After 37 years of being an audiologist, I find it interesting to have witnessed the evolution of the hearing aid field. When I was in my 30s, the old-school hearing aid dispensers were urging their children to get their degrees in audiology and continue the family business. Today, there are audiologists, myself included, urging their children to become Board-Certified Hearing Instrument Specialists (BC-HIS) and join the family business. Why have the tables turned?
One answer may be the fact that more audiologists are retiring or leaving the field than are graduating from AuD programs. At the same time, the U.S. hearing loss population has doubled since 1984 and is projected to reach 53 million by 2050 (Kochkin, 2005).
When the income potential is equal between audiologists and BC-HIS in dispensing practices, people will question whether the additional years of expensive schooling required to become an audiologist are worth it in the long run. This question is even more pertinent when you consider other market pressures such as decreasing average sales prices, the prevalence of big box stores, the waning number of truly independent practices, and the frequent introduction of new Personal Sound Amplifiers (PSAs) into the marketplace. These are all reasons that I advised my son, who already had a master's degree in education, to become a BC-HIS, rather than going back to school to become an audiologist.
For many BC-HIS dispensers, this is their second career. As a result, they come in with more life and work experiences, and with a different perspective than those who are just straight out of an AuD program. Many audiologists come out of school with a very clinical point of view. They assume a patient will do what the doctor says: if they inform a patient of his/her hearing loss and recommend the use of hearing aids, the patient will buy the device simply to follow the doctor's orders. However, anybody who has been in this field long enough knows that scenario is not the norm. Our field has been waiting for years for the impending explosion of growth from the Baby Boomer generation. I am smack dab in the middle of that generation and I can tell you that we are different from the Greatest Generation. Baby boomers tend to be skeptical, and want to research everything before making a decision. To build a business relationship with baby boomers, it is quite likely that an audiologist will need to reach out to a prospective client several times after the initial evaluation.
I don't understand the push by some audiologists to hire audiology technicians who can be helpful but whose scope of practice is much more limited than a dispenser who is a BC-HIS. Why would you want an employee who can only help you extend your capabilities, instead of an employee who can make money for the practice whether you are in the office or not?
Please do not take what I say in this article as being disrespectful of audiologists. There are many audiologists whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for, in the same way that there are also many BC-HIS dispensers whom I have tremendous respect for. Considering the significant shortage of audiologists, it makes sense to me to hire BC-HIS dispensers and increase business capacity to help people hear better. If you find the hunt for the right audiologist to be like searching for the abominable snowman, then I urge you to check out BC-HIS professionals. You'll be glad that you did.