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Professional behavior: It's not an optional extra

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000292887.20199.da

If you want more respect in your community as a healthcare professional, the ball is in your court. Simply put: Professional behavior earns respect. This is not to imply that audiologists intentionally break the rules, but, on some days, in the rush of business, professional wisdom might be overlooked.

Acting professionally is especially crucial now as audiology transitions to a doctoring profession with the AuD degree. An excellent opportunity for current and future AuD students to learn what's expected of them is to attend the Saturday morning session, “So You Want to Be a Doctor,” from 8:30 to 10. In fact, all audiologists can refresh their checklist of professional behavior here.

Conducting the session will be Kenneth Lowder, AuD, and Deborah R. Price, AuD. Lowder, chair of the Audiology Foundation of America (AFA), has been in private practice for 20 years. Also in private practice for nearly 20 years, Price, vice-chair of AFA, was one of the first hearing professionals to earn the AuD degree.

Both speakers travel the nation to schools and audiology gatherings to teach the fundamentals of doctoral behavior, including rights and responsibilities, ethics and etiquette.

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“Other doctoring professions spend a significant amount of time shaping the attitudes of their students during their education,” says Lowder. “If audiology is really going to become a doctoring profession, we need to examine our self-image.”

Here's what he means: Unlike other healthcare professionals, audiologists may have difficulty explaining that they are the experts in hearing and balance, says Lowder. Why? “Physicians, nurses, speech-language pathologists, and hearing aid specialists collectively provide almost all of the services we do. So, how is the public supposed to differentiate our special expertise?”



Therefore, audiologists have a responsibility to educate the public about their role as experts, Lowder says. It's also a lesson for audiology students. A study by Leslie Neal, PhD, an audiologist in private practice and an AFA board member, found that while audiology students are committed to a career of public service, they also feel inferior to physicians in their public stature.

Figure. Deb

Figure. Deb

“This tells us that we have to adjust our self-image if we are going to be accepted by the public as doctors,” Lowder says.

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What specifically makes an audiologist a professional? Knowledge and technical skills are crucial, of course. But this competence is shallow if not supported by the following personal qualities that Lowder terms the “core of professionalism.”

  • Altruism: Putting the best interests of others above your own.
  • Accountability: Being accountable to patients, colleagues, and society for hearing health needs. This includes adhering to ethical standards.
  • Excellence: Exceeding expectations and committing to a life of learning.
  • Duty: Committing to service, even when it's inconvenient and regardless of the patient's ability to pay. Taking an active role in teaching and professional organizations and volunteering skills for the good of the community are also professional hallmarks.
  • Honor and integrity: Refusing to violate personal and professional codes, being fair and truthful, and keeping your word. Also, recognizing possible conflicts of interest and avoiding relationships that put personal gain over the best interests of patients and the profession.
  • Respect: Having respect for colleagues, your patients, and their families.
  • Education: Committing to life-long learning to ensure the highest quality of hearing healthcare.
  • Collegiality: Interacting with other healthcare professionals as a doctor trained to determine what's in a patient's best interest.
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Would you respect a doctor who abuses power, discriminates, breaches confidentiality, or who is arrogant or greedy? Of course not. Nor would patients. But, some of these unprofessional behaviors can subtly sneak into daily practice. For instance, Lowder says:

“Abuse of power can include not allowing patients to contribute to decision-making.” Flagrant abuse is more obvious, such as allowing money or academic competitiveness to affect judgment.

Casual comments about patients or discussing cases in public violates confidentiality. And, says Lowder, “We must constantly re-evaluate our motives to ensure that no actions are dictated solely by personal gain.”

Professionals must also avoid misrepresentations of all kinds, conflicts of interest, and not stepping aside when no longer able to fulfill one's professional responsibilities.

“Professionalism isn't an optional extra,” Lowder concludes. “It's the framework for your practice.”

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.