If you’ve always been known as “Chatty Cathy” by family and friends, you might have considered a career as a speech therapist, or speech and language pathologist. However, a speech therapist doesn’t necessarily spend a lot of time talking. Speech therapists are medical professionals who diagnose and treat communication disorders or swallowing problems. A speech therapist must have a graduate degree and a state license. Speech therapists earned an average of $72,000 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A speech therapist’s education begins with a bachelor’s degree. Each program may have slightly different prerequisites, so do your homework before you start your education. Although you don’t need a baccalaureate in speech therapy, a broad undergraduate education in the arts and sciences is recommended by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, or ASHA.
Ideally, your coursework should include classes such as linguistics, communication, humanities, biology and other sciences related to the human body such as anatomy and physiology.
Once you have that nice, shiny bachelor’s degree in hand, it’s time to get serious about a master’s program in speech-language pathology. There may be more prerequisites, and you should choose a program accredited by the ASHA Council on Academic Accreditation, as some states require accredited programs for licensure.
You’ll have plenty of programs to choose from, as ASHA reported 241 programs were accredited in March 2011. A master’s degree is designed to prepare you for entry-level clinical practice or research.
Coursework and Clinical Practice
Speech-language pathology programs are loaded with courses on topics such as communication disorders, diagnosis methods, motor speech disorders -- speech disorders that occur because of weak or diseased muscles -- and voice or fluency.
If you aren’t already bilingual, it's worthwhile to learn at least one other language. Bilingual speech pathologists are in demand, according to Education-Portal.com. Your master’s program will include supervised clinical practice as well as classroom education. You may also want to go on for a fellowship, which is an extended period of training similar to a medical doctor’s residency program.
Although you can take the necessary exams and become licensed once you have your master’s degree, you may need a doctorate in speech-language pathology if you want to perform research, teach at a university or go into administration.
Doctoral programs may focus on clinical practice or emphasize research; choose the one best suited for your plans. A doctor of clinical science program, for example, is clinically oriented, while a doctor of philosophy in speech-language pathology is geared toward research.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- Education Portal: Speech Therapist -- Speech Therapy Career Education
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Speech-Language Pathologists
- Education Portal: How to Become a Speech Therapist -- Education and Career Information
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.