What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Grace Kim © The Balance 2019 

Speech pathologists, sometimes called speech-language pathologists or speech therapists, work with people who have a variety of disorders that include the inability to produce certain sounds, speech rhythm and fluency problems, and difficulties with their voices. They also help people who want to modify accents or who have swallowing impairments. Speech pathologists' work involves assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of speech-related disorders.

Speech Pathologist Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Evaluate patients
  • Help patients establish goals
  • Provide rehab assistance to meet goals
  • Attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings for students
  • Consult with teachers, parents, or medical providers as necessary
  • Follow-up
  • Provide referrals when appropriate
  • Maintain records

Speech pathologists who work in the health care profession usually work in nursing care facilities, hospitals, or other medical treatment facilities. Their patients might have suffered from strokes or other conditions that have impacted their ability to speak.

Many speech pathologists work in schools or for school districts to help meet the needs of children who may be in need of speech therapy. Whether speech pathologists are working in schools or medical facilities, they often are consulting with others on the treatment of their patients. These might be doctors or teachers who can assist with evaluating the progress being made.

Speech Pathologist Salary

Speech pathologists who work in nursing care facilities have median annual salaries about 38% higher than those who work in educational services.

  • Median Annual Salary: $77,510 ($37.26/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $120,060 ($57.72/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $48,690 ($23.41/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

Many states stipulate that licensees have a degree from an institution the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's (ASHA) Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) has accredited.

  • Education: A master's degree in speech-language pathology generally is required. An undergraduate degree does not have to be in speech pathology, but most master's programs have specific prerequisites that must be met.
  • Certification: In most states, speech pathologists must be licensed, but the requirements vary. To learn more about licensure in the state in which you plan to practice, see the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's (ASHA) State-by-State list. ASHA also offers the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). While this is voluntary certification, it is important to note that some employers require it. In addition, according to ASHA, some states and school districts offer pay supplements to those who have it.
  • Training: In addition to coursework in anatomy, physiology, the nature of disorders, and the principles of acoustics, students in master's programs also receive supervised clinical training.

Speech Pathologist Skills & Competencies

In addition to the clinical knowledge and experience that is required, speech pathologists need certain soft skills that can help them empathize with those they are treating and help make sure goals are met.

  • Compassion: As with many jobs in the health care field, it is essential that speech pathologists are concerned about clients' well-being and can offer them emotional support.
  • Patience: The people under a speech pathologist's care may not respond to treatment quickly. It's important to have patience until established goals are met.
  • Listening and Speaking Skills: Speech pathologists must be able to clearly communicate with patients and other members of a therapy team in order to deliver the most effective treatment.
  • Critical Thinking: When deciding on a treatment plan, speech pathologists have to evaluate the available options before choosing the best one.
  • Attention to Detail: This skill allows speech pathologists to carefully document their patients' progress.

Job Outlook

Job opportunities for speech pathologists are expected to increase by 18% during the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is significantly better than the 7% growth projected for all occupations during the same period. The growth is attributed to the aging baby boomer population and an expected rise in health conditions such as strokes and dementia that might impact speech. Additionally, medical advances have increased the survival rates of victims of trauma and accidents and premature babies, all of whom sometimes require speech pathologists.

Work Environment

Speech pathologists can work in a variety of places. Schools are among the most common work environments, but many also work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, or other health-related locations. The work frequently involves working one-on-one with students or patients in addition to consulting with teachers, parents, or doctors, depending on the specific type of work being done. Those who work for school districts may serve more than one school building, requiring travel within the district.

Work Schedule

Most speech pathologist jobs are full time, and those in schools typically take place during regular school hours. Those working in other facilities may have more varied schedules, depending on the needs and availability of patients.

How to Get the Job


Apply directly with schools or other organizations or research sites like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor.


Highlight experience working with children if applying with schools.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in speech pathology also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018