Diagnosing and addressing a hearing or balance disorder can significantly improve a person’s quality of life. The ability to listen and respond to sounds and to move steadily without tripping are necessary not only during recreational activities such as singing or dancing, but also while performing daily chores and work assignments.
With the help of a nonsurgical hearing aid or a surgically-installed cochlear implant, a hearing-impaired person struggling to understand what other people are saying might no longer experience that frustration. Likewise, anyone who has fallen during dizzy spells can be liberated from this dangerous tendency if the cause of the problem is discovered and cured.
Audiologists are health care professionals who specialize in identifying and managing such hearing or balance problems, and some of them say that the most gratifying aspect of their job is empowering individuals with hearing-related disabilities.
Definitions of Audiology and Audiologists
“Audiology is the study of hearing and balance systems and the disorders relating to them,” Kimberly Redford, a doctorally-trained audiologist with Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, explained via email. “It also assesses appropriate courses of treatment. One of the most common conditions that audiologists treat is hearing loss using hearing aids.”
Kerry Witherell, an audiology clinical supervisor at the University of Minnesota who will become interim director of the audiology clinical program on July 1, notes that there are many specialties within audiology, including pediatric and geriatric audiology.
Witherell says audiologists sometimes help individuals with auditory processing difficulties who can hear sounds but have difficulty interpreting that information, especially if there is background noise.
Reasons to Pursue an Audiology Career
“There is nothing better than having a patient break down and cry with joy when they tell you about having the first real conversation with their 3-year-old grandchild because they could finally hear them, or seeing a baby’s face light up when their cochlear implant gets activated and they hear their mom and dad’s voice for the first time,” Kristin Samuelson, an audiologist and a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, wrote in an email. “I could go on all day with stories like that … it just never gets old and I’ve done this for 31 years.”
Samuelson, who has a clinical doctorate in the field and is director of audiology at the ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic, emphasizes the “devastating effects of untreated hearing loss” such as social isolation and notes that appropriate treatment of deafness may reduce the risk of cognitive decline for seniors. “Research in this area is on-going and it is the ‘hot topic’ at our national conferences,” she says.
William H. Shapiro, an audiologist and endowed professor in hearing health at New York University‘s Grossman School of Medicine, says that his patients who received cochlear implants as children have gone on to pursue demanding careers as disability attorneys and pediatricians. “So that has been incredible … Their hearing loss has not labeled them or defined them,” says Shapiro, who has a doctorate in audiology.
Ear health is an important aspect of overall health, and ear problems are common. About 20% of the global population was experiencing hearing loss in 2019, according to a research paper published in The Lancet medical journal this year.
How to Become an Audiologist: Classes and Training
In order to pursue a career in audiology in the U.S., the following qualifications are necessary:
— Bachelor’s degree
— Doctorate in audiology
— State license
The amount of education mandatory for a career in audiology has gradually increased over time, and nowadays a Doctor of Audiology — or Au.D. — degree is the standard entry-level credential in the field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Every U.S. state requires audiologists to receive a license, the bureau notes, and many audiologists seek certification from professional organizations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association or the American Board of Audiology.
While in college, aspiring audiologists often choose majors that relate to this career path such as communication disorders or sound engineering, Samuelson says.
Michelle Kraskin, a doctorate-credentialed audiologist and assistant director of the hearing and speech center at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, says four-year programs in audiology — the norm — typically involve substantial coursework in relevant science fields like acoustics and aural rehabilitation. During the final portion of an audiology doctoral program, students focus on developing clinical skills, Kraskin says.
Samuelson notes that audiology students study various hearing problems and also learn how to diagnose and treat balance disorders.
Audiology school coursework includes classes on how to amplify sound and how to test hearing. It also typically covers the anatomy and physiology of the human body’s auditory system, which encompasses the outer, middle and inner portion of the ear and various ear-related nerves and brain components. Some audiology programs are accelerated and may be completed in three years, rather than four.
The number of U.S. audiology jobs is increasing partly because of demographic shifts in the country, since the proportion of U.S. residents above the age of 60 is rising and aging is a risk factor for many hearing and balance ailments.
The BLS predicts that employment for audiologists will be 13% higher in 2029 than it was in 2019, which is well above the average forecasted job growth rate for all U.S. occupations during that time frame, which is 4%. The median salary among U.S. audiologists in 2020 was $81,030.
A common misconception is that the only role of an audiologist is to dispense medical devices. However, audiologists say their job involves much more, since they frequently counsel patients about how to cope with hearing and balance problems.
Another underappreciated aspect of audiology is that it isn’t all about fixing problems; the field often focuses on preventing issues. For example, industrial audiologists sometimes find positions in the manufacturing industry, where they help develop safety protocols around noisy machinery. Educational audiologists try to reduce the odds of learning challenges for children by ensuring that they are able to hear their teachers.
In addition to sometimes working alongside educators, audiologists often collaborate with ear-nose-and-throat physicians, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists and other health care providers.
Shapiro emphasizes that audiologists have opportunities to transform lives in a positive way. “If someone wants to repair the world, so to speak, I think that this is the job for them,” he says.
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What Audiology Is and How to Become an Audiologist originally appeared on usnews.com