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Need for Speech-Language Pathologists

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Need for Speech-Language Pathologists
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Need for Speech-Language Pathologists
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Demand in this profession remains high.

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Demand in this profession remains high.

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News By Profession

Hearing & Speech Services

Demand in this profession remains high

By Lindsey Nolen

Most people take the ability to speak and effectively communicate for granted. Yet, when a speech disorder is diagnosed, these patients often seek the assistance of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for treatment purposes.

The need for SLPs has caused employment in this profession to be projected to grow 21 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 With plenty of career options, SLPs work in a variety of settings including NICUs, hospitals/acute care, rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, schools, home health, corporate speech pathology, colleges and universities, private practice, federal/state agencies as well as in the armed services.

Need for Speech-Language Pathologists

Practice Necessity

Treating a wide segment of the population, these healthcare professionals are needed for a number of reasons. First, as the "baby boomer" population ages, many elderly patients develop dysarthria (difficulty speaking) or dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). With the help of an SLP, these patients are able to improve or even overcome their struggles.

Patients with head injuries or neurological difficulties, such as a brain tumor or Parkinson's disease, can also benefit from the advice and support of these professionals. Therapists can provide these patients with appropriate communication techniques that will aid in the success of daily verbal expression.

Another reason that SLP employment is steadily rising is due to an increase in the early identification of children. Early detection is critically important because, according to the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, young children with expressive language skills that are approximately below the 10th percentile are at much higher risk than peers for persisting language problems.2

"The aging demographic and early identification have increased caseloads. Wait lists at private clinics have increased and many schools and skilled nursing facilities use professional staffing agencies to fill open positions," explained Elaine Mehlberg, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at Capital Speech Therapy in Leesburg, Va. "Several factors have led to a national shortage of SLPs, therefore many graduating SLPs should not have difficulty finding positions."

Challenges

One challenge of becoming an SLP is that, in order to practice safely and legally, the occupation requires that a master?s degree be obtained. In most states, licensure is also a requirement, but the specific requirements vary from state to state.

An additional challenge is often presented as a result of the emotionally draining nature of this work. When a family is already struggling with a diagnosis, finding ways to build rapport with them and to establish a connection founded on trust can be exceedingly difficult.

"The challenges [of becoming a SLP] vary by setting but most commonly include high caseloads in the school setting, too many patients to see in a day and productivity requirements set out by large companies/hospital systems/skilled nursing facilities," explained Rebecca Rowe, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, N.C. "Other challenges include gaining access to testing and treatment materials, a lack of funds to support our field, a lack of jobs in the medical field for SLPs, and a lack of knowledge of our field and what we do." 

Rowe continued to explain that added issues involve insurance reimbursement rates, as well as insurance companies accepting speech/language diagnoses and actually reimbursing families that have to pay out-of-pocket expenses. Despite these and all other challenges, becoming employed as an SLP can provide an extremely rewarding career path with stable opportunity.

Lindsey Nolen is a former staff writer at ADVANCE.

References

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Speech-Language Pathologists. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm

2. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Early Identification of Language Delay. http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/learning-disabilities/according-experts/early-identification-language-delay

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