Careers in Audiology
The profession of Audiology is growing with expanded career opportunities for audiologists projected well beyond the next decade. This expansion is primarily due to the increasing numbers of older persons, the fact that people are living longer, and the relationship of hearing loss to aging. Anyone seeking to enter the profession of audiology should possess the necessary academic skills, a desire to improve individual quality of life, and motivation to accept work that is both challenging and rewarding.
Evolution of Audiology
Audiology was born out of the armed forces rehabilitation programs during and following World War II. Academicians from disciplines such as deaf education, speech pathology, psychology, and other scientific backgrounds invented the early testing, auditory training, and amplification protocols needed to meet the needs of thousands of WWII veterans with hearing loss. These events, combined with the concurrent development of the equipment necessary to evaluate hearing, formed the early seeds of the profession we know today as audiology.
Since the 1950’s, audiology has evolved from a combination of disciplines (mostly within the domain of speech pathology) to an independent profession consisting of approximately 12,000 audiologists in the US. Today’s audiology profession is defined by:
- a desire for autonomous practice
- doctoral level academic training programs
- the formation of an independent credentialing entity
- a greatly expanded scope of practice
- legislation to allow direct patient access to audiologists
Audiology has been largely influenced by the inclusion of hearing aid dispensing in the scope of practice. Originally, audiologists could recommend amplification, but could not dispense. In the early days of the profession, academic societies questioned the ethics of audiology practitioners who chose to combine hearing evaluation and hearing aid dispensing in their practices. The Academy of Doctors of Audiology was formed in 1976 as the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists to support those early pioneers who both recommended and fit hearing aids. The result was that audiologists moved beyond technician status; practices expanded to include both diagnosis and treatment.
The additional revenue provided by hearing aid sales resulted in more opportunities for independent practice. The trend continues to this day with more and more audiologists seeking autonomous professional status.
Nature of Work
Audiologists stand at the center of providing today’s hearing healthcare. They work with patients of all ages from newborns to centenarians who manifest hearing and balance disorders. Audiologists are skilled in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of hearing problems. They also fit and dispense hearing aids and other assistive devices, manage hearing loss prevention programs, provide tinnitus retraining therapy, perform cerumen management, participate in forensic audiology and evaluate auditory processing disorders. Audiologists are trained in the anatomical and physiological aspects of the auditory and vestibular system. They are adept at counseling older adults and their families about hearing loss as well as counseling the parents and teachers of hearing impaired children. Audiologists serve on multi-disciplinary teams with other healthcare professionals including physicians, physical therapists, optometrists, teachers, and speech-language pathologists and make medical referrals when necessary.
Providing Rehabilitation Services
Audiologists are responsible for developing a complete rehabilitation protocol for individuals who are experiencing hearing loss and for whom medical treatment is not warranted. Audiologists determine the appropriateness of amplification, specify which hearing instruments and circuits would be most appropriate, and plan a complete adjustment protocol to ensure patients will adjust to and benefit from amplification. Audiologists provide follow-up care at regular intervals by monitoring the patient’s adaptation to amplification, modifying the instrument for the environment in which it is worn, and checking for the accumulation of ear wax in the canals. Audiologists may also recommend assistive listening devices such as alerting systems, telephones and TV amplifiers.
Monitoring and Preventing Hearing Loss
Audiologists are strongly committed to preventing hearing loss and provide educational resources, hearing protection and counseling to patients who are concerned about workplace or hobby noise. Audiologists also provide services to employers who are required to implement a hearing conservation program to comply with OSHA regulations. Audiologists find creative hearing protection solutions for professionals (i.e. musicians, pilots, etc) who work in high noise environments but must be able to hear speech, music or warning signals within those environments. Audiologists fabricate ear protection for those who must, for specific medical reasons, prevent water from entering the ear canal such as while showering or swimming.
The Business of Audiology
Audiologists who choose to enter private practice and those who become managers are familiar with basic business practices. Particularly for the private practice business owner, audiologists may receive additional formal business training in law, accounting, and management. Audiologist owners network with other professionals such as CPA’s, attorneys, bankers, and financial planners. Successful private practitioners are proactive and current concerning such matters as legislative issues, federal laws, reimbursement, HMO’s, insurance carriers and the federal healthcare system. They understand the concerns of business including how to read and interpret financial reports and heed the “bottom line”. There is a growing interest among audiologists in the private practice service delivery model. While business ownership is not for everyone, the rewards can be great for those seeking a career offering greater professional autonomy.
The work environment of the practicing audiologist is most often medical-professional. Audiology lends itself to a 9-5 work day and regular work week and flexible geographic and practice choices. Clinically-based practices may rotate services at several satellite locations for the convenience of patients.
Audiologists are owners, managers, employees and consultants in a variety of service delivery models including but not limited to:
- Independent Private Practice
- Otolaryngologist Based Practice
- Hospital or Medical Clinic
- State Funded Facility for the Hearing Impaired
- Educational Audiology – Public and Private Schools
- Rehabilitation Facilities
- Hearing Manufacturing Industry
- Academic University and Research Based
- Long-term Care Facilities
- Public Health Services
- Armed Forces
- Industrial Hearing Conservation and Forensic Audiology
The audiology profession is now in the process of making the transition to a doctoring-level profession. The Doctor of Audiology degree, or Au.D., will take approximately 8 years of university training including a one year externship . In addition, most states require licensure or registration.
Employment opportunities for audiologists are expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The anticipated need for audiological services is driven by changing demographics both in the United States and the world. The emergence of unprecedented numbers of baby boomer’s now in their 50’s and the prevalence of hearing loss among older adults are indicators of a strong demand for audiologists well into the next decade.