Speech-Language Therapy in High Demand

By Debra Wood, RN

HB AUG Speech TherapyFrom treating premature infants to aging dementia patients, speech language pathologists are in high demand.

“Year over year, there has definitely been an increase in requests for speech-language professionals,” said Darin Lyons, Divisional Vice President at AMN Healthcare, Allied Division. “It’s coming from all segments—acute care, skilled nursing and schools—which is in line with growing rehab demand.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided greater numbers of people with healthcare coverage, contributing to the demand for speech-language pathologists, or speech therapists, who assess, diagnose and treat communication and swallowing problems. These difficulties may be due to injury or illness, developmental delays, hearing loss or cognitive dysfunction.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reported excellent job opportunities for speech-language pathologists. The principal designation for speech therapists is CCC-SLP, or Certificate of Clinical Competence-Speech-Language Pathology.

“The need is only going to get bigger, and it’s a great field,” said Wren Newman, SLPD (Doctorate of Speech-Language Pathology), CCC-SLP, interim chair, Programs in Speech-Language Pathology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. She also said that with our increasingly multicultural society, the need for bilingual speech pathologists is growing.

“It’s a wonderful profession, with a variety of patients and opportunities,” agreed Ingrid Desormes, MA, CCC-SLP, a traveler with AMN Healthcare. “It’s been a good experience to help me grow with my flexibility.”

“We’re very busy, because there’s a critical shortage,” said Cathy Runnels, MS, CCC-SLP, with Accent on Speech in Silver Spring, MD, and Washington, D.C. Rummels reported a shortage of speech-language pathologists due to the specialized training and educational requirements associated with developing new speech therapists.

“It’s hard to get into programs,” Newman reported. To help with demand, Nova has added an online program, except for clinical rotations, to its in-person program.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a faster-than-average job growth outlook, with speech-language pathology jobs growing by 19% from 2012 to 2022. The bureau estimates most of the 134,100 speech pathologists work full time and half are employed in school settings.

Lyons, however, reports a strong demand in skilled nursing facilities. About 75% of requests to AMN for speech therapists come from skilled nursing.

“We have seen a spike for speech-language professionals in the long-term healthcare setting,” said Jodi Hall, MS, CCC-SLP, Director of Clinical Education at AMN client Accomplish Therapy, a post-acute care rehabilitation services provider based in West Palm Beach, FL. “Because of our growing senior population, we are seeing folks coming to the nursing home with many more problems. They are functioning at a low level.”

Some patients have subclinical cognitive impairments, which come to light after a medical event. Speech pathologists help them effectively manage their medications, working on timing and sequencing while still in the nursing home.

Additionally, patients with dementia frequently have difficulty communicating, swallowing or recognizing they need to eat. A speech therapist might come up with cuing, perhaps with music, to start them eating.

“Speech pathologists help these folks engage in their environment and have improve their quality of life,” Hall said.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Lauren Krause, MS, CCC-SLP, chief of Speech-Language Pathology at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said that more premature infants are surviving when born at very early gestations, but many then suffer developmental delays. Early interventions help identify children at birth or soon after who will need help with communication or feeding issues.

Speech therapists help babies recognize mom’s voice and their name. They also work with children having difficulty sucking the bottle or breast.

The increasing diagnosis of autism also has created demand for speech pathologists. Speech therapists assist with communication and acceptance of foods, since autistic children often have restricted-food preferences.

Movies, such as The King’s Speech, have helped raise awareness of the role of speech-language pathology. Rummels has worked with people who want to speak more clearly and overcome public speaking disabilities.

“With the public becoming more aware, they are starting to realize the value of speech therapy,” Hall said.