Speech pathologists help people learn to speak and communicate better.
They fine-tune speech patterns, help people who stutter or who have had strokes,
and work to cure swallowing disorders. They also deal with people who have
cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and mental retardation.
Some even specialize in reducing accents, or advise broadcasters, singers
and actors who use their voices to earn a living. "This is a very diverse
field," says Nuala South, a speech-language pathologist in Oklahoma. "I get
to work with families and with children."
In a clinical setting, the patient visits the speech-language pathologist.
The pathologist then spends time diagnosing the speech problem. Diagnosis
is followed by treatment, either in a group or individual setting. The treatment
often involves family help, or outside professional help.
Speech-language pathologists work in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation
centers, nursing homes, government offices, health-care facilities, research
laboratories and private clinics.
Because the ability to hear often affects speech, speech-language pathologists
often work closely with audiologists. In rehabilitation centers, they may
work with physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreation therapists,
psychologists, social workers, nurses, dietitians and doctors. At schools,
they work individually with children and in conjunction with teachers to improve
speech and language use in the classroom.
An increasing number of speech-language pathologists are choosing to start
private practices. Some of them practice general pathology while others choose
A speech pathologist's hours vary. Those who work in schools have to be
available when children are in class, while on contract they can work as much
or as little as they please. Pathologists in private practice may choose to
work evenings or weekends to accommodate patients.
The work can be mentally exhausting, but it is not physically demanding.
Speech pathologists spend most of their time at a desk or table in a clean,
well-lit environment, although those who work on contract may spend a great
deal of time traveling to visit patients.
Students who think they might like to pursue a career in speech-language
pathology should enjoy working with all ages and with people who have special
needs. "You should have the desire to help people of all ages," says Grace
Middleton, a speech pathologist in Texas. "You should have an interest in
communication and in the scientific field of study."
Speech-language pathologists often work with other professionals in order
to help a patient. They have to be able to relate and communicate well with
Volunteering is a great way to find out if this might be the career for
And be prepared to be flexible. "Understand that with changes in health-care
delivery, the profession may look different in a few years," says Middleton.
"But I think the profession is a strong one and will survive whatever health-care
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Assess, treat and try to prevent disorders related to speech,
communication, language and voice
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