Is Speech-Language Pathology the Right Profession for You? 7 Career Settings to Explore
By Karen A. Fallon, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Alison Boyle, MS, CCC-SLP
If you believe that variety is the spice of life … and work, speech-language pathology may be the career for you.
To become a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP), you must earn an undergraduate degree in communication disorders or complete speech-language pathology prerequisite courses AND earn a master’s degree from a CAA accredited speech-language pathology graduate program.
A master’s degree in speech-language pathology will provide the foundational skills needed for employment in a wide variety of SLP jobs.
What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do? 7 Career Settings to Explore
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders in people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. One of the perks of this broad scope of practice is the ability to work in a wide variety of professional settings. When choosing an SLP workplace setting, you will want to think about the ages of the clients you want to help and the types of communication and/or swallowing problems you want to address. With so many options, you are sure to find one that is right for you.
Below, we explore seven possible Speech-Language Pathology career settings to help you consider which might be the best fit for you.
According to a workplace report compiled by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), elementary, middle, and high schools employ more than half of the SLPs practicing in the United States. In the schools, SLPs are responsible for assessing and treating a wide range of speaking, listening, reading, and writing issues that interfere with a student’s ability to participate and succeed in school. You may choose to work in a public or independent school. Many independent schools focus on specific populations such as students who are deaf and hard of hearing, or students with learning disabilities or autism.
As a school-based SLP, you might work with students in the classroom, see students in a separate office individually or in small groups, or even serve as the classroom teacher in a special education classroom. SLPs most often work directly with students, but they will also attend IEP meetings, collaborate with other educators, or meet with families. SLPs will work with a wide variety of students including those who struggle with articulation, language and learning, reading and writing, fluency, voice, social communication, hearing, and using alternative forms of communication (AAC).
If you enjoy working with children and adolescents with a wide variety of needs, collaborating with fellow educators, and helping students to succeed academically, schools might be the place for you.
Given the wide variety of hospital settings, the clinical populations encountered by a medical speech-language pathologist can be remarkably diverse. While some hospitals treat patients of all ages, others cater their care to patient populations with a higher occurrence of cognitive, communication, swallowing, and/or voice disorders — such as children’s hospitals, military hospitals, and stroke centers. Examples of hospital settings include the following:
- Acute care hospitals (some have a focus on traumatic injuries):
- Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for patients needing critical care
- Progressive Care Unit (PCU, also known as step-down unit, transitional care unit) for patients who need an intermediate step between the ICU and the medical/surgical floor)
- Long-term Acute Care (LTAC) for patients with serious medical conditions that require ongoing care, but not at the ICU level
- Specialty care hospitals (e.g., Head and neck cancer; Spinal cord injury; Veteran’s Affairs Medical Centers)
- Pediatric Hospitals
- Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
- Patients from birth to 18 years of age
- Transitional/Rehabilitation Centers/Hospitals
- Inpatient rehabilitation units (for short term stays)
- Post-acute rehabilitation (longer-term stay, typically less than three months)
Despite these different settings, the primary roles of the SLP remain the same: assessment and treatment of the disorders; collaborating with other team members, counseling patients, family members, and staff; screening to identify those who may require SLP services; and working to maintain or enhance function while preventing further decline.
If you like the challenge of an ever-changing medical care environment and can easily manage moving from one care situation to the next, and have a desire for continuous learning, being an SLP in a hospital may be the right fit for you.
Early Intervention Settings
SLPS who work with infants, toddlers, and preschool age children can do so in a variety of early intervention settings including preschools, day care centers, and even the homes of clients. Working with the youngest clients involves both direct interaction to diagnose and treat communication and feeding disorders, as well as working with families to provide training to parents and other caretakers on typical communication development, methods to facilitate communication development, and developmental feeding information.
If working with infants and toddlers and their families in a variety of preschool and home-based settings sounds appealing to you, early intervention might be the career path for you.
Residential Healthcare Facilities
SLPs who work in residential healthcare facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities (SNF), assisted living facilities (ALF), and long-term care (LTC) facilities, primarily work with the aging population. While some people stay at a SNF as they recover from various medical ailments and transition from hospital to home, many residents live there permanently because they have ongoing physical or intellectual conditions that require constant care and supervision. The residents of these facilities are on a continuum of change, and their needs may need modification in an instant, secondary to illness, injury, or change in mental status.
Additionally, as people age, normal changes occur in their speech, language, cognition, and swallowing. Their chances of having a stroke or developing dementia or Parkinson's disease increase, as do the chances of acquiring a communication or swallowing disorder related to these diseases. SLPs can assist in differentiating between normal aging and disordered communication or swallowing function and provide treatment. When residents improve and re-gain skills that were lost, they rely on the SLP to re-work their therapy goals and continue to direct them toward recovery.
If you’d prefer to help patients progress their capabilities over months or even years, enjoy problem solving, collaborating with other professionals, and appreciate the rewards of seeing a resident return to a prior level or higher level of function after a decline in health, a residential health care facility could be the setting for you.
Non-Residential Healthcare Facilities and Home-Based Care
SLPs who choose to work in non-residential care typically provide home-based care, visit doctors’ offices, specialty clinics, and other outpatient settings. While residential care facilities primarily cater to the geriatric population, speech-language pathologists working in non-residential facilities may specialize in certain disorders or populations, or treat a wide range of clients/patients.
Treatment is focused on helping patients continue to progress after discharge from a hospital, rehabilitation center, or skilled nursing facility; reacquire functional skills (e.g. speech after a stroke); implement compensatory strategies (e.g. repetition to increase memory); and use external aides (e.g. calendar to increase orientation) to become more independent in their current environments.
If you are looking for a flexible schedule, autonomy, and variety in your caseload, non-residential health care facilities or home-based care could be the option for you.
Approximately 20% of SLPs work in private practice either as the practice owner, a full-time employee, or a private contractor. Individuals who own a private practice are self-employed SLPs who own and operate a private clinic that is not affiliated with a healthcare facility or school. A private practice may specialize in a particular type of client (for example pediatric, geriatric, individuals on the autism spectrum, etc.) while others do not specialize. Employees of private practices provide SLP services to the private clientele. SLPs who own a private practice may need additional business skills such as accounting or marketing.
If owning your own practice or working for a private general or specialty clinic sounds appealing to you, a private practice might be the right setting for you.
Colleges and Universities
Speech-language pathologists may be employed in colleges and universities to teach courses, conduct research, serve in administrative/leadership roles, and/or provide clinical supervision to SLP students.
To work in this setting, SLPs usually need a doctoral degree and/or several years of clinical experience. So, typically this is not the first setting in which an SLP will work. SLPs who join a university faculty will do so after gaining doctoral level education and several years clinical experience.
If you are interested in obtaining a doctoral degree and applying years of clinical experience to teach college classes, conduct research, supervise graduate students, and/or work in administration, a higher education setting could be the right fit for you.
Speech-Lanuagage Pathology Programs at GMercyU: Prepare for a Career For a Lifetime
With so many options for employment settings, many SLPs find themselves in a variety of job settings over the course of their career. These numerous and varied possibilities will allow you to tailor your career that fits your goals and lifestyle over time. You may choose to specialize in a particular area or grow your career in a variety of different directions as your personal and professional needs grow and change. The choice is yours. The possibilities abound.
Interested in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist? Learn more about the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology at Gwynedd Mercy University.