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Should I Work In Pediatric Or Adult Speech Therapy? How To Decide Which SLP Setting Is Best For You

by Marisa Brunner, MS, CCC-SLP, WDP


We SLPs have a wide range of career settings available to us. However, making the choice between pediatric or adult speech therapy can be daunting. While the choice may be simple for some, it can be a challenge for many of us!

I clearly remember all of the questions and doubt that swarmed my mind as the end of graduate school approached: “Did I want to work with kids? I loved my dysphagia class, so is medical right for me? What if I change my mind? Am I already a terrible SLP because I don’t know yet?”

Since then, my varied experiences over the past decade since have helped me pinpoint some key things to keep in mind when thinking about pediatric versus adult care settings. Here are 10 practical tips to help you decide which path may be best for you!

1. Do Your Research

ASHA is our friend! Familiarize yourself with ASHA’s website and their Information for Speech Language Pathologists page. The Work Setting Resource section provides helpful links to the Scopes of Practice for early intervention, health care, private practice, schools, and telepractice. Explore the ins and outs of each setting to get a better understanding of different clinical roles.

2. Shadow A SLP

Connect with a fellow SLP and spend some time shadowing them in their work environment. Prepare questions that are important to you, such as, “How do you schedule your day?”, “What is your prep time/documentation like?”, “What is your favorite part of your job?”, and, “What are the biggest challenges you face?” Spend time in different settings if you can!

3. Consider Quality of Life

Different settings have different schedules and demands. Some positions require travel to more than one location within the day, require additional time for documentation, or demand immediate decisions that can directly impact a client’s medical status. Think about the features that will give you the best quality of life based on your personal needs, interests, and comfort level.

4. Use Your Connections

Stay social my friends! Talk to teachers, colleagues, and classmates about their experiences. Join an online discussion forum or Facebook group, or grab a coffee with your favorite professor. SLPs love to talk about our jobs and our experiences, so take advantage of networking with your peers. You never know when someone’s advice will come in handy.

5. Find a Mentor

It took me a few years to find a seasoned SLP who encouraged me to pick a concentration and to refine my area of expertise. Seek out someone you admire and who inspires you to give you advice and help you narrow down your passion.

6. Do Some Soul-Searching

You should feel comfortable, confident, and motivated in your work setting. Think about your natural interests, hobbies, and motivating factors. Have you always loved babysitting or learning about the behaviors of children? Perhaps you always enjoyed conversing with older adults? Did your dysphagia class rock your socks, or does the thought of making a thickened liquid recommendation make you nervous? Think about the classes and internship/externship experiences that truly piqued your interests, as well as those that didn’t. Understanding more about what motivates you will help pave the pathway to a well-matched setting.

7. Remember, Every Clinician Is Different

The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to other clinicians or to other people’s expectations. Some SLPs know what they want to do from the get-go, while others need to work in a few different setting to figure it out. Some SLPs may even bash a certain setting while praising another. All of these factors can negatively influence your decision-making because they are manifestations of someone else’s experience or opinion rather than your own. Stay true to yourself and going to work will be much more fulfilling!

8. Keep An Open Mind

You may find that your interests change over time, or that major life events can influence what setting you want to work in. Our profession is wonderfully unique because we are afforded the opportunity to transition between pediatric and adult worlds. I have personally changed settings three times, working within school-based, skilled nursing facility, and private practice settings. All of my experiences have only made me more appreciative of the flexibility our profession allows, and the gratification that comes with being able to help individuals of all ages and stages of life.

9. Keep Learning

There’s no limit on experience and learning. Every classroom or work experience is an opportunity to learn and store in your wheelhouse. Keep up with your professional development and take CE courses in various areas to explore different features of our profession. You will more than likely draw upon that knowledge in the future no matter where you end up working.

10. Don’t Stress!

Remember, you don’t have to stay on one track forever, and you don’t have to make a career decision in a split second. Finally, never think that you are less of a motivated, brilliant, and capable, SLP if you are not sure at first!

Deciding between pediatric and adult therapy worlds can be a challenging process. However, being well-informed and opening yourself to endless learning experiences will help pave the way for better understanding yourself as a clinician. Stay true to yourself and stay positive, and he right setting will reveal itself!

Are you a student or transitioning SLP deciding between pediatrics or adult care? What has been helpful, or challenging for you? Share your experience!



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