Audiologists are health-care professionals who help people preserve and enhance their sense of hearing. They are usually trained to diagnose and manage hearing, tinnitus, or problems with balance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, audiologists in the US earned a median wage of $66,660 in 2010. Further, a growth of 37% of the profession is expected by 2020. In the United States to practice as an audiologist, you must have a state license or registration and have completed a Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.).
The Au.D. degree is a competitive four-year post-baccalaureate program, with externship experiences and clinical training opportunities in the final year. You must also pass a national exam as part of your degree. While most states also require a Hearing Aid Dispenser License, legislation to get rid of this additional step is currently underway. There are currently about 74 Au.D. programs across the US. You can find a list of them here (for those of you based outside the US, try this).
But what is being an audiologist really like? I chatted to Nalisha Hari and Mei Yen Tan (two audiologists based in New Zealand) to find out.
I found out about audiology in my third year of a BSc (in Neuroscience), when my lecturer mentioned it at the start of one of his Auditory Neuroscience lectures. I wanted to do something more interactive with people, and the fact that I could apply my existing Biomedical Science/Neuroscience knowledge to a clinical setting really attracted me to audiology. As I am always interested in continued learning I liked the fact that there are lots of avenues that you can pursue with audiology, whether it be specializing in things such as cochlear implants, or pursuing a more research-based role to expand the current audiological knowledge-base.
I always had an interest in science and pursued a BSc in Biomedical Science when I entered tertiary study. With my mother being a piano teacher, she cultivated an interest in music in us at a young age. Thus, I went on to obtain a Music Diploma in Piano Recital. When I was considering my options for post-graduate study after completing my undergraduate degree, audiology seemed like the natural option as it was a combination of the best of both of my worlds – Science and Music.
What do you think are some of the characteristics an audiologist should have?
I think being a people person is the key characteristic for being an audiologist. You deal with people on a daily basis and you need to know how to deliver information in a delicate and informative way. You definitely need to have patience and be a good listener as there is often a great deal of counselling required in terms of diagnosing a hearing loss and hearing rehabilitation.
Mei Yen: I think an audiologist should have a genuine interest in people, and be compassionate and patient. Hearing rehabilitation is not an overnight process and several appointments are often required. The willingness to tackle and solve problems, and the perseverance to do this, are also desirable traits. It may also be useful to not be squeamish (earwax isn’t exactly all that glamorous haha!).
What is your typical day like?
I usually start my day by going through my patient cases for the day, finding out what I have coming up, and preparing any equipment that I may need for it. At the hospital I see a range of patients on a daily basis, from babies to the elderly. My role involves performing hearing tests, discussing hearing aids, fitting hearing aids, and following up on their audiological rehabilitation.
I work in a private audiological practice so the majority of my clients are adults. I could see between 8-12 clients in a day for a range of appointments including hearing checks, full diagnostic hearing tests, and consultation for hearing devices, hearing aid fitting or hearing aid adjustment. I can also be found at the repair bench trying to resuscitate a hearing aid or change the tubing of a hearing aid mould. No two clients are alike and it is my duty to tailor a service or solution to them, so it keeps me on my toes.
What are the best things about being an audiologist?
The best part about being an audiologist for me is being able to help people. Having patients come back and tell you how much of a difference you have made to their life is truly priceless. I love that my role is so varied, whether it is the task I may be performing or the population I may be working with. There is never a dull moment and it definitely keeps you on your toes!
One of the best things about being an audiologist is the ability to enrich someone’s life, in a way that is meaningful to them. It is always heart-warming to hear a client say “I could hear my cat purr for the first time” or “I had no idea there were so many Tuis [a native bird in NZ] in our backyard”. Furthermore, as our ability to communicate is linked to our hearing, hearing loss can often lead to miscommunication, and thus, misunderstanding. For me, it is especially rewarding to know that by improving someone’s hearing, I may be helping improve relationships too. A client once said to me “I no longer feel like my family is trying to hide from me by whispering, as in actual fact they were never whispering at all”.
Have you faced any challenges (either in your training or career as an audiologist)? How did you overcome them?
At times I have come across challenging situations with patients or technical issues with equipment. However, what you find out from going through the Masters course [note: becoming an audiologist in New Zealand requires a Master of Audiology degree] and once you are in the workplace is that there is always support around, whether it be your colleagues, or the hearing aid reps who are just a phone call away.
I remember when I first started the Master of Audiology course I was not used to properly delivering my voice and speaking in a clear manner, as I am naturally soft-spoken. These are essential skills when communicating with hearing-impaired clients, so I used to study the way one of our clinical tutors enunciated her words and after a lot of practice, I now am able to confidently communicate with a hearing-impaired client.
What do you think the job outlook is like for audiology?
It has been a couple of years since I was first entering the Audiology workforce and I suspect the job environment has probably changed again since then. It was quite competitive looking for jobs straight after graduating, but all of my classmates were able to find employment in a reasonably short space of time.
The field of hearing science is expanding due to the aging population in New Zealand, [this is a world-wide trend!] and an increasing public awareness of occupationally induced hearing loss and early diagnosis of hearing disorders following the implementation of the newborn hearing screening program. There are also many job avenues for an audiologist, including working in the public or private sector, deaf and hearing-impaired education center, Cochlear Implant Program, hearing aid manufacturer or in research and academics.
Do you have any advice for someone considering a career as an audiologist?
Becoming an audiologist is a highly rewarding and stimulating career! If you are thinking about becoming an audiologist, I would advise visiting your nearest Audiology clinic and asking if you could possibly sit in and observe for an afternoon. For me, this was the most helpful way for me to really see and understand what an audiologist does.
I would highly suggest shadowing an audiologist for a day and find out what a typical day involves. It would also be a good opportunity to ask questions. Audiology is a very rewarding profession, and while I may be biased, I would highly recommend it if you enjoy working with people and have a passion to improve someone’s quality of life.
Some useful links:
· Audiology Resource: Contains a useful specialist discussion forum for any questions you might have
· Student Academy of Audiology
· Let Them Hear Foundation
· Why Audiology? : A video about some of the reasons people choose this career
About the Author
Lakshini Mendis is a PhD student at the Center for Brain Research at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Her project is focused on understanding the changes that occur in Alzheimer's disease. Lakshini is passionate about good science communication, and believes that it is the key to increasing scientific literacy in the community. She wants to help change the stereotype of females in science, and that’s why she signed up as the Lifestyles section editor at the Scientista Foundation. She also writes for HDBuzz. When she's not working, you can usually find Lakshini curled up with a good book, spending time with family and friends, or exploring somewhere new! Twitter handle: @MissMendis