When I tell people that I am an audiologist, the most common response I get is: “What did you say?” and the next most common response is, “So you work on car stereos or something like that?” The truth is, not a lot of people know what an audiologist is, but when it comes to anything hearing loss related, audiologists are the experts.
Audiologists can function independently from other health care professions. This means you’ll find them in a variety of settings, which include hospitals, schools, ENT offices, otology clinics, private hearing aid dispensing clinics – you name it, they can pretty much function any environment.
The profession started in the 1920s, but the term audiologist wasn’t coined until around 1946, when service members were returning from overseas from World War II with noise-induced hearing loss. Since that time, like many professions, it has progressed to the point where in 2007, it became required to get a doctorate in audiology to become an audiologist.
Becoming a Doctor of Audiology requires a four-year undergraduate degree followed by a four-year Doctorate degree in Audiology. Before 2007, it was a Master’s level degree, which was a two-year requirement. This intensive training ensures that audiologists have a detailed understanding of the anatomy and physiology of hearing and balance.
It also requires that they understand psycho-acoustics, research processes, diagnosis of hearing loss and balance disorders, and a variety of different treatments for hearing loss. These treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing devices, middle ear implants – you name it, if it has to do with hearing loss treatment, audiologists are trained in it.
Audiologists are trained to work with a variety of different patient populations, all the way from infant up to geriatric. They are trained in auditory rehabilitation, can perform surgical monitoring, and in counseling. Most audiologists will end up specializing in a very specific area within audiology, but by the time they are done with their training. they have a complete understanding of every aspect of how humans here.
All audiologists are licensed by their individual states. Some become Board Certified, and all of them are required to obtain continuing education hours.
Audiologists differ from otolaryngologists, otherwise known as ENTs. Unlike audiologists, ENTs are medical doctors, which means they went to medical school. This gives them the ability to treat certain medical conditions related to the ear, nose, and throat. When it comes to ear-related conditions, they typically treat these with medications and with surgery. Some of these ear-related medical conditions can include sudden sensorineural hearing loss, ear infections, tumors, trauma to the ear, deformity of the ear, etc.
It is important to understand that ENTs do not fit or program hearing technology. Any time that hearing technology comes into play, they end up referring to audiology. This means that if there is an ear condition that cannot be treated medically, they will refer to audiology. If they treat a medical condition and it still results in a hearing loss, they will refer to audiology. After a surgery is completed to install some kind of device like a cochlear implant or a bone-anchored hearing device, they will refer to audiology for the programming of the actual devices.
Over 90% of hearing loss cases are actually non-medically related, which means that you are more likely to be working with an audiologist than an ENT.
The biggest difference between audiologists and hearing instrument specialists is the amount of education required. As I explained before, audiologists are required to go through eight years of education to become an audiologist, while it is typical for a hearing instrument specialist to only require a high school diploma, some kind of observation period where they work with another hearing instrument specialist or audiologist, and then some kind of state examination in order for them to become licensed in that state.
On top of that, their scope of practice literally encompasses only hearing aids, and does not require them to have any knowledge or understanding of anything outside of hearing aids.
It is important to understand that hearing instrument specialists are not bad – but they definitely have a limited scope of practice when it comes to hearing loss and balance disorders. However, if you’re the type of individual who just needs a hearing aid, there are some good hearing instrument specialists out there that might work great for you.
If you have any hearing-related issues, going an audiologist or an ENT is a great first step. Even if they’re not the exact right specialty for you, they will be able to point you in the right direction.
Hopefully, this has given you a better idea of what an audiologist is and how they differ from other hearing care professions. So, the next time you meet an audiologist, you can say, “Oh! An audiologist, that’s a hearing doctor, right?”
Dr. Cliff Olson, Audiologist from Anthem Arizona, discusses what an Audiologist is, and what makes them a Hearing Doctor.