Approximately 15% of people in North America have some type of communication and hearing disorder. The issue affects people of all ages, but especially in the elderly population, both hearing and communication problems tend to increase. Hearing and speech are both fundamental for good health and can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
Given the prevalence of speech and hearing disorders, it’s no surprise there’s a demand for speech and hearing specialists. Healthcare professionals qualified in this area can help evaluate and screen individuals with hearing and speech problems and assess other associated problems such as difficulty swallowing and lack of balance.
Here is a quick overview of degree programs for people who are interested in pursuing a career in this specialty:
- Bachelors in Speech-Language Pathology is a four-year program that involves studying basic and medical science courses relevant to hearing and speech, including human language development and communication disorders. The Bachelor’s degree is usually followed up with an internship to allow candidates to understand the practical aspects of screening, diagnosing, and treating patients with speech and hearing disorders.
- Bachelors in Communication Sciences and Disorders is another four-year program that provides a good foundation into the causes of speech and hearing disorders. Courses in anatomy, health sciences, and medicine are undertaken to understand the pathology of communication disorders. After graduation, many students specialize and obtain a Master’s degree in audiology, cognitive communication, or speech-language pathology. A year of internship is required to obtain clinical experience before these candidates have the chance of a job being offered.
- Bachelors in Speech and Hearing Science is a four-year program where students learn speech, hearing, and language development. The emphasis is to build a stable knowledge base so that students are well equipped to pursue more advanced training in speech-language pathology, audiology, or cognitive-communication. The advanced knowledge can be applied to making diagnoses and treating all types of communication disorders. Candidates need to finish a one-year internship to obtain a long-term position in a clinic or a hospital.
- A Doctorate in Audiology is the ultimate degree for those who want the most advanced knowledge and training in the field of speech and hearing. Students can enroll in the doctorate program after a 4-year speech and hearing degree since most master’s programs have been phased out. The doctorate trains the graduate in understanding the complexities of treating hearing orders, the use of hearing devices, and the implantation of cochlear devices. Upon completion, one must pass the state exam and obtain licensure for practice.
- A Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Bioscience Technology is yet another option. These programs are only available at some of the top universities in the country and require excellent grades and references for entrance. The Ph.D. program provides excellent knowledge about hearing mechanics, cochlear implants, speech perception, processing of speech and language, the use of electronic devices to improve speech and hearing, and other related issues. Candidates have to undertake research on a specific topic and publish a thesis before graduation.
What type of jobs are available in communication sciences and disorders?
No matter what degree you obtain in communication disorders and audiology, the job prospects are excellent. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 17% of Americans suffer from some type of balance, speech, or hearing problem. Most of these individuals belong to the Baby Boomer generation, currently the single largest demographic of aging Americans.
According to the latest data released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of speech pathology is going to grow another 25% in the next few years. As a result, speech, communication, and hearing specialists are in need in almost every sector of society, including schools, clinics, hospitals, research organizations and government advisory groups and agencies.
Some of the highest-paid allied healthcare professionals are speech pathologists. In 2019, the average salary was more than $85,000 a year for those working with a four-year bachelor’s degree. For those with an advanced degree and working in hospitals and advisory roles in the government, the salaries are approximately $120K a year. In addition, all government and private sector jobs come with numerous other benefits like health insurance, unemployment coverage, paid vacation, 401K plans, child daycare, etc.
Overall, a career in this specialty offers many opportunities. There are job openings all over the country, and candidates have the freedom to choose where they want to practice and which specific area they want to specialize in. Also, unlike other areas in healthcare, working hours for speech and hearing specialists are quite reasonable, and they can maintain a healthy work-life balance while still being part of the healthcare sector.