I am an audiologist. I am also a scientist, and I believe I am a pretty good clinician. I did a very rigorous science degree, and a PhD. Both taught me a lot about solving problems, and making the most of technology. Now I run an audiology business over the internet, where my clients are all round the country, and an audiology clinic, where people come from near and far. I have always wanted to make life better for people with hearing difficulties, from small difficulties to big hearing loss. I have enjoyed working with children and adults, equally. I have taught on many audiology and communication courses. Now I have started to reflect on how we, as audiologists should be trained, and then how we should go on to continue our learning.
I often get asked about the difference between the various professions in audiology. Go to the various professional websites and there will be definitions to help you. I think we, as audiologists, should be thinking hard about what we do, and what we want to do and achieve in our careers. I know for me; I think I have always known. I want to make life better for people with hearing difficulties, but being a good professional is only partly about the course you did – it’s about the skills you have. Every employer knows that. Every patient/client/customer knows that.
Let me tell you a story, which illustrates why I have puzzled over this, and learnt some lessons early.
I finished my Masters in Audiological Science at the University of Manchester and was awarded a job as the Audiological Scientist for the North West Thames Region of London, where my job was to make sure that all things hearing in that Region were at an appropriate standard.
So there was me, the new graduate, in a teaching hospital. The paediatric audiologist was a very experienced physician who had been working with deaf children for many years. The audiology and hearing aid department had a Chief Technician who had an American Masters degree and 15 years experience in running audiology departments. My challenge didn’t stop there. In the many hospitals in my care there were technicians who had no tertiary education and no audiology degrees, but who had been through very comprehensive audiology and hearing aid training at various sites whilst they gained clinical experience. I soon found that I did, indeed, have something to offer, but it wasn’t insight into the clients.
I am confident that I contributed in that role and left some useful legacies, but I also learnt so much from those clinicians. I also decided that I wanted to learn a lot more before I got into that kind of role again. Since then I have been very involved in research, technology, clinical work, and of course, training.
So what is the answer?
I believe that it is important that we realise that hearing health care has to be treated like other areas of medicine – primary care through to tertiary care. Professional audiologists are tertiary care providers. The expectation is that they are people who understand technology, are able to think critically, can work independently, and are prepared to try and solve problems. This means having a deep skill set, which is what you want with a tertiary care provider.
There are hearing aids that have been designed for self fitting. Hopefully people will take advantage of these high quality devices to get on to hearing aids sooner, and then there will be less people with the complex issues that come from putting off hearing aids.