Career Insight From an Audiologist

A Day in the Life of an Audiologist

Doctor fitting a senior female patient with a hearing aid
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Who are audiologists and what do they do? How can you pursue and obtain a successful career as an audiologist? Are audiologists in great demand? If you are new to the profession, or if you are thinking of becoming an audiologist, you may have questions about your career decisions, or you may even wonder if you have chosen the right career.

Every career has challenges, perks, pros, and cons. What are the positives and negatives about working as an audiologist?

What Is an Audiologist?

Audiologists are clinicians who help diagnose and treat patients with hearing problems or balance issues. They see patients as part of a referral pattern that may include ENT physicians and neurologists, as well as speech pathologists to help conduct hearing studies used to diagnose and treat patients for a variety of hearing issues and related conditions, as well as dizziness and balance issues. Treatments prescribed may include anything from minor procedures, to implants or major surgery (conducted by the ENT physician), therapy, or pharmaceutical intervention.

A couple of the positive aspects of a career as an audiologist include market demand and salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean (average) salary for audiologists is $77,420 annually, and the top 10 percent earn a median income of $111,450 per year.

Additionally, the most recent projections from the BLS predict that the audiology workforce will grow by 29 percent from 2014-2024, which is considered to be "much faster than average" job growth for a given industry.

This represents the addition of about 3,800 jobs, as audiology is a relatively small field (compared to some other health professions such as nurses and physicians), with about 13,200 audiologists in the workforce as of 2014. (In comparison, there are about 800,000 physicians and several million nurses practicing in the United States.)

What Does It Take to Become an Audiologist?

One of the drawbacks to a career as an audiologist may, for some, be the extensive education level and degree requirements. Audiologists must have a minimum of a master's degree from an accredited program in audiology, and many then go on to obtain a doctorate level degree. However, like many health professionals, this dynamic career more than makes up for the years of school and the related expense of money and time.

"It was a long road of studying and working...but audiology has been a very rewarding career, and I am happy that I followed my instincts," says Althea Grey, AuD, FAAA, a board certified Doctor of Audiology at Archbold Ear, Nose, Throat, and Allergy Center, in Thomasville, Georgia. Even though she worked full-time during school, Grey feels that it was well worth the effort and long hours to achieve her career goal of becoming an audiologist, especially since she knew she wanted to become an audiologist since shortly after completing high school.

"I started community college to study interpreting for the deaf. In one of my classes, we had a guest speaker, [who was] an audiologist, and my interest in audiology was piqued," states Grey.

"After finishing my AA [associate's degree], I went on to get my masters degree, and then my doctorate in audiology."

Where Can You Work As an Audiologist?

There are a number of different types of environments in which audiologists can work. According to the BLS, about 14 percent work in hospitals, and 12 percent work for education or government employers. About half of audiologists work in medical offices of various health practitioners, including doctors' offices.

Grey, who has practiced since 2001, has worked in a variety of healthcare settings, including ENT/audiology clinics, hospitals, and hospital-owned practices, including one that was affiliated with a university.

Whether you work in a hospital, clinic, or academic setting is likely a matter of personal choice. As with any work environment in any industry, individual preferences vary. Some workers are more successful in a larger corporate setting, while other professionals thrive in a more intimate office setting.

As is the case with many healthcare professions, hospital-based audiologists typically earn slightly more than private office- or government-based workers, but the pay difference is relatively minimal in the audiology field, according to the BLS. Educational audiologists, who work in school settings, typically earn the lowest income on average, with a salary about 10-12 percent lower than their hospital-based counterparts.

A Day in the Life of an Audiologist

What is it really like, day in and day out, to work as an audiologist? Dr. Grey offers detailed insight into her "typical" day, not that any day is "typical," when you are providing healthcare treatment to a very full schedule of patients.

Audiologists are clearly very busy, and not lacking for things to do or patients to see. According to Dr. Grey, a typical work day can include: "checking the schedule for the day. [Conducting] hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings, hearing aid checks, a VNG (videonystagmography—a series of tests to diagnose causes of dizziness or balance issues) and possible ABR, and writing reports." Working in an ENT practice setting also has its added demands, Grey adds: "In addition to the audiology schedule of patient appointments, we also have to fit in patients from the ENT clinic who are same-day referrals."

According to Dr. Grey, the following are just some of the job responsibilities and tasks performed by audiologists on a regular basis:

  • Basic job duties always include administrative work. There is always paper work of some sort to complete. Phone calls too, for example.
  • Audiologists have a wide variety of job skills and see patients of all ages. They conduct kids' hearing evaluations, which includes both newborn hearing screenings (ABR) and older children who have speech delays and other hearing problems.
  • They see adults for impacted cerumen (ear wax), hearing loss, tinnitus issues, and balance issues such as BPPV.
  • They perform vestibular diagnostic evaluations from referrals including those from neurology and ENT physicians.
  • Audiologists also see patients for cochlear implants and all related follow-up, including patients with bone-anchored hearing devices.
  • They dispense hearing aids and then have follow-up appointments.

Even though the schedule is intense, and the educational track is extensive, Dr. Grey highly recommends audiology as a career choice. When asked what advice she would give to those interested in pursuing a career as an audiologist, Grey says: "Go for it!" She finds audiology to be an extremely rewarding career, with a variety of different sub-specialties, practice settings, and career tracks from which to choose. "I would advise that an individual become well-rounded during school and residency, and then make a [career] decision" regarding specialization, after completing school and training, such as whether to focus on pediatrics, adults, or to remain generalized and treat all ages and types of patients. "For example, in my current setting, I see both adults and children, so my broader school training and experience are well used," states Grey.

Challenges of this profession include misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge about the vital role of audiologists, and how they fit into the clinical care team. Dr. Grey says:

We are non-physician health care providers with doctorate degrees, and this needs to be more recognized. Healthcare is changing, and audiologists should have more direct access for patients. Audiologists are the people to see when there are hearing and balance issues or complaints. Audiologists make referrals as needed to other resources. We are health care providers that are needed for all populations.

The only other significant frustration identified by Grey as one she faces on a regular basis is insurance challenges, which is a common theme among many medical specialties in today's world, but more so in the field of audiology. Insurance coverage is especially lacking for hearing aid patients among the Medicare population.

Dr. Grey is not the only one who feels that audiology is one of the best jobs in healthcare. Audiologists often are including on lists of "top professions," including CareerCast.com's list of "Least Stressful Careers."

While jobs are impacted by many outside factors, one's career choice is an intensely personal decision. When deciding upon a career, make sure that the role you decide to pursue is a good fit for your goals, above all else.

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Audiologists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/audiologists.htm.

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