The 10 Biggest Challenges of Being a Speech Pathologist
I recently shared a post called 10 Awesome Reasons Why Being a Speech Pathologist Rocks that was quite a hit in the speech-pathologist community! That post was full of all the amazingly positive reasons why being a speech pathologist is awesome. However, being an SLP also comes with many challenges, particularly for those employed by government agencies like the public schools and early intervention services. In fact, the burn out rate for speech pathologists is rising significantly thanks to may factors completely out of their hands. Yet they trudge on, devoted to helping the children in their care despite these everyday challenges.
Why? Because they ROCK. Here are 10 challenges to the profession of pediatric speech-language pathology that SLPs persevere because of their devotion to helping others.
10. High case loads
In many settings, especially the public schools, caseloads can be unbearable for SLPs. There are SLPs who have caseloads of over 80-100 students! Having caseloads this high simply does not make it feasible for SLPs to provide the type of services their families need, while also having to deal with other bureaucratic issues. SLPs often take paperwork and reports to do at home, which takes away from their personal lives, so that they can devote their hours on site to the families who need them.
9. Lack of materials
The public schools are well known for not providing enough funding to adequately provide SLPs the materials they need to service their students. Being an SLP in the public school setting is particularly challenging in this sense because caseloads be very diverse. Most SLPs end up spending their own money buying materials (or their time MAKING materials) so that their students will be adequately served.
8. People who are NOT SLPs providing “speech” services
Because of underfunding, many federal and state agencies (public schools and early intervention providers) will sometimes have unqualified people providing “speech” services. In early intervention, this is becoming an issue in many states where “early interventionists” are providing services for children with communication delays, but these professionals are NOT speech-language pathologists.
Some public schools will hire bachelor level individuals to provide speech and language services, even though they do not meet the Master level requirements to be a speech-language pathologist. This can lead to children getting further behind and SLPs having to work harder to help these children “catch up” when they finally do get them. Many SLPs spend their personal time trying to make changes at the state and federal levels to hopefully stop this practice so that children will get the appropriate services from the start.
7. Bureaucracy in General
The inability to be able to use professional judgement in the workplace and being ruled by laws and guidelines created by people who have NO idea about the job of an SLP is frustrating if not infuriating. SLPs join forces in their state speech-pathology associations to work together to try to tackle these issues at the state level while other SLPs are joining their unions to try to make changes at the district levels so that children can get the services they need!
6. Paperwork & Meetings
Speech pathologists get into their field because they want to help people. Unfortunately, the time spent in meetings and doing paperwork can interfere with their ability to actually do their job. Hence why so many SLPs take work home: There are not enough hours in the day to do all that is expected of them in many settings. It is common for SLPs to sacrifice their personal time so that their students still get their services.
Oh my goodness. Scheduling. Especially in the schools. Go ahead, I dare you to take 60 kids, with varying disabilities and needs, varying amounts of speech time, from 5-8 different grade levels (or more!) and schedule them in groups while working around the schedules in their classrooms and another service providers that may serve that child. It is insanity. But, SLPs find creative ways to make the process as painless as possible for everyone!
4. Plan and Implement Therapy for Diverse Groups
Once an SLP finally gets a schedule that *kinda works* (because let’s face it, he/she will have to tweak it all year long), the SLP now has to plan and implement lessons that meet all the individual needs of the children in the group. In any group, an SLP could have a child working on fluency (stuttering), one working on social skills, one working on the /r/ sound and another working on inferencing. SLPs are AMAZING at being able to adapt one lesson to meet the needs of varying students.
3. Misunderstandings about Our Role
This is a very common challenge that SLPs face in every setting: difficulty with other professionals not understanding what we do and what our role is. Getting questions like “What is it that you actually DO?” from other professionals can be very frustrating. SLPs are continually educating others on who we are and what we do for the children we care for.
2. Being expected to work outside our scope of practice
When I asked some fellow SLPs abut the challenges they face in their workplace, this was one that came up frequently. SLPs are sometimes asked to provide services to students that are outside our scope or outside our job description. Some of this is tied into #3 above as sometimes people just do not understand what it is we do. Other times, this is part of the constant underfunding of public services. SLPs, however, must abide by their code of ethics which can place them in sticky situations sometimes.
1. Misperceptions about public vs. private
All speech-language pathologists receive the same education and training in college, yet SLPs employed by the public sector often find themselves having to defend their professional judgment simply because they work for the public sector. It is a common misconception that private practice SLPs have better training than those who work in the public schools or other public entities. This is simply not true and this constant comparison can wear thin.
The reality is that there are differences between the educational model and the medical model of speech therapy and each model comes with it’s own sets of pros and cons. Public sector SLPs are just as qualified, if not more so, than private practice SLPs, however they are bound by a completely different set of qualification guidelines and therapy models.
How you can help!
How can YOU help SLPs with these challenges? Many of these issues are simply due to underfunding at both the state and federal levels. Schools and other federal programming are expected to follow the laws that are passed with very little money to do so. This leads to the high caseloads, too much paperwork, and general lack of resources. I encourage those of you with children receiving services in the public schools or through early intervention to get involved and help us make changes at the state and federal levels.