots of practical, hands-on clinical work throughout their education, according to Melanie Theis, president of the Minnesota Speech-Language -Hearing Association (MSHA). "A degree from an accredited program prepares students for the whole scope of practice in speech-language pathology. They will be introduced to both school and medical settings," Theis says.

Because the degree programs provide a wide background, Theis says that most students graduate with "a good feel for which direction they want to go." They can then select a clinical internship that will lead to a full-time job in that area. "The internship provides a lot of very practical, day-in, day-out, on-the-job experience," Theis says.

For more information, visit the MSHA website: www.msha.net

Laura French is principal of Words Into Action, Inc., and is a freelance writer from Roseville.