The Medical SLP

The Patient

Being a medical Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) is quite different than working in a school.   Most people know that an SLP working with children often work on sounds that are produced in an incorrect manner or language skills.  The SLP may also help with reading and reading comprehension.


Did you know that an SLP can also work on social skills with students who have difficulty with appropriate interactions with others?


An SLP may work in a pediatric hospital and work with babies and children who have swallowing difficulties.   Many babies in the NICU require SLP services to learn to eat or suck using a bottle or even with breastfeeding.


As a medical SLP, I really believe the most common phrase I hear is…..”I don’t need speech therapy.  I talk just fine.”  Seriously, if I had a penny for every time I heard that, I could retire in style.


Our name is very misleading and barely touches on the wide array of deficits the SLP can rehabilitate.  Many SLPs have speech and language in their title, but never work with either.

As a medical SLP:


I work with laryngectomees.   People who have lost their voice box (larynx) due to cancer or trauma.  I help them learn to communicate in a new way without their voicebox.  I may need to help them in changing their voice prosthesis or learn to swallow in a new way.


I work with people that have head and neck cancer.   I may see people before all of their treatments to start exercises and then work with them throughout their surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.   Often people with head and neck cancer have difficulty with swallowing and speech and it is my job to help them be able to eat by mouth and to communicate in a way others can understand them.


I work with people that have voice problems.   They may have quiet voicing due to Parkinson’s Disease or other voice issues due to a variety of deficits.  The person may need assistance in developing a plan to preserve or rehabilitate their voice.


I work with people that have aphasia which is difficulty coming up with the correct words, dysarthria or slurry speech that is difficult to understand.  I may even work with people with apraxia meaning that they have difficulty starting speech or forming the correct sounds.  Any or all of these may be due to stroke, ALS, brain injury or any other neurological disease process.  Stuttering may also occur with any of the above and may require the assistance of an SLP to make speech more efficient and effective.


I work with people with cognitive deficits.  Many people may have difficulty with memory.  They may forget to take their medication.   They may forget that they have already taken their medication and take extra.   They may forget to pay their bills, turn off the stove, lock the door, etc.   The person may have difficulty solving problems, sequencing events.   This can be a cognitive deficit.

I work with swallowing difficulties or dysphagia.   So many illnesses or diagnoses can cause dysphagia including stroke, Parkinson’s, ALS, head and neck cancer, traumatic brain injury, dementia, etc.   My job is to assess the swallowing by use of chart review, interview, cranial nerve assessment, Clinical Swallow Evaluation, instrumental assessment (Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS), Flexible Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) or manometry).   I take all the information from the evaluation and develop a plan to rehabilitate or compensate the swallow.   I may recommend diet consistency changes if needed, compensatory strategies and a rehabilitation program including exercises or neuromuscular changes to the swallow to make it more efficient.
A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) wears many hats.   We work with so much more than speech!   Did you know that May is Better Hearing and Speech Month?   For me, it’s Better Swallowing, Speech, Cognition, Language Month.

7 thoughts on “The Medical SLP

  1. MB says:

    My hope is that one day we will have spread enough education that the first words I hear from the patient aren’t, “But I talk just fine!” Do you ever introduce yourself differently based on what your working on? I do with patients with dysphagia (“I’m the swallowing specialist”) but no other populations.

    • I usually say Speech Therapist then tell them why they were referred. I’ve found it makes it confusing to the family and patient for home health because they have so many people coming in already!

  2. Michelle Zemsky Dineen says:

    Plenty of medical SLPs work in outpatient for post-acute care, so other that that phrase which is a little exclusionary/misleading, I agree 100%. Great post and happy MBHSM to all!

  3. Liz says:

    I always love seeing stories like yours above. Sometimes (OK lots of times) I tend to just go with the flow and my normal routine in SNF. I’ve totally fallen into the burn out stage plenty of times. Reading blog posts like this pull me right back into why I became an SLP in the first place!

  4. Kari says:

    This post made me proud of what we do… and also reminded me of some areas I need to get more training on! Thank you!

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