Meet Heather Malyuk, AuD, the owner of Soundcheck Audiology in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Her clinic offers mobile and telehealth audiology services. Dr. Malyuk specializes in hearing care for musicians and music industry professionals. She’s developed unique on-site hearing conservation programs for professional orchestras as well as an educational video series for the music industry. Most recently, Dr. Malyuk has joined Tuned, a telaudiology startup, as Head of Audiology. The Hearing Journal recently spoke with Dr. Malyuk about her exciting career journey.
THJ: Please tell us a little about yourself and your background in audiology.
Dr. Malyuk: I grew up in Northeast Ohio and have been a musician since I can remember. I was homeschooled for my entire education until college and really valued that lifestyle and style of learning. Because of being homeschooled, I was able to focus on my interests more than the average kid. My primary interest was music. I play classical violin, Appalachian fiddle, and guitar. I have a degree in Music History and Lite-rature and was actually one week into a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology when I found out about the field of audiology. I quickly dropped out of the master’s program, applied to the Northeast Ohio Audiology Consortium (NOAC), and ultimately earned my AuD through Kent State University. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I would make that decision again in a heartbeat!
I currently run my own practice, Soundcheck Audiology, which is roughly five years old. My practice focuses on the professional music industry and, though I do have a physical clinic, much of my work is mobile and via telehealth. In fact, until March of 2020, most of my work was outside of the clinic. I developed on-site hearing conservation programs for professional orchestras and would run those completely on my own seeing as many as 90 orchestra members in a week for appointments (now I have the luxury of training and hiring other audiologists!). When I was home in Ohio, I was often backstage at local venues seeing bands and crews when they would come through town. When I was at Sensaphonics, I really cut my teeth in the touring scene in terms of hearing care, especially with in-ear monitors. After I left Sensaphonics, I wanted to show that I could carve my own path and develop a new side of music audiology, which is why I developed the on-site orchestra programs. Though I still occasionally go onsite to see artists and crews, I am lucky that many of them now come into my physical clinic. It always surprises me when artists fly in from other states for an appointment. Recently, I had a violinist drive over 30 hours for one!
Through Soundcheck Audiology, I also developed and now manage the first-ever educational video series for the music industry that focuses solely on hearing health as it relates to their needs. My subscribers are primarily schools of music and production companies. I also have other contracts with my business, such as some work with OSHA hearing conservation programs, CAOHC courses, and the like. Beyond that, I am also a research mentor for AuD students who are conducting music-related projects.
In terms of fairly new entrepreneurship opportunities and projects, I am Head of Audiology for a new teleaudiology company called Tuned. I started working with Tuned in 2020 just as it was forming and have had the pleasure of helping build the audiology side of the company. I have been involved with several startups throughout my career, and I can say that Tuned is by far my favorite! We have a fantastic team, and it’s very exciting to see how we are paving the way for efficient URL/IRL hybrid care that puts the audiologists’ expertise at the center rather than product sales.
THJ: What about music audiology inspires you?
Dr. Malyuk: Hearing conservation is what inspires me, and music audiology is more of my “comfort zone.” I really got into audiology set on working within the music industry, I just didn’t know that music audiology existed as its own specialty until I was entering my fourth year of graduate school. To me, hearing conservation is the most exciting specialty within audiology. From the type of work to the type of patients and even our professional association (the National Hearing Conservation Association), hearing conservation is warm, friendly, and fun. Not to mention, almost everyone needs a hearing conservation audiologist!
THJ: How did your time as the clinical director at Sensaphonics Hearing Conservation shape your career path?
Dr. Malyuk: If it weren’t for my tenure at Sensaphonics learning from Michael Santucci and then ultimately running his clinic, I wouldn’t be the music audiologist I am today. There is no other music audiology clinic in the country that has a full schedule of professional musicians every day. Directing that clinic gave me the hands-on experience I needed in order to gain the confidence to develop and run my own musicians’ clinic. I mentored many, many students while I worked at Sensaphonics, and I’m very proud to say that two of them have worked as audiologists at the Sensaphonics clinic after graduation. To me, that’s a big deal, because it shows that my primary mentor, Michael, trusts how I teach others to practice music audiology. That has been a feather in my cap.
THJ: You are involved in teleaudiology through your work at Tuned as well as at your own private practice. How can other private practice owners offer more teleaudiology services?
Dr. Malyuk: I think teleaudiology is a great supplement to any practice and while there are many ways it can be utilized, here are a few that come to mind immediately:
To increase geographic (and demographic) reach. Over 50% of the counties in the United States do not have audio-logists. As such, there are millions of individuals without convenient access to us. Teleaudiology that uses a robust screening process (such as Tuned) can allow these individuals to have a screening and speak with an audiologist for recommendations (such as how to proceed if a red flag is present, how to navigate OTC versus prescription hearing aids, how to protect hearing, etc.). This is valuable because people simply do not tend to know about their hearing or the proper care pathway, or in other words, what to do if they have an auditory issue. These types of appointments are incredibly valuable for that reason. Additionally, I find that tele-audiology is reaching a younger crowd of people who are very interested in wellness screenings and learning how to use headsets safely while working.
To employ a “triage” screening tool for efficiency of practice scheduling. I have seen some clinics utilizing the Tuned platform as a triage tool to detect red flags in need of ENT referral prior to being seen in the audiology clinic. I think this is a way to make scheduling of appointments much more efficient.
For follow-up care. Hearing aid follow-ups (for example, how to use an app, insertion of hearing aids, etc.), disorder therapy (such as tinnitus), hearing conservation education, and more can all be completed via teleaudiology!
For offering second opinions. There are so many individuals who have had a hearing evaluation completed but have not moved forward with either hearing protection or hearing aids because they have not had ample education. This is often of no fault to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, but these individuals simply need more time and care. The general population is hungry for audiologists who will sit down with them virtually to offer education and consultation, fully explain test results and amplification/protection options, and offer unbiased second opinions that are not attached to a sale. These types of appointments are so valuable for these individuals!
To increase patient load. Tuned is a new employee benefit for employers and we already have contracts with several major companies. The result is working-age patients, who otherwise would not see an audiologist, coming to the platform, having a full hearing screening, and learning about hearing wellness from a holistic perspective. To me, that is the future of audiology!
THJ: What has been your most significant professional accomplishment?
Dr. Malyuk: Growing a successful private practice that is focused on the music industry! When I began in 2017, I started from scratch. I had thought that by moving back home to Ohio, I would have a built-in patient base of local musicians since I came from the local music community. I was surprised when I actually gained most of my patients from touring crews, national orchestras, and other communities. The first year in practice, I hustled to market myself and get my clinic name “out there.” I saw the fruits of that labor in subsequent years when suddenly I didn’t really have to do any marketing because my name was organically being passed around! Knowing that others are recommending me so often because of the audiologic experience they’ve had with me makes me feel extremely accomplished.
THJ: At your private practice, you treat everyone from professional musicians, to audio engineers, to other community members experiencing hearing loss. What aspects of your audiological care do you keep constant for all patients, and what do you customize for various patients with unique hearing care needs?
Dr. Malyuk: For my in-person care, it’s always the same structure: Case history (completed online prior to the appointment), intense education about the auditory system and sound exposure, a full pure tone hearing evaluation that includes extended high frequencies, the Words-In-Noise test (and other diagnostics if needed), and then recommendations. I typically spend 1-1.5 hours with a new patient in my clinic. For on-site visits, things are more streamlined as I tend to do the educational component with a group rather than one on one. The consistency comes in how I treat each patient. One of my practice mottos is: “All ears are famous.” From a nine-year-old just starting an instrument to world-famous rock stars, everyone is treated the same.
For individuals with unique needs, I simply give extra care. I’ve been known to go onsite even for local musicians if they need to demo something in the studio, in a rehearsal, etc. I have also been known to program hearing aids onsite during a rehearsal or while someone is listening to music or playing their instrument in their home.
THJ: What is the greatest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Dr. Malyuk: The first year or so of COVID was extremely difficult because the music industry shut down (and, as a result, my clinic essentially shut down). I’m very grateful that the music industry is back up and running!
THJ: What advice do you have for other audiologists and/or those considering this field?
Dr. Malyuk: For audiologists who are looking to go into a specialty, whether music audiology or something else, I will share the best advice I ever received: “You have to see your first patient at some point.” In other words, once you have some education under your belt, you need to start gaining experience! It never hurts to say to a patient, “Hmm, you’ve asked me a great question, and I don’t know the answer yet. Let me look into that and get back to you!”
For individuals considering this field, I say go for it! I have loved my time as an audiologist and I’m so glad that I chose this field. I think the future of audiology is very bright and I find our profession extremely fulfilling.
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