By David H. Kirkwood
HILLSBORO, OR—The first new university audiology program in the United States in more than a decade will open its doors next week at Pacific University. The Pacific School of Audiology, located on its Hillsboro campus, will be the only one in Oregon and one of only three programs on the West Coast that offer the doctor of audiology (AuD) degree. Orientation for the 23 members of the school’s initial class will start on September 4.
After doing some preliminary work in designing the program, Pacific hired Victoria Keetay, PhD, as director of the School of Audiology in September 2011. Since then, Keetay, who had been senior director of education at the American Academy of Audiology, hired three additional faculty members: Shilpi Banerjee, PhD, director of clinical education; James A. Baer, AuD, director of academic education; and David K. Brown, PhD, associate professor.
Last month, the school got the green light to open when the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) awarded it candidacy accreditation.
A DIFFERENT TYPE OF PROGRAM
In a recent interview, Shilpi Banerjee, who came to Pacific last June after five years as a senior research audiologist at Starkey Hearing Technologies, told Hearinghealthmatters.org, “We are fully cognizant that we are doing a lot of things differently. One thing that has attracted all four of our faculty is the idea of being part of something new.”
One distinction is that the School of Audiology is a division of Pacific’s College of Health Professions, which also includes Schools of Dental Health Science, Occupational Therapy, Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, Physician Assistant Studies, and Professional Psychology, as well as offering a master’s of health administration and graduate certificates in gerontology and healthcare compliance. At most universities, audiology is part of the department of communication disorders, where it is closely linked with and sometimes overshadowed by speech-language pathology (SLP), which typically has a larger faculty and enrollment.
At Pacific, the SLP program is in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, which is housed within the College of Education, and not part of the College of Health Professions. Thus, said Banerjee, “We are distinctly separate programs, independent of each other.” She added that audiology has “an excellent relationship” with SLP and will work together with it in areas where the disciplines naturally overlap.
Three years to a doctorate
Another distinction of the new school is that it’s one of only a handful out of the nearly 70 AuD programs where students graduate after only three years, including their externship, or clinical residency, as it’s called at Pacific.
Three-year AuDs programs have been controversial, because one of the principal arguments for replacing the master’s with the AuD as the entry-level degree in audiology was that the typical master’s program, with two years in the classroom and a clinical fellowship year (CFY), provided too little time to train an audiologist to be fully ready for autonomous practice. The prevailing view among AuD advocates is that because the field has grown so much more sophisticated and complex in recent decades, students today need four years of training (including the externship year) to acquire the increased skills and knowledge demanded of 21st century practitioners.
But the new director of clinical education insists that Pacific’s accelerated three-year program will fully prepare its graduates. She said that in most four-year programs, “there is a lot of down time.” She added, “We’ve identified a lot of places where we can tighten things up and make the program more efficient.”
Banerjee, who holds a doctorate in communication sciences and disorders from Northwestern University and has taught audiology and hearing courses at Northwestern and Northern Illinois University, acknowledged that Pacific’s demanding approach “is not for everyone. Students won’t have a lot of free time for anything else.”
An obvious advantage of a three-year doctorate, she pointed out, is that it will be less costly. Tuition at Pacific is about $29,000 a year.
Another unusual feature of Pacific’s program is that instead of a semester system where students pick from a variety of classes, the curriculum emphasizes one topic intensively for several weeks and then moves on.
Keetay, who previously was coordinator of audiology services at Indiana State University and director of the AuD program at Ball State University, said that with this approach the knowledge that students acquire “continually builds on previous knowledge.”
A STRONG RESPONSE
Despite having some limitations on advertising its program until being awarded candidacy accreditation by CAA, Pacific has an entering class of 23, one of the largest crops of first-year AuD candidates in the country. Banerjee called the response “phenomenal” for a new program, and reported that “students have been seeking us out.”
Banerjee explained that part of the program’s appeal to students lies in the opportunity it offers them to be involved in building something new. “The students understand that they will be our partners in this learning experience. We’re all in this together.”