As the name suggests, it is a health-care professional who specializes in the diagnoses, identification, monitoring and treatment of disorders of the auditory and vestibular portions of the ear. These specialists dispense hearing aids, manage and rehabilitate hearing problems and assess candidacy for cochlear implants. An audiologist helps design and implement personal and industrial hearing safety programs, newborn hearing screening programs, and school hearing screening programs. Their duties also entail providing special fitting ear plugs and other hearing protection devices to prevent hearing loss.
Audiologists have training in anatomy and physiology, hearing aids, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics, neurology, vestibular function and assessment, balance disorders, counseling and sign language.
Unfortunately, hearing loss is pervasive throughout the U.S.. In a November 2011 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, nearly a fifth of all Americans 12 years and older have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult. The study also concluded that approximately 30 million Americans have hearing loss in both ears. That number catapults to 48 million or 20.3% for people with hearing loss in at least one ear.
Exposure to harmful noise can happen at any age. People of all ages, including children, teens, young adults, and older people, can develop noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). As many as 16 percent of teens (ages 12 to 19) have reported some hearing loss that could have been caused by loud noise, according to a 2010 report based on a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Education and Certification
In the United States, audiologists are regulated by state licensure or registration in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. An audiologist with a master’s degree can currently practice in the field. However, beginning in 2012, audiologists must earn a doctoral degree (PhD or AuD) in order to be eligible for national certification.
The first step in becoming an audiologist is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. While no specific undergraduate major is required, audiology doctoral programs require courses in physics, math, anatomy and physiology. Some colleges offer undergraduate communication science programs that prepare students for careers in audiology or speech-language therapy.
Formal audiology training begins at the graduate level. When enrolling in a doctoral program, it is important to choose one accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Currently there are over 70 accredited Au.D. programs in the United States. Completion of a doctoral degree in audiology generally requires at least four years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s level. Because they involve a research component, PhD programs may last as long as 5-6 years.
To become ASHA certified, candidates must complete a minimum of 1,820 hours of supervised clinical practice. The training provided by accredited doctoral programs generally fulfills this requirement. Most states also require a Hearing Aid Dispenser License to enable the Audiologist to dispense hearing aids, though legislation is currently underway in many states which would not require this extra step.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for audiologists was $69,720 (or approximately $33.50/hour) in 2012.
Earnings vary with education level and practice setting. One self-reported survey found that the median annual salary for audiologists holding AuD degrees was $70,000 while those with PhDs reported median earnings of $96,097. The highest salaries went to those employed in private industry and hospitals, while those working for schools reported below-average pay.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of audiologists is expected to grow by 34% between 2012 and 2022, which is considered much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because the field is quite small, this increase will amount to only 4,300 new jobs nationwide.
As documented by the BLS, this is a growing profession due to the large number of people of all ages experiencing hearing problems. The education appears to be an arduous endeavor, however this career offers financial returns and the personal satisfaction of helping someone hear.