It is estimated that approximately 10% of children in the U.S. have some form of communication disorder. These numbers are even higher when one considers the adult population. Individuals with a communication disorder usually have difficulty sending, receiving, comprehending, and processing nonverbal, verbal, and image-based symbols.
These communication disorders may be acquired or developmental and may vary in terms of severity from mild to severe. The condition often becomes obvious during the evaluation of speech, language, or hearing. In some cases, the communication disorder may be the primary disability, while at other times, it may be due to a secondary cause like a stroke.
What does a communications disorder specialist do?
A communication disorder specialist is usually trained to look after patients with the following disorders:
- Auditory (hearing)
These specialists are trained to evaluate, diagnose and treat adults and children with communication disorders. The cause of the communicative disorder may include:
- Injury to the brain
- Hearing loss
- Global developmental delay
- Cleft palate
Individuals with speech and hearing problems may face issues with loudness or pitch of the voice, difficulty pronouncing words, and problems with processing or developing language. A speech therapist can assess and evaluate these individuals to diagnose the exact problem.
In addition, a communication disorder specialist may also work with children or elderly individuals who may suffer from problems related to communication. For example, an elderly patient who suffered a stroke and now has communication problems may require a different treatment than a child who has difficulty communicating because of a hearing problem or cleft palate.
An audiologist will assess, diagnose and treat a hearing disorder. Audiologists also conduct screening tests on newborns for hearing and counsel the public on hearing health. Audiologists also determine which individuals will benefit from a hearing aid or a cochlear implant.
People interested in pursuing a career as a health communication specialist need to first complete high school or grade 12. This specialty area is quite competitive; therefore, candidates should ideally have excellent grades with a high GPA to enter a good college or university.
It is very unlikely that you can become a communication specialist with only a high school diploma. The majority of students in health communication disorders go on to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Today, at least a quarter of graduates with a bachelor’s degree obtain a master’s in health communications. A fair number of graduates with a master’s degree go on to obtain a Ph.D. An advanced degree significantly improves job opportunities and also results in a higher earning potential. Plus, with an advanced degree, you may be able to conduct research or be able to acquire a managerial/senior position.
No matter what degree you obtain in communication disorders, an internship of 1-2 years is required for most jobs. The internship allows you to gain more insight into the clinical aspects of communication disorders, where you interact with patients and obtain hands-on training. The internship can be done with an established specialist, hospital, or clinic.
In most states and provinces, you need to pass a national exam and obtain a state license to work as a communication specialist. In addition, most hospitals will require you to be licensed and have an advanced degree before offering you a job. After graduation, you need to consult with the Board of Communication Disorders to determine the requirements for the state where you intend to practice.
Whether you undertake a bachelor’s, master’s, or a Ph.D., there are several online courses in health communication disorders. The online courses are available through various formats, including Blackboard, where you can watch webinars, read relevant text, complete assignments, interact with your supervisor, and participate in exams.
Today, online degree programs have become much more advanced, and you can easily find a course/program that will help you develop specialized skills in speech science, language development and audiology.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, health communications is expected to grow for the next decade. This is a much better outlook compared to most other healthcare specialties. As a communications specialist, you may work solo, join a group of other specialists, work for a hospital, perform research, teach at a college or join the government and play a role in advocating preventive medicine.
The starting salary for a health communication specialist depends on the state where you practice. The average national salary is about $73K. However, if you have a Master’s or a Ph.D., the salaries are much higher.
Plus, if you work in a healthcare institution, you are also provided with many other benefits, including insurance, paid time off, etc. Overall, the field of communication disorders is very satisfying because you help improve the patient’s quality of life.