The Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) is now the first professional degree for audiologists and is rapidly becoming the required degree for entry into the practice of Audiology in state licensure statutes, as these laws come up for review in the legislative cycle. Previously the Master’s degree was the clinical degree required for entry into the profession; however, as of late 2006, there are no longer any Master’s degree training programs for audiologists in the United States.
A professional doctorate is the highest post-baccalaureate degree given in a particular profession for the purpose of clinical practice. This is in contrast to the Ph.D. degree which is earned and awarded to students pursuing careers in research and academia. Ph.D. candidates may have previously earned the Au.D. degree if they were practicing audiologists. The following is a brief history of the recent evolution of the professional doctorate in Audiology.
In the Beginning...
In 1978 the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Task Force on Science discussed the need for a professional doctorate to free Ph.D. programs from becoming corrupted. In 1983 ASHA underwrote a study concluding the master’s degree did not provide adequate professional preparation and in 1984 an ASHA Task Force recommended a professional doctorate. In 1986 the ASHA Audiology Task Force recommended the Au.D. become the entry-level degree by 1998. In 1988, ADA sponsored the first Conference on Professional Education for Audiology, which called for Audiology training to move to a doctoral level. Out of this effort, in 1989 the Audiology Foundation of America (AFA) was formed with a charge to "transform Audiology to a doctoral profession with the Au.D. as its distinctive designator." In the same year, an ASHA Task Force recommend that "ASHA should strongly endorse the concept of the professional doctorate" and recommended that it should be post-baccalaureate, not a post-masters degree. In the period from 1990-1992, six independent surveys reported that the majority of audiologists supported the concept of the Au.D. degree. In 1992, the ASHA Ad Hoc Committee on Professional Education recommended the Au.D. as the entry level degree to practice setting the year 2001 as a target date for implementation. Several Audiology related professional organizations (RPO’s) called for ASHA to facilitate Au.D. degree development and implementation.
In 1994, the AFA awarded a $25,000 grant to Baylor College of Medicine for establishing the first Au.D. program. In 1995, the AFA sponsored the Au.D. Standards and Equivalency (S&E) Conference. Numerous audiology organizations participated, including ADA. The goal of the S&E Conference was to develop mechanisms to recognize the experiential equivalency of current practitioners and to develop standards of education for the Au.D. degree programs. In 1995, ASHA recommended a doctoral degree for entry level to practice Audiology (not necessarily the Au.D.). However, in 1997, ASHA postponed the transition to a doctoral degree as entry to the year 2012. In 1997, ADA helped AFA sponsor fellowships for Au.D. students in 4 universities. By 1998, six residential Au.D. programs were available. That same year, ADA voted to change its bylaws to require the Au.D. degree for new Fellow members by the beginning of 2001.
For current practitioners who wanted to be part of this professional transition, a mechanism for earning a post-master’s Au.D. degree needed to be developed. In 1999, Nova Southeastern University began the first distance learning Au.D. program for practicing audiologists. Shortly following, the University of Florida, Central Michigan University, Pennsylvania College of Optometry and the Arizona School of Health Sciences opened up other distance learning programs for practicing audiologists. Currently, Salus University Osborne College of Audiology (formerly PCO School of Audiology), the Arizona School of Health Sciences and the University of Florida still accept practicing audiologists into their distance learning program.
Today, there are more than 70 programs offering a residential Au.D. degree, and efforts continue to strengthen the educational curriculum and training experience through a strong accreditation body that is independent of any membership organization. It is our hope that through this process (helped along with some consolidation), fewer (but more robust) professional programs will emerge to train future Doctors of Audiology.