Is speech pathology a good career choice for me?
June 4, 2013 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I love children, am introverted, am really good at science, but am missing about five prerequisite classes in speech and language. Is speech pathology a good career choice for me?

Saw King's Speech, loved it (not as a movie, but as a portrayal of a career path). I have been interested for a long time in speech pathology. My first love is novel-writing, but it doesn't pay the bills. Also, there's this slight obsession I have with helping people. It would be good to translate that into a career at some point.

There are myriad options with this path, from working in hospitals, to working in schools to opening a private practice. And firsthand, it is so clear that people who go to speech pathologists TRULY improve, and in ways that immeasurably improve their lives.


-Is speech pathology a good career for increasing levels of complexity/responsibility? What does the day to day of it feel like? What kind of trajectory does this have, for someone who is more into caring for patients one on one than management.

-Is the masters or PhD better for someone who loves research, but not administration or bureaucracies? It is the former that is pulling me to academia and the latter that's pulling it away again. Is it better to get a masters then PhD, or go straight into the PhD?

-Finally, is it a good profession for starting a private practice in? What is it like being the sole owner of a business, if there are any SLPs on here that could comment?

Many thanks for any ideas.
posted by kettleoffish to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure any of us can tell. Can you fulfill the requirements of the job? Do you like people? Are you willing to fulfill the prereqs?

(Don't depend on random people to make major career choices for you.)
posted by discopolo at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you shadow a speech pathologist or, better yet, several in different kinds of practice? That might be the best way to get a real feel for the day-to-day work.

I had a good friend from college who went into speech pathology (got her Master's degree) and got a great job working for a hospital affiliated with a university medical school. She talked about the work being very rewarding, but she found it draining in many ways. She was also an introvert, but found herself in serious need of some social/adult time after work, due to working mostly with children with the various developmental and psychiatric disorders that often accompany the need for speech pathology services.
posted by jingzuo at 6:42 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you describe yourself as an introvert then I might want you to lean more toward the research side of the sciences or social sciences. I think speech therapy is a very viable career choice, though. I think you could have a great private practice, but it involves a lot of interaction with people. If you are comfortable one-on-one with people, then is would be a good choice. Do you like children? Another big question as most of your clientele will be children or the geriatric population. I think you should think about it. i like the idea of talking to or shadowing a speech pathology. Informational interviews will help with your decision-making around whatever career path you wish to take.
posted by Jewel98 at 7:49 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a speech-language pathologist. These are some big questions and I can't answer all of them right now, due to time being short.

If you want to do research as a career, then definitely go for a PhD. The masters is the entry level degree for working clinically.

I have my MA degree and I work with students in public schools right now but I have also worked with patients on an inpatient and outpatient basis in a hospital and in nursing homes. I also tried to start an independent private practice but never got it off the ground. You would realistically need at least ten years experience before even attempting to see clients in your own practice. I would definitely discourage everyone from starting a practice unless you don't need the money. Insurance is the worst and I didn't come across many clients with the ability to pay out of pocket.

If you like to challenge yourself and stay on your toes, this is a great field! In grad school you will learn all the clinical aspects of disorders and treatment, but once you start working is when you have to apply that and learn a million other things. You might specialize in something like autism treatment or childhood language disorders in your job but then you need to be familiar with medical diagnoses and treatments your clients might be experiencing, in addition to knowing about their funding source and what that requires of you. If you work in schools, you need to know special education law, teaching best practices and state curriculum standards too. If you work with adults in rehab, you will need to know about medication side effects, Medicare funding and nutrition. It's a lot! And each area of practice has its own red tape and heartache at times. But I am grateful to have the knowledge and experience to work in so many settings, and we are always in high demand.

As far as management goes, you could work your whole career in patient care and never manage another employee. I think a lot of us appreciate that about the field.
posted by coolsara at 8:14 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a speech therapist in the UK. I work in a hospital with adults with acquired speech, language and swallow disorders.

I find it emotionally demanding and quite upsetting a lot of the time. Most of my patients die, very few improve much. It's difficult being from a small department and having to be assertive with all the members of the multidisciplinary team working around the patient. You have to be an advocate for your patient, and this often brings you into conflict with the people caring for them, unfortunately.

When I was working as a community therapist the experience was a bit different, but if anything I found it more exhausting. You might be the first person to find out someone is not coping or is being abused and then you end up staying with that person until the appropriate agencies have been contacted - means lots of unpaid overtime, because you couldn't ethically leave the person.

Working with kids will be a different experience, but there are downsides also. My friends working in schools find they don't have enough time with each child to make a difference, often having a hundred or more children they are supposed to be seeing. They are increasingly acting as consultants for other people to deliver therapy. Plus you have to try to deal with the fact that the majority of parents will not stick to the recommendations you give, and you won't see the results that you know could be achieved.

As a researcher that has come into speech therapy, I have to say the evidence base for most of what we do is sadly lacking, which I find frustrating.

My typical day involves going through my caseload list and prioritising the people to be seen for the day, then trundling around the hospital doing mainly swallowing assessments, talking to relatives, talking to doctors and nurses, writing notes, doing discharge paperwork and phoning people at home to check they are coping. Working in a hospital, about 90% of what I do is swallowing work, with occasional communication sessions.

Some of your questions I can't answer because it will be specific to your country.

I think the only thing in your question that jumps out at me is that you say you are an introvert. This job needs a lot of energy around people and you have to pour a lot in, sometimes without getting a lot out again. Ask yourself if you could cope with that.
posted by kadia_a at 11:08 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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