Editor's note: This is the debut of a new column, Student Speaks, a forum for audiology students to share their perspectives on challenges and opportunities in the field.
In 2013, when current fourth-year students were applying to graduate programs, audiology experienced a flurry of media coverage, garnering top spots on lists such as “Best Job,” “Least Stressful Job,” and “Fastest Growing Job.” The recognition reached its pinnacle in 2015 when Time Magazine declared audiologist as the “Best Job in America,” an accolade that likely surprised the general public (Time Magazine, 2015). As a small and often underappreciated profession, the sudden shift into the spotlight was new territory for the field. Then suddenly, it disappeared from the public mind, not cracking a single superlative list since 2016.
While rankings alone should not hold any merit, they provide a window into public perception and, in this particular case, the minds of our soon-to-be graduates. When I decided to apply to AuD programs almost five years ago, audiology's recent recognition encouraged me to pursue the field. Countless friends and relatives applauded this decision to go into such a promising field. They referred to facts such as the aging of the baby boomers, the increased life expectancy, and the incessant use of blasting headphones by the younger generation as evidence that job prospects would be plentiful with strong job security. I agreed, and felt that four more years of school would be more than worth it.
Now, months away from graduation, the circumstances have changed; recent years have brought on a wealth of disruption to audiology that has clouded the future of the profession. While even the most seasoned of audiologists are attempting to discern the immediate effects of such changes, it is the students who are left most confused in navigating the long-term impact of these changes on their future careers. The reality is the career we now embark upon differs from the profession we believed we were entering four years ago.
The rise of Costco and the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act challenged the status quo of audiology and its delivery of services. Many professionals continue to debate the significance of these changes, with even our professional organizations failing to reach a consensus on their consequences.
“The recent legislation and the introduction of over-the-counter hearing solutions may have caused some concern over how audiologists can maintain their jobs and for us (soon-to-be graduates), how to find a job” said Christie Leung, fourth-year AuD student at the CUNY Graduate Center. However, “this can be a good time for audiologists to remodel our delivery of care and show consumers the patient-centered and evidence-based side of audiology,” she continued.
Leung is not alone in exercising cautious optimism. Many students take solace in knowing that certain specialties are relatively immune to disruption. Audiologists hold prime rank in tinnitus management and aural rehabilitation. Implantable devices, vestibular evaluation, and pediatric audiology are likely also safely in the hands of audiologists. Another fourth-year AuD student Imari Greaves agrees. “(Aural) rehabilitation and management will always be needed” said Greaves. “There is a lot of room for meaningful work, which will make our careers less stressful.”
Students must also acknowledge the exciting advancements in the field in recent years. Throughout our graduate study, hearing aids became wireless, rechargeable, and made for iPhone. We witnessed the improvement of electrode arrays, the expansion of cochlear implantation candidacy, and the development of electroacoustic stimulation. We learned about the advancements in aural rehabilitation, the reality of telehealth, and the successes of family-centered care.
With all these disruptions and innovations, our graduate education at times feels like we are aiming at a moving target; new techniques and technology would be mastered only to hear the following semester that something new had come out. We juggle several things simultaneously—learning the fundamentals while also staying current on the present state of audiology. To further exacerbate this daunting task, we lack the connection to the front lines, unsure of how these studies and press releases are truly manifesting in an audiologist's everyday life.
These last four years have illustrated the importance of evolving and staying relevant by questioning the status quo and welcoming positive changes to one's practice. They serve as a reminder that, ultimately, beyond all other factors, these disruptors must be viewed with the patient in mind. With the patient's best interest as a guiding light, the future should be bright. After four long years of learning and watching, we, soon-to-be audiologists, are eager to be active participants in the field, prove our expertise, and establish our place as the uncontested hearing health care provider.
And as Greaves put it, “with graduation approaching, I am more excited than ever about the future of audiology.”