Mike Metz PhD

Every once in a while, we all should wax poetic.  Lessen the stress.  Rekindle the fires.  Think different thoughts.  Hope for the best.

Somewhere in the North Pacific Ocean there is a whale. There are, of course, many whales, if rather fewer than there were a couple of hundred years ago. But this whale is different. It is a male and vocalizes during mating season in a way that only male whales do. Its species, however, is uncertain. It may be a fin whale, or perhaps a blue whale, the largest whale of them all. It may even be a hybrid — an unusual but not unheard-of scenario.

…William Watkins of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, one of the pioneers in the field of marine mammal bioacoustics …discovered a unique and unexpected signal in the North Pacific in 1989. The signal was of a whale traveling in much the same way and area as blue and fin whales in the region, but this one was vocalizing on an entirely different frequency: 52 hertz (Hz), still profoundly deep by human standards but far higher than the 15-to-25-Hz range of most blues and fins.

This excerpt is taken from an article published in the Washington Post Magazine (washingtonpost.com/magazine) on January 29, 2017, written by Kieren Mulvaney and titled “The loneliest whale in the world?”.

Since the discovery in 1989, this whale has appeared several times on hydrophones but has never been spotted by anyone. The call appears to be unique and since it reappears at mating season, Mr. Mulvaney adds:

Nobody is certain because nobody has claimed to have seen it. But several people have heard it. And many more have heard of it. And what this latter group has heard about it has turned the whale into an unwitting celebrity, a cultural icon and a cypher for the feelings of many unconnected people around the globe. It is, allegedly, the Loneliest Whale in the World.

Artistic Interpretation, Megan Lynn Kott

One cannot help but wonder about this tale of a whale.  Is he the last of his kind, doomed to wander the oceans without ever being seen or, worse, without finding another of his species?  It’s easy to see the anthropomorphic fascination such a situation might hold for many, and to appreciate the empathy many people have for this fellow.

This story perhaps represents a wish of many people to return to a former time that was less threatening and more predictable.  A wish for the “good old days” if you will.  Doesn’t it foster a hope that such a creature will find a mate and survive extinction–a hope that all will be well?  Or, maybe such a story represents simply an example of a changing world and survival.

One message such a tale should also hold is that it’s important to understand the “why” and the “so what”.  How did circumstances result in such a lonely creature?  What are the reasons he is without a mate?  Is there anything that can be done?  What are the possible or probable endings to his call?

 

Audiologists’ World

 

As I read this article, I could not help but see the parallels between this story and many other issues facing my world.  I have no doubt that many could feel the same thing when reading the article.  Whether you see implications to global warming, energy policy, medicine, species preservation, politics, PSAPs or audiology, you cannot argue that knowing more about the whale—if there really is one out there— would not only help in understanding that situation, but also might yield predictive insight.

Changes are coming.  Some changes are evident and, with a few considerations of the times, many seem to be almost inevitable.  Still other outcomes are less predictable.  It may be difficult or even impossible to keep some changes from occurring.  But, unlike the loneliest whale, audiologists may have some influences over some things that are likely coming at them.

I recently spoke to an AuD class at a local university.  I was impressed by the students and by a number of their comments.  Most of these graduate students had some undergraduate classes in the “hard” sciences.  Many spoke of working in hospitals or with children.  One student wished to work in philanthropic situations with hearing impaired children.  Only a couple had considered private practice.  In many unexpected ways, this class surprised even an old cynic like me.  There is hope.

interpretation Claire Chalmers

Audiologists should be concerned about the future of the field.  Perhaps there will be an additional increase in those areas of research that add to the investigations that should take place in clinical evaluations.  Perhaps future graduates will have the necessary educational background to participate more in patient care than at present.  More of the “why” and “so what”.

I hope those student didn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear.  And, I hope the oceanographers figure out the “what and why”. 

 

Mike Metz, PhD, has been a practicing audiologist for over 45 years, having taught in several university settings and, in partnership with Bob Sandlin, providing continuing education for audiology and dispensing in California for over 3 decades. Mike owned and operated a private practice in Southern California for over 30 years. He has been professionally active in such areas as electric response testing, hearing conservation, hearing aid dispensing, and legal/ethical issues. He continues to practice in a limited manner in Irvine, California.

images from Washington Post and Express

By Michael J. Metz

Mike Metz PhD

Dr. Metz is a frequent contributor on the subject of professional ethics.  He published this post in July of 2011. Like so many Hearing Views, his view then retains its relevance in the turbulence of 2017.

 

In an Internet session, I commented that all audiologists have an obligation to adhere to a code of ethics, be it that of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) or of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA). They are essentially the same.  You could also ascribe to the Academy of Doctors of Audiology’s code.  But, as an audiologist, you have to pick one.

A few comments from participants followed, and so I thought I should add a few of my own. My statements here do not represent the position of any audiology organization, although, in my mind, they should. Quite possibly, many attorneys and state licensure boards, to say nothing of the consumers whom  audiologists serve, would agree.

It has been argued by some professional organizations, AAA for one, that their code of ethics does not apply to those audiologists who are not members of that organization. That is, they take the position that only audiologists who choose to join AAA, for example, are obligated to adhere to the standards of behavior prescribed by the academy’s code of ethics.

Indeed, any audiologist who joins the academy is required to attest by signature that he or she will abide by its code. Failure to meet ethical obligations may result in review by the Ethical Committee, notification to cease certain behaviors, and even censure or expulsion from the academy. AAA takes ethics seriously, as I can personally attest.

I was appointed to the academy’s Ethical Board, now known as the Ethical Committee. The topic of ethical behavior and who was obligated to adhere to the code was discussed a couple of times while I served two terms on the committee about a decade ago. It was determined that neither the Ethical Committee nor the Academy could discipline anyone who did not belong to the academy.  I guess the thinking was that you can’t kick someone out of an organization who isn’t a member.

My problem with this is that the academy seems to think that it has no sway over a non-member audiologist who violates its code. In fact, there is ample precedent for non-member compliance with a professional code of ethics in other fields, including medicine. Just because a physician does not belong to the American Medical Association (AMA), he or she is not exempt from the usual practice positions put forth in the AMA Code of Ethics. Nor are dentists, attorneys, or anyone else serving the public in a professional manner exempt from being required to function in an ethical (professional) manner simply because they don’t pay dues or belong to their respective, elective, non-compulsory, professional organization.

 

PROFESSIONAL OBLIGATIONS APPLY TO ALL WHO PRACTICE

 

Belonging to a professional organization is not the critical factor in these considerations. Practicing as a professional is the only salient factor. Most professional associations seem to agree with that position. Professionals who serve the public, be they physicians, members of other health professions, attorneys, or elected officials, are bound by the ethical principles of their professions, irrespective of their membership in any elective organization.

Brian Liang, LLD, MD, PhD, is an expert on ethical issues in healthcare practice, who has spoken several times to audiology organizations. I know that he agrees with me on this stance, as we have discussed it on several occasions.

In a recent note to me, he put it very simply: “…all professionals have a duty to conform to ethical standards. Indeed, that is what defines professionals—that we regulate ourselves and act to the benefit of society. That’s the social contract. Regardless of what organization one belongs to, there is an established set of ethical norms and standards—[rules] that are integrated into our standards of care. So, we must focus on an ethical standard, and that is generally established by the main professional organization.”

I suspect that any professional association faced with unethical behavior by a practitioner of its profession would be able to bring considerable pressure on that person–even if he or she was not a member. For example, it could report the unethical behavior to a state licensure board. Typically, licensure boards require that licensees maintain ethical standards appropriate to their profession. Violation of professional ethics can be, in many states, grounds for losing one’s license to practice.

However, licensing boards have neither the power nor the responsibility to define ethical behavior for a particular profession. Instead, the state must turn to an authority for input regarding ethical issues.

Whom do they turn to? Usually, to the national academies, since they are the only representative organizations that can and do establish ethical standards for their profession.

So, in the final analysis, an audiologist (or physician, dentist, and so on) must adhere to his or her profession’s ethical standard–regardless of whether or not the person belongs to the national association for that profession.

 

Mike Metz, PhD, has been a practicing audiologist for over 45 years, having taught in several university settings and, in partnership with Bob Sandlin, providing continuing education for audiology and dispensing in California for over 3 decades. Mike owned and operated a private practice in Southern California for over 30 years. He has been professionally active in such areas as electric response testing, hearing conservation, hearing aid dispensing, and legal/ethical issues. He continues to practice in a limited manner in Irvine, California.

 

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