Editors Note: This is a re-post from June 2011.  Audiology has continued to top the “least stressful job” in the years since.  As the profession moves to the increasing demand, the draw for those who want to start their career can be challenged with the changes we are facing.  But as David stated five years ago, it is a great profession, nonetheless.

By David H. Kirkwood

All you audiologists out there, I’ll bet you didn’t know just how good you have it. After all, you have the “least stressful job of 2011.” Who says? None other than Victoria Brienzi, who listed the 10 least stressful jobs in her post (www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/10-least-stressful-jobs-2011), for CareerCast, a career counseling company.

Here’s how Ms. Brienzi characterized your easy profession: “An audiologist diagnoses and treats hearing problems by attempting to discover the range, nature, and degree of hearing function. The job is not typically physically demanding or stressful, but it does require a keen attention to detail and focused concentration.” Actually, when you think about it, that description also applies pretty well to hearing instrument specialists. So I guess you have it pretty soft too.

What else makes the life of an audiologist so stressless, even more so than that of dieticians, speech pathologists, and philosophers, other professions on CareerCast’s top ten list? Well, maybe it’s that $63,144 average annual income.  It sure gives audiologists peace of mind knowing that they can raise their children in comfort and pay for their college education–at least if they have a spouse in a more lucrative profession.

True, in some ways hearing care providers do face less stress than some workers. Unlike soldiers or coal miners or surgeons, they don’t run the risk of dying or killing someone on the job. And, there aren’t millions of dollars riding on an audiologist’s every decision. Also, demand for hearing care seems to be increasing faster than the supply, so job opportunities are better than in many fields.

But still, even by the unscientific, subjective standards of these top ten lists that are so popular on the web, this roster of “least stressful jobs” seems especially meaningless.

 

WHAT AUDIOLOGISTS SAY

I’ve been covering the hearing industry long enough to know that practitioners face plenty of stress. But instead of making that case for them, let me quote from a few of the people who responded (anonymously) to the CareerCast article.

One audiologist wrote, “It will never be ‘not stressful’ to tell a parent of a child with cancer that the chemotherapy has caused hearing loss (as if this family has not been through enough).”

 

“Not physically demanding?” thundered another. “Ever done an Epley on a 400-pound man who is freaking out on the table? Plus I’d love to see the ‘little stress’ on someone’s face after they’ve spent the last 20 minutes instructing and re-instructing someone on how to put a battery in the hearing aid only to have them insert it upside down.”

Many audiologists questioned, to put it mildly, the author’s expertise. One asked, “How in the world could you people decide this was the least stressful job? Have you ever told parents that their baby will wear hearing aids the rest of their life? Or tried to convince old people who think they hear fine that they need to spend thousands on hearing aids that they don’t want? What a joke this article is.”

Interestingly, while most respondents disputed the claim that their job wasn’t stressful, many of them also extolled the virtues of audiology. For example, one complained about spending the day “trying to convince people that they need something (a hearing aid, which they do) when they don’t want it.” But then he or she added, it’s a  “very rewarding career, but hardly low-stress.”

 

A DIFFERENT TWIST

Amid all the  outrage, one comment stood out. For one thing, it wasn’t anonymous. It was signed by Dr. Patti Kricos, president of the American Academy of Audiology.” Secondly, she welcomed the article as a great recruiting tool for her profession. She wrote:

“CareerCast folks, you are right on target! Audiology is an amazing profession in so many ways!…It is a rewarding career track, one that requires scientific background and an interest in technology, as well as compassion and interpersonal skills. With the huge number of Baby Boomers coming of age, there will be an even better market for audiology jobs.

“As president of the American Academy of Audiology and an audiologist for the past 38 years, I strongly encourage high school and undergraduate students to come on board to a wonderful, fulfilling profession.”

Well said!

Feature Image designed by Ashley Bahr via Pinterest.com

By David H. Kirkwood

Don’t get me wrong. The title of this post doesn’t mean I think hearing aids aren’t necessary. Quite the contrary. I strongly believe that there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who need hearing aids. But, the fact is, what I believe—or you believe–about what other people need doesn’t matter very much. I’ll explain why a little later on.

 

Numbers Don’t Measure Need

 

Recently, several of us at HHTM were casually discussing the issue of what percentage of people who “need” hearing aids actually have them.

Probably the leading source of statistics about the U.S. market for hearing care is the Better Hearing Institute (BHI). Every few years, it conducts the MarkeTrak survey, which collects data from 80,000 people identified as having a hearing loss.

In a 2009 article in The Hearing Review on the latest MarkeTrak findings, Dr. Sergei Kochkin, the executive director of BHI, reported that about 34.2 million Americans, approximately 10% of the total population, had hearing loss. Of these, a little over 8 million–about 24%–had hearing aids.

Since then, there have been reports that hearing loss may be much more prevalent. As discussed at Hearing News Watch, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently analyzed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES). From these, they concluded that about 20% of all Americans age 12 and over, some 48 million people, suffer from hearing impairment, if one includes individuals with hearing loss in only one ear. If this figure is used, then only about 15% of those with hearing loss have hearing aids.

So, as you can see, there’s lots of information out there about how many people have hearing loss and how few of them get help for that loss.

 

However, what all these data don’t tell us—and, I would add, can’t tell us–is how many people need hearing aids. That’s because need is an inherently subjective matter. In the end, the only person–at least the only adult–who gets to determine if her or she needs hearing help is the person with the hearing loss.

 

That can be very frustrating for everyone who deals with someone with unaided hearing loss. The woman who can no longer converse with her husband without shouting at him is certain he needs hearing aids. The man whose aging mother no longer enjoys her weekly lunch with her friends has no doubt that it’s time for her to get her hearing tested. And every audiologist and hearing instrument specialist has a file full of people whose audiograms provide incontrovertible proof that they need hearing aids now. But their opinions count for little unless the person in question shares them.

 

Why Don’t People Perceive the Need?

 

There are myriad reasons why people with hearing loss see no need to address it. It’s easy to assign their reasons to some standard category, such as denial (“He refuses to admit that he can’t hear well any more”), vanity (“She thinks hearing aids would make her look old.”), or plain old stubbornness (“That old coot hasn’t listened to anything I told him since the day we got married!”). Sometimes, a simple label seems to fit the situation.

But in fairness to those with hearing loss, often their reluctance to get help is much more reasoned—and reasonable. To explain what I mean, I’d like to share a perspective that my colleague Wayne Staab, editor of Wayne’s World, brought to the discussion I mentioned earlier.

 

Dr. Staab, who’s been practicing audiology since the 1960’s, points out that a person’s decision to get hearing aids is “never based on the degree of hearing loss, but only on the degree of ‘hurt.’  If the hurt is not great enough psychologically, emotionally, economically, or socially, there is no justification for hearing aid use.”

 

Elaborating, Wayne says that in the farming and ranching country where he comes from, older people often have treatable hearing losses as defined by their audiometric thresholds. However, they but don’t hurt enough to feel the need for hearing help. Why is that? It’s often a matter of lifestyle, he explains. For example, he says, “Many farmers live with their spouses, they speak with them from fairly close distances, and they use their television volume controls as their hearing aids.” In other words, they hear well enough for the way they live.

Sometimes, it works the other way, Wayne adds. He has fitted people with “normal” hearing thresholds because they weren’t satisfied with their unaided hearing.

 

Weighing Priorities

 

If hearing aids were products that people wanted, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But, unlike cars, clothes, or electronics, no one thinks, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a pair of hearing aids!” The only reason people ever buy them is because they decide they need them. Reaching that decision usually takes many years from the time that their hearing loss first becomes noticeable.

For a long time, all the reasons not to get hearing aids outweigh the desire to hear better. These include the cost of hearing aids, the hassle of getting, using, and maintaining them, the concerns about what other people will think, the reluctance to admit that their powers are in decline, the suspicion that the hearing aids won’t help them very much, and plain old inertia.

For most people, such factors build up a pretty powerful case for putting off action until later. And as long as they still believe it when they tell themselves, “My hearing isn’t that bad,” they don’t need hearing aids—no matter what anyone else may think.

 

Perceptions Change

 

The good news for all of us who share the HHTM credo that “Hearing Health Matters” is that, over time, perceptions change. People find that their reasons for not getting hearing aids no longer outweigh what they are losing by being unable to hear what they want to hear. And as the balance shifts, some people who are certain today that they don’t need hearing aids will decide next month or next year that they do.

 

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Hearing Views on Feb 1, 2012. Last updated August 31, 2016. Image courtesy Laurie Graham site