Speech Pathology Education and Training Requirements

Speech pathologists, also known as speech therapists, evaluate and treat people with communication disorders that interfere with a person's ability to speak clearly and fluently. A master's degree in speech pathology, commonly known as speech-language pathology (SLP), is the basic requirement to practice in all states. Many speech pathologists also obtain certification, and most states require licensing.

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Educational Requirements for Speech Pathologists

Graduate programs in speech pathology are offered at the master's and doctoral degree level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's degree in speech pathology is the most common degree in this field, and it is the minimum requirement for obtaining professional certification and state licensure (www.bls.gov).

Earning a Master's Degree

Speech pathology master's degree programs generally take two years to complete and include a practicum, which often requires up to 400 hours of supervised clinical experience. Students who have earned a bachelor's degree in a field related to speech and hearing science may be able to complete a master's program in less than two years.

Master's degree speech pathology curriculum includes courses in acoustics and articulation, perception and production of speech, speech system anatomy and physiology, and research methodology. Students learn to evaluate and treat speech disorders by gaining an understanding of the physical, neurological, psychological and cognitive factors involved. Courses also cover specific conditions that can lead to communication disorders, such as dysphagia, a condition which causes swallowing problems, aphasia, which is caused by brain damage and dysarthria, a motor disorder that causes slurred speech.

Upon the completion of educational requirements, students who are pursuing professional certification, state licensure or state teacher certification must pass the Praxis exam, which is administered by the Educational Testing Service. Some schools also require students to pass the Praxis exam to complete their master's degree.

Earning a Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree in speech pathology can prepare students for careers in research and education. Ph.D. programs may take 3-5 years to complete. The first two years are generally devoted to coursework in a selected area of concentration, during which time students also complete research projects. After that, students are often paired with a mentor while they gain further lab and research experience.

After completing required coursework and research hours, many schools require doctoral students to pass a comprehensive exam to achieve doctoral candidacy. Finally, Ph. D. candidates must complete a dissertation.

Accreditation of Educational Programs

The BLS reported that in 2009, there were approximately 240 graduate-level speech pathology programs that had been accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's (ASHA) Council on Academic Accreditation. Attending an accredited program is a requirement for ASHA certification, as well as licensing in some states.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Though voluntary in most states, the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) credential offered by the ASHA is required by many employers. The BLS reported that, as of 2009, 47 states required licensure for speech-language pathologists working in health care facilities. Some states require state licensure and teacher certification for speech therapists working in public schools. The ASHA provides a complete list of state licensing and certification requirements (www.asha.org).

Training Requirements and Opportunities

Many schools provide supervised training and clinical experience through clinics affiliated with their graduate programs. Students have an opportunity to work with children and adults in areas of communication, speech and language development. Students and recent graduates may also obtain training by working in rehabilitation facilities, schools and other diagnostic and treatment centers.

In addition to the supervised clinical practicum required to complete a master's degree program, the ASHA requires an additional 1,260 hours, or 36 weeks, of full-time postgraduate clinical practice for certification. Certification candidates work with an ASHA-certified mentor who will evaluate their performance based on a minimum of 18 hours of direct observation. ASHA requirements for training hours will also satisfy many state licensing requirements.

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