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Vocational Interests and Personal Preferences of Audiologists, Speech-Language Pathologists

Hickman, James; Schwartz, Jeremy; Donai, Jeremy J. PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000582448.01774.b4
Audiology Education

From left: Mr. Hickman is a third-year doctor of audiology (AuD) student at West Virginia University (WVU). He completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, and was the co-vice president of the WVU Student Academy of Audiology in 2018. Mr. Schwartz is also an AuD student at WVU. He has an undergraduate degree in speech pathology and audiology, and is currently completing his fourth-year residency at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose and Throat Associates in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Donai is an assistant professor in audiology at WVU. He is the past president of the Council of AuD Programs (CAuDP), and has served on other national committees. He is also the owner and an audiologist at Advanced Hearing Center of Morgantown, LLC.

The professions of audiology and speech-language pathology (SLP) share a common undergraduate training mechanism, which creates a pipeline of students who will apply to graduate programs in either professions. Students in undergraduate communication sciences and disorders (CSD) programs are provided information and training regarding both professions, then required to make a decision about their career path during their undergraduate education. For some students, making this decision is easy as they find one profession more appealing than the other. For others, however, the choice is more difficult as they find attractive aspects in each profession.

Appendix B.

Appendix B.

Appendix C.

Appendix C.

Audiology and SLP also share a governing and credentialing body in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Although these professions share some similarities, they have significant differences, the most obvious of which is their respective scopes of practice and requirements for entry-level degrees. Audiology requires a clinical doctorate that typically takes three to four years to complete, while SLP requires a master's degree that is typically completed in two years. Undergraduate CSD majors must know these differences; some students have reported receiving inadequate levels of information about these two professions during their undergraduate training.1,2

According to Windmill and Freeman,3 the profession of audiology may be challenged to generate enough audiologists to meet the demand for audiological services. Using the physician supply model, the authors found a predicted shortfall in the number of audiologists needed to meet future service demand. This shortage is due to more practitioners leaving the profession (i.e., retirement or attrition) than students graduating from doctor of audiology (AuD) programs. The authors suggested two potential solutions to this problem: (1) increase the number of students graduating from AuD programs, or (2) allow international audiologists to practice within the United States to increase operational capacity. This is critical because if a profession is unable to meet the needs of the populations they serve, other professions are likely to serve as replacements in meeting those needs.

The purpose of the study was to collect vocational interest and personal preference data from a national sample of students and professionals in the CSD field using a modified version of a survey utilized by Evans.2 Specifically, the primary goal was to determine if audiology and SLP professionals and students differ in these two areas and could be classified by their respective professions using survey data. If so, quantifying these differences may aid in advising undergraduate students who find both professions attractive and represent the first step in developing a career counseling tool for students considering AuD or SLP as a profession.

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Questionnaire. The study utilized a modified version of a vocational interest and personal preference questionnaire developed by Evans.2 Two versions were created to reflect distribution to AuD and SLP professionals, as well as current AuD and SLP graduate students enrolled in clinical training programs. Both versions included demographic information (described below), 41 Likert-style questions (see Appendix A online at, and two open-ended questions (see Appendices B and C). The two open-ended questions were: (1) What factors contributed to your choice of audiology or speech-language pathology as a profession? and (2) What do you see as the most important differences between audiology and speech-language pathology? The primary difference between the two versions was the demographic questions, which were created to reflect the respondent's status as a student or professional. To allow direct comparisons between the current study and that by Evans,2 the distribution utilized all of the 41 Likert-style and open-ended questions.

Demographic questions in the professional questionnaire included questions on gender, current profession, practice setting, population served, years of experience, licensure, and satisfaction with the profession. In the student version, demographic questions included questions regarding gender, age, field of study, and most recent undergraduate major or field of study. Following the demographic questions, the participants were asked a series of questions pertaining to personal preferences and vocational interests, rating their response to each question from one (strongly disagree) to nine (strongly agree). Prior to distribution, both surveys were pilot tested to ensure proper function of the online distribution format (i.e., Qualtrics), with no technical issues identified in either version.

Dissemination. The instrument was distributed to students and professionals separately. To maximize the number of responses, the survey was disseminated through numerous mechanisms, including email, social media sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), and professional organizations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), Student Academy of Audiology (SAA), and the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NSSLHA). The survey was distributed to professionals from May to August 2015, while the student version was accessible in January and February 2016. Both distributions remained open until fewer than five responses were received for at least three consecutive days.

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Responses. A total of 1,067 responses were received. Data from respondents who did not completely answer questions regarding personal preference and vocational interest were removed. Additionally, data were removed from respondents who provided a one or two (lower satisfaction) out of five on the question about satisfaction with their choice of audiology or speech pathology (this left respondents selecting three through five on this question). This was done to reflect the characteristics of individuals who were at least somewhat satisfied with their career choice, which resulted in 968 total responses used in the analyses. The majority (69% or 678 individuals) of respondents were “very satisfied” with their choice of profession, 23.4 percent (230) were “somewhat satisfied,” and 6.1 percent (60) had “neutral” feelings.

Demographic Information. About 93.4 percent of the respondents (904) were female, while 6.6 percent (64) were male. Speech-language pathologists made up 71.5 percent (692) of respondents, and audiologists comprised 27.6 percent (271). The most popular undergraduate major was communication sciences and disorders at 78 percent (754). The respondents’ experiences were as follows: <5 years –186 (19.2%); 5-10 years –184 (19%); 10-20 years –218 (22.5%); and 20+ years –380 (39.3%).

Classification (Linear Discriminant Analysis). Independent samples t-tests were conducted to test for significant differences in ratings for each question. Responses with significant differences (p <.05) between professions were utilized as inputs to a stepwise discriminant function classifier. Using these responses, subjects were classified with approximately 83 percent accuracy using leave-one-out cross validation. Individually, audiologists were classified at 79 percent, and SLP's were classified at 85 percent accuracy. Please see Appendix A online ( for mean scores and standard deviations for all 41 questions. Questions with significant differences between responses from AuDs and SLPs are in bold.

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Responses. A total of 2,037 responses were received. Of the responses, 415 were removed because of an incomplete set of responses on the personal preference and vocational interest questions. Additionally, 16 responses were removed due to the respondents providing a rating of 1 or 2 (lower satisfaction) for the question inquiring about the decision to pursue audiology or speech pathology as a profession. The remaining 1,606 responses served as the data for the following analyses: The majority (68.4% or 1,099) of respondents were “very satisfied” with their choice of profession, 27 percent (434) reported being “somewhat satisfied,” and 4.5 percent reported being “neutral” (73).

Demographic information. About 94.5 percent of the respondents (1,518) were female, while 5.5 percent (88) were male. Speech-language pathologists made up 68.7 percent (1,104), with audiology comprising 31.3 percent (502). The most popular undergraduate major was communication sciences and disorders at 74.6 percent (1,198). In terms of age group, the majority of respondents (73%) were 18 to 25 years old (1,173), 21 percent were 26 to 34 (337), and the remainder were over 35 years old.

Classification (Linear Discriminant Analysis). Independent samples t-tests were conducted to test for significant differences in ratings for each question. Responses with significant differences (p <.05) between professions were utilized as inputs to a stepwise discriminant function classifier. Using these responses, subjects were classified with approximately 92 percent accuracy using leave-one-out cross validation. Individually, AuDs were classified at 94 percent and SLPs were classified at 90 percent accuracy.

Open-ended questions. Results from the open-ended questions for AuD and SLP (students and professionals) are summarized in Appendix B and Appendix C. The top five answers are provided for both questions.

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Based on the data collected, we were able to effectively delineate the differences between the vocational and personal preferences of AuD and SLP students and professionals. Students were classified to their respective professions with 90 percent accuracy, and professionals to their respective professions with 83 percent accuracy. Because there is a paucity of research examining personal and professional characteristics of AuDs and SLPs, studies like this can help uncover important information about individuals working in the field and what they desire in a profession. These data can aid future studies on personal and vocational influences and factors that drive individuals to study AuD or SLP.

The profession of audiology is likely to face a shortage in the number of audiologists needed to meet the demand for audiological services.3 At the same time, the number of adults 20 years or older with hearing loss in the United States is projected to increase from 44 million (15% of adults) to 73.5 million (22.6% of adults) by 2060,4 thus increasing the need for audiological services. To address this concern, the authors suggested increasing the number of students graduating from AuD programs. Knowing and understanding those who go into the the professions can play a significant role in professional recruitment efforts.

Results of the current distribution show similarities to the study by Evans2 in that using information from the Likert-style questions on personal preference and vocational interest and discriminant function analysis resulted in 85 percent classification accuracy. As previously noted, the current study found 83 percent classification accuracy for professionals and 90 percent classification accuracy for students using the same discriminant function analysis technique. These findings suggest instrument stability in predicting membership in either AuD or SLP over a period of approximately 15 years (i.e., 2002 to 2016). Additionally, the first open-ended question on reasons for selecting their respective professions showed that personal life experiences, working in a profession that helps others, undergraduate major, or a professor were the respondents’ top choices for choosing their profession. The second open-ended question regarding perceived differences between the professions of AuD and SLP revealed that two of the most significant perceived differences seen between the professions related to scope of practice and whether the focus is on diagnostics or treatment.

Some common responses to open-ended questions from the study by Evans2 were also seen in the current study. Additionally, the results are similar to those reported by Guigen, et al.,5 who found interest in the field and familial experience as two of the most common factors reported when choosing between the two professions. According to an earlier study by Brodsky and Cooke,1 both AuDs and SLPs selected their careers based more on personal factors than educational or employment factors. Both groups expressed a desire to work with and help people in a variety of settings. Audiologists emphasized that undergraduate courses in hearing also played a large role in their decision.

Lastly, the survey may assist undecided undergraduate CSD students who find both professions appealing with making important career decisions. Future investigations should examine factors common to each profession in developing a vocational counseling instrument for AuD and SLP students. This may help attract more high-quality students to the profession of audiology.

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1. Brodsky, M. B., & Cooke, P. A. (2000). Influences in the Decision-Making Process for Careers as a Speech-Language Pathologist or an Audiologist. Journal of Employment Counseling, 37(3), 178-189.
2. Evans, H. (2003). The Development of a Vocational Counseling Survey for Students in Communication Sciences and Disorders. (Unpublished Thesis). Towson University, Towson, MD.
3. Windmill, I. M., & Freeman, B. A. (2013). Demand for Audiology Services: 30-Yr Projections and Impact on Academic Programs. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 24(5), 407-416. doi:10.3766/jaaa.24.5.7.
4. Goman, A, Reed, N., & Lin, F. (2017). Addressing Estimated Hearing Loss in Adults in 2060. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 143(7). doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2016.4642.
5. Guigen, A., Zabeu, J., Freire, T., Campos, P., Felix, G., & Ferrari, D. (2014). Speech Language Pathology and Audiology as a Higher Education Option: Exploratory Study. Revista CEFAC, 16(3), 974–984.
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