Speech pathology plays an important role in helping people of all ages with communication and swallowing disorders, working with individuals, their significant others, other professionals, and communities to support every individual’s right to optimal communication, swallowing, and participation in everyday life.
Known as “speech pathologists” in Australia, these allied health professionals go by several different titles depending on the country in which they work. In the UK, New Zealand, and Singapore, for example, they are called speech and language therapists. In the USA, Canada, and India, they are known as speech-language pathologists.
What do speech pathologists do?
Speech pathologists study, assess, diagnose, and treat communication and swallowing disorders across the lifespan. They often work to help people with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, spelling, writing, social skills and interacting with others, fluency/stuttering, using voice, using technological and other communication devices and aids, and swallowing food and drink safely and efficiently.
Speech pathologists work with people who have difficulty communicating or swallowing relating to conditions such as:
- Developmental delay
- Brain injuries
- Learning disability
- Cerebral palsy
- Intellectual disability
- Hearing loss
- Cleft lip and/or palate
- Developmental language disorder
- Speech sound disorders
They also work with individuals who wish to optimise their communication skills to support their personal, vocational, and educational needs.
These allied health professionals may work in various roles including practitioner/clinician, regulator, consultant, advocate, manager, academic, researcher, and student educator. They also work in policy development, prevention and promotion, and other roles that result in evidence-based speech pathology service provision.
Where do speech pathologists work?
Speech pathologists (and all their nation-specific titles) work across many countries and regions including the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, India, across Europe, and others.
They are important members of teams in many settings including, but not limited to, health, education, disability, and early intervention. They work in every type of healthcare setting including acute public and private hospitals, sub-acute and rehabilitation facilities, community health services, private clinics, aged care facilities, mental health services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, the disability sector, and others. They also work in criminal justice settings, educational settings (e.g., early childhood education centres, schools), government and local councils, research institutes, higher education settings, and professional associations.
Speech pathologists may offer clinic, community, and home-based services; individual, family, and group services; in-person and telepractice services; and work as part of teams with other professionals.
A day in the life of a speech pathologist
Speech pathologists have varied roles across settings and practice areas. A typical day in the life of a speech pathologist practitioner/clinician working in an acute hospital setting would look quite different to one working in a primary school, aged care facility, or a mental health service. This would also look completely different to a speech pathologist working in a research institute, professional association, or policy development.
Those who are practitioners/clinicians may conduct thorough assessments, which could take between 30-60 minutes. For people with complex conditions, assessments may be undertaken over more than one session and in different contexts. From there, they work with their clients and significant others (e.g., carers, family members, elders) to develop agreed goals and a treatment plan. Building rapport and listening to the values, needs, interests, and goals of individuals and communities are important aspects of service provision. The nature of the treatment plan and therapy provided by speech pathologists will depend on the client’s diagnosis/es and their individual or community goals, values, priorities, backgrounds, and circumstances.
Advantageous character traits in speech pathology
Speech pathologists encounter people at vulnerable stages in their lives and so it is essential that these allied health professionals are compassionate and sensitive.
It goes without saying, these allied health professionals need to have great verbal communication skills (both speaking and listening). They need to be creative, resourceful, and adaptable—particularly those that work with children. Patience is another highly desirable character trait.
Professional education and regulatory frameworks
To practice in Australia, speech pathologists hold either a bachelor’s degree (+/- honours) or master’s degree. Speech pathology students undertake practice or clinical placements, with some universities requiring placements in rural and remote areas. Similarly in New Zealand, educational preparation for speech pathologists involves bachelor level study (with honours) or a master’s degree.
In Singapore, speech and language therapists are required to hold a Bachelor or Master of Science in Speech and Language Therapy.
In the USA, speech pathologists must attain either master’s or doctoral level qualifications in speech-language pathology.
In Canada, speech pathologists hold a master’s level qualification in speech-language pathology.
In Australia, New Zealand and the USA, speech pathology is a self-regulated profession.
In Canada, speech pathology is self-regulated in almost every province.
In the UK, speech and language therapists are regulated nationally by the Health and Care Professions Council.
In Singapore, speech and language therapists are regulated nationally by the Allied Health Professions Council.
Speech pathology workforce considerations
Speech pathology offers opportunities to work across diverse settings and systems, and with people across the lifespan, which makes for many interesting career opportunities and pathways.
In Australia, speech pathology has been identified as in high demand with issues of supply. Waiting lists for speech pathology services are common and also occur in other countries.
Some countries observe a Mutual Recognition of Professional Association Credentials Agreement (MRA) for speech pathologists who wish to practice in another country.
Find out more about speech pathology
Here are some links to websites and resources for and about speech pathologists:
- Speech Pathology Australia
- Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists | UK
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
- New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association
- Speech-Language & Audiology Canada
- Speech and Language Therapy Singapore
- Indian Speech-Language and Hearing Association
If you have questions about the speech pathology profession, or if you wish to share your experiences as a speech pathologist, please leave a comment below.
If you offer professional development or business support services for speech pathologists or their employers, please list your business on our Service Directory.
AHP Workforce provides allied health workforce planning, strategy and consulting for employers, managers and public sector stakeholders. For allied health workforce solutions, contact us today.