Now that the American Academy of Audiology is almost 30 years old it has become common practice among some segments of the membership to use the term Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and designate that affiliation with the letters FAAA in their signature block as in John Jones, Au.D., FAAA.
As an association we are still contributing to the confusion of not only of our patients but our medical colleagues as well by referring to ourselves as Fellows. While our membership applications refer to fellowship in the Academy and Academy members refer to themselves as FAAA, they are, according to definition, no more fellows than if they joined a church, or club that has members with like interests. What does the term “Fellow” really mean? While the dictionary clearly discusses fellowship as an affiliation or association with like minded individuals, it also suggests that the term fellow refers to further detailed training within a special interest area, such as a sub specialty. Generally, fellows are provided with unique experiences that are not typically available to someone with only entry level training, such as the Au.D. Upon completion of the special advanced training, knowledge within the subspecialty qualifies the individual as an expert in a specific area of study and maybe even eligibility for special certification designation. Within Audiology this might be extra study and experience (or a fellowship) in cochlear implants, pediatrics, noise control, or another subspecialty of the field.
In addition, throughout history, learned societies have also taken steps to distinguish their senior, more scholarly individuals and exceptional contributors to the profession from their general membership by designating them as “Fellows”. These honorary fellows are vetted by a nomination and election process. Within medical and medically related disciplines, such as Audiology, the term “Fellow” is interpreted by professionals and often by the community at large, that there is extra training, expertise or special distinction within a field of study when the term “Fellow” (such as FAAA) is added to the name of a professional. In the words of one such learned association, “While there are thousands of members who fulfill their professional responsibilities competently, only a small percentage have, by virtue of the quality and amount of their contributions, distinguished themselves sufficiently to warrant recognition [as Fellows]”. Lester (2009) describes these advanced designations and qualifications and groups them into four types:
• Higher-level awards (permanent qualifications) made by the professional body itself that are independent of senior grades of membership (5% of 44 bodies participating in the study).
• Advanced practitioner designations that perform a specific function in relation to members’ careers (2%, i.e. one body, with three others actively considering this type of designation).
• Other senior designations (normally Fellow) that are based on a reasonably definable level of achievement (73%).
• Senior designations (again normally Fellow) that are based on a high level of contribution to the profession or (less commonly) to society more generally (23%).
Thus, in most countries, fellowship is either an honorary award or a professional that has graduated from a sub specialty program. As a Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology we are neither, fellowship simply is the name of a membership. So, any of the roughly 12,000 members of the Academy could call themselves FAAA no matter how distinguished or undistinguished the member. While many of us may have been guilty of its use in the past, this designation causes confusion among our medical colleagues who wonder what type of a fellowship the audiologist has completed and the public in general may think that the audiologist has a higher credential than is the case. Thus, it would make sense to call our membership a membership and develop an additional category within our honors system by which we can evaluate and honor our distinguished colleagues with the title Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. While this change would require lots of political discussion, committee work and some drastic changes in nomenclature for AAA members, it would reduce the use of FAAA, a misleading designation for which there is no academic sub specialty fellowship nor distinguished honors involved.
Lester, S. (2009). Professional Bodies’ Advanced Designations and Awards. Professional Associations Research Network. Bristol, England. Retrieved July 31, 2017.