Do you like looking in people’s ears?
Can you look people in the eye and articulate clearly?
Does technology turn your crank?
Are you a curious problem-solver?
Do you have a bottomless cup of patience and empathy and curiosity?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then you might consider a career in hearing healthcare. It’s a chance to see the world, meet cool people, and do something meaningful with your life. If you are already working in the field, hopefully you already have the traits listed above, because you need them – not only to be successful, but to be a good, even excellent, hearing healthcare professional (HCP).
HearingHealthMatters.org is launching a new career site for HCPs – so if you’re looking for a new position, this is a good People Wanted place to check out. Of course, you have to be skilled at these jobs…you can’t just say, “Hey, I think I’ll go for that Audiologist position in Honolulu. I like the sun, earwax doesn’t creep me out – this sounds like the job for me.” And it just might be – if you can throw in a master’s degree or a doctorate in Audiology.
As a lifelong consumer of hearing health services, I’ve learned what to expect – and what I’m entitled to expect – from all of the different designations of hearing health professional. Empathy, professionalism, and results. (The definition of results must be discussed early in the client-HCP relationship.)
Here are the common hearing ‘jobs’ – including a few that I don’t have access to, or which are not considered to be in the mainstream of hearing healthcare.
Family physicians are aware of the high probability of hearing loss in older patients, and should check it regularly. But dealing with a patient’s reluctance to follow up with an audiological assessment is a common problem. A good study on the family physician’s role in dealing with patient hearing loss is found in a June 2012 study published in American Family Physician.
An Audiologist is a regulated health professional who assesses hearing, facilitates effective communication and safe living, and promotes prevention of hearing loss. My audiologist is someone I trust to identify and explain my hearing loss, help me deal with its barriers, provide me with realistic expectations, and recommend appropriate technology and other effective communication strategies.
A Hearing Instrument Specialist works with adult clients by testing hearing ability, recommending appropriate hearing aids and other assistive technology, and providing ongoing support to clients for their hearing and communication needs. Training and academic requirements vary by state, province, and nation.
A Communication Specialist is a concept put forth in a recent guest blog by Dr. Charles Laszlo. A Communication Specialist – should this profession ever come to pass – would focus on the client’s specific communication needs; he or she would design an integrated, comprehensive program that goes beyond hearing aids to embrace emerging technologies and a broad spectrum of communication strategies.
A Hearing Therapist is a New Zealand designation for someone who assists people with managing hearing loss in their everyday lives, including home, work and social situations. This includes communication strategies, how to use technology to its best advantage, and tinnitus management. I have no experience with hearing therapists, but if they can show clients how to use smart phones with their hearing aids, then voila! A Communication Specialist!
The Person at the Front Desk is an important person – the one you need to hear when making appointments. This is the first person you see when you come into the clinic and the last person you talk to when you leave, so they should know how to communicate. A good front-office staff person doesn’t see a client as just another cranky old person who is unhappy about about their hearing aids. They should be endowed with the same patience and empathy as the HCP they work with.
Audiology Assistants (US) and Communication Disorder Assistants (Canada) are college grads, trained to provide support services to Audiologists. They should have similar saintly qualities to the Front Desk Staff above.
An Otolaryngologist, or ENT, is a physician specializing in ear, nose, and throat conditions – hence the acronym ENT – in both adults and children. ENTs are trained in both the medical and surgical treatment of hearing loss, ear infections, balance disorders, ear noise (tinnitus), and some cranial nerve disorders.
A Hearing Loss Consumer Advocate works to improve access and accommodation for people with hearing loss in all areas of public and private life. A very rewarding job, but the pay is lousy.
Some thoughts on alternative hearing care practices:
Acupuncture: When I was in my 20s, my naturopath asked me to participate in a trial of acupuncture to treat sensorineural hearing loss. Yeah sure, why not? After three sessions of little needles stuck in my pinnae, the acupuncturist and naturopath announced that my hearing had improved! They stood behind me, said some words, and I apparently scored better than in the pre-acupuncture test. But that was the end of that, because I caught a train to Vancouver the next day. However, I did not discern any improvement and, in fact, my hearing loss continued to progress until settling at its current severe-to-profound level when I was in my early 30s. In 1975, my HHTM colleague Jane Madell published an interesting study that did not prove any benefit of acupuncture in treating children with hearing loss. More recently, Dr. Bob Traynor wrote this two-part article on acupuncture and hearing loss.
Homeopathy: I cannot vouch for these internet comments, but apparently there are different remedies available for different tinnitus sounds – one for hissing, one for roaring, and even one that claimed success when the problem is more in the left ear and is accompanied by buzzing and cracking sounds.
Way-Way-Out-There (Witch doctors and the like): I did not research any literature on hearing loss being specifically addressed by shamans and faith healers. I don’t want to be close-minded, but I’m happy with the current offering of HCPs.
On the Jobs @ HHTM site, there are positions listed for several of the above careers, except for witch doctors. Check it out.