Some may think of audiologists as people who fit the elderly with hearing aids. While this may be partly true, it is a vast simplification of what audiologists actually do.
Audiology is a varied and complex profession requiring in-depth anatomical and physiological knowledge. It is demanding and requires commitment to quality patient care, empathy, careful counseling and patience. Audiologists employ a plethora of assessment options, testing technologies and a dizzying array of hearing aid technologies all suited to their patients individual needs.
In most countries, an audiology degree takes 4 years, with an extra year of externship or community service to complete. In countries like South Africa, it is an undergraduate degree, in others, like the USA it is a postgraduate degree.
Over the past 50 years, hearing healthcare has become multi-faceted and now services every possible demographic. With this, comes the opportunity for qualified audiologists to explore a variety of roles and settings in which to practice.
Know Your Options In Audiology
Many students are aware of the public/state and private hospital career options. While it is a very satisfying career, it, like most careers, it requires an enjoyable employment setting that you are able to excel in.
Audiologists are hearing specialists, but they have personalities and passions too. While some enjoy working with the elderly, others prefer to focus on children, or find that they thrive in academia.
There are many audiology jobs available to the qualified audiologist each with their pro's and con's. Let's look at a few.
Public or Private Hospital
In hospitals, audiologists serve both in and out-patients.
These patients may be children, the elderly or even military personnel. They could be children with cognitive delays or adults with hearing and balance related disorders. Senior audiologists may be responsible for creating and implementing hearing assessment programs such as ototoxicity monitoring.
Junior audiologists will likely be on their feet, responsible for screening, identification and treatment of patients in the wards.
If you are an audiologist on a mission, don't mind a little chaos in your day and thrive on an ever changing patient base, then this might be exactly what you are looking for.
In developing countries, like South Africa, there is a significant difference between public and private hospitals.
Public hospitals have a shortage of equipment for certain assessments (i.e. extended high-frequency audiometers for ototoxicity monitoring). Many public facilities don't have the budget to issue hearing aids to every patient in need.
That said, there is a huge shortage of audiologists in public hospitals. Audiologists who take on these roles will help to motivate for new equipment and to come up with cost effective strategies to meet the needs of the patients.
School Audiology Jobs
In a school, the audiologist's responsibilities are less chaotic. In this case, a limited demographic helps to simplify things a bit.
That said, the specific needs of a school can be a major factor. The needs of a special education school will be different to that of a mainstream school.
Here the audiologist is a part of a team that ensures quality education and childhood development. They may provide hearing aids where necessary and/or aural rehabilitation. They also work with parents to develop individual Family Service Plans (IFSPs). Audiologists may also suggest changes in the classroom like cork stoppers on chair legs to stop noise, for example.
Is a qualified audiologist necessary in the mainstream school system?
Yes, 1 in 10 school-age children have some sort of hearing loss.
Left untreated, hearing loss can affect communication, learning and academic development. School hearing programs help to identify hearing loss early on and allow early intervention.
These audiologists understand the impact of hearing loss on education and development and are able to recommend strategies and technology to meet the individual’s communication and academic needs.
If you love teamwork and children then this might be for you. School hours can also be a major perk.
Universities and Colleges
Opportunities also exist for research, clinical supervising and teaching in higher education institutions. A masters degree is generally required for this option. Audiologists in universities will provide clinical and academic training to AUD students, physicians and medical students on the auditory and vestibular system.
University audiologists are often involved in research activities. These activities often open the doors to travel experiences and outreach programs to further expand our knowledge and assist the science of audiology as whole.
If you have a knack for discovery and thrive on seeing young professionals make their way into the world, this might be what you are looking for.
Audiologists are also found in the corporate world, although they hardly ever see patients. Their roles vary depending on the type of company or position they are employed in.
An audiologist may work at a hearing aid manufacturer, where they are required to follow industry trends and tap into them. They may support customers directly or support other audiologists dispensing their products.
They may take on sales or marketing responsibilities. Plan, execute and take part in product launches. Advise the engineers working on new product development or conduct product validation studies before going to market.
Although these audiologist hardly see patients, they are generally required to have at least one year clinical experience.
If you have a penchant for sales or see yourself helping fellow audiologists improve their services, this may be for you.
Corporate audiologists have a higher earning potential but aren't necessarily patient focused, if that is more your "thing" then this could be your next move. (By the way, we're looking )
Private Practice / Entrepreneur
Many audiologists, once qualified, take the plunge into private practice. While private practice offers offers both personal and financial rewards, it comes with a few challenges that are not for the faint of heart.
The typical university degree often falls short in preparing students for entrepreneurship and private practice exactly that.
Starting your own practices requires equipment if you don't already own it. Audiometer, tympanometer and otoscope are obvious checklist items. Registration with medical insurance and hearing aid manufacturers are less obvious but of equal importance.
It may be hard work that, but, done right, can be very rewarding.
You will need to learn marketing, accounting, finance and get to grips with practice management tools. Thankfully, there is a lot of information on these topics and more at the end of a google search.
Private practice takes guts but offers you the freedom of running your own business, on your own time, the way you want to.
If you are the type of self starter who never gives up on a challenge private practice is for you.
A true humanitarian seeks to promote the welfare people. Humanitarian health services are often needed in settings where the public health system is nonexistent or dysfunctional. In most cases this is because of the particular country’s economy or poor health policies. It should come as no surprise that this work requires travel to some of the worlds more "challenging" locations. Positions are available in as either full or part time.
Most find great satisfaction in being able to help people who do not have access to care otherwise.
While these organisations are generally not for profit, this does not mean that you work for free but finding well funded projects is key to being adequately remunerated.
If are passionate about helping those in need have a love of adventure and are willing to give up some comforts for the good of humanity then this is for you.
Public Health Department Jobs
Responsibilities within public health departments vary depending on the country and not all countries have these positions. In general, audiologists provide contractual or consultative services to health departments regarding the formation, reviewing and adoption of policies pertaining to hearing healthcare. In some countries, audiologists working in academia assist the government in improving policies and regulations.
This option is for the consultant at heart and requires extensive experience and understanding of the relevant issues within the given context.
Occupation Health or Hearing Conservation
Occupational health, industrial health or hearing conservation is a burgeoning opportunity for audiologists. We are well aware that noise exposure can cause hearing loss. Which is why many countries have legislated hearing monitoring services in large industry.
Here audiologists are responsible for planning and implementing hearing conservation programs. These programs monitor the hearing health of employees throughout their term of employment. They also educate both employers and employees on the impact of excessive noise and advocate the use of noise protection devices.
Here we are talking industrial scale and the sheer volume of patients is immense. For this reason, audiologists will often train nurses and/or audiometrists to carry out the screening tests for them. They then receive the results and generate reports for employers. They then follow up for further diagnostic tests and make recommendations or referrals.
Audiologists are at the center of hearing healthcare. They work with patients of all ages who manifest auditory or balance related disorders.
But it does not end there. Audiology is a growing profession with a variety of career opportunities. With such global need and industry growth you can find a working environment that best suits you.
The goal of any audiologist is to help people and whether your impact is direct or indirect, it still counts.