Nothing is more critical to the future of a profession than the quality of the education that its practitioners receive. That’s why this week and last, the Hearing Views section of Hearinghealthmatters.org has given the two accrediting bodies in audiology a platform from which to make the case for its program.
Last week, Dan C. Halling and Patti Tice blogged on behalf of the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. This week, Angela Loavenbruck is advocating for the program offered by Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education.
I invite readers to comment on either or both of these Hearing Views, which you can find directly below.
David H. Kirkwood, Editor
Transition to ACAE accreditation:
A key step toward autonomy for audiology
By Angela Loavenbruck
As audiologists, we understand that we are members of a profession, and as such we have a number of privileges and responsibilities inherent in the practice of our profession.
One fundamental privilege and responsibility is that we are permitted by society to set our own standards for the practice of our profession. Through a variety of self-regulatory functions, professions define their scope of practice and the body of specialized knowledge, skills, and competencies that must be mastered to enter the profession.
Through accreditation agencies, professions develop academic standards for university programs to assure the public that students graduating from these programs have achieved this body of knowledge. The evolution of audiology into a distinct and unique profession created the need for distinct and unique professional organizations.
In its early development, audiology was linked academically and professionally to speech-language pathology and represented by one professional organization, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
As the educational model and political agenda of speech-language pathology and audiology became increasingly mismatched, audiologists joined together to form two new national organizations that could better serve their needs: the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists (now the Academy of Doctors of Audiology) and the American Academy of Audiology.
Through the leadership of these organizations, and in spite of the determined opposition of ASHA, our education and training model evolved from one that stressed classroom education and student teaching assignments and terminated in the master’s degree to an educational model that stresses clinical education and terminates in a doctoral degree with a distinctive designator, the AuD. The AuD increases the value placed on clinical education and aligns the degree with the attainment of the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to enter the audiology profession.
Throughout our history, the process of standards development and the process of accreditation of audiology programs have been controlled by ASHA, and closely tied to its certification program. ASHA’s Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) standards require programs to prepare students to attain ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) in audiology, a certificate that merely replicates the documentation already provided by a student’s graduation from an accredited program, that is, that the student has attained the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to enter the audiology profession.
Both faculty and students continue to believe erroneously that purchasing the C’s is a requirement to practice audiology, a belief actively encouraged by ASHA. In addition, the accreditation process that has long been in place is one that was essentially designed for master’s level degrees and a profession (speech-language pathology) where the vast majority of practitioners work in public school environments. It is not a process developed by and for the audiology profession.
A NEW STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE
As audiology’s transition from a master’s to a doctoral-level profession progressed, the need became apparent for a standard of excellence by which doctoral students in audiology would be trained.
As James Jerger stated in an interview with David Fabry in the January-February 2011 issue of Audiology Today, the number one priority for the profession of audiology over the next decade is… “having our own accreditation process. It is absolutely essential that we break the bond that ties us to ASHA accreditation. Until we have control of the process of accrediting training programs in audiology, our development as an independent healthcare profession will be unduly influenced by a different model for the delivery of clinical services, by persons trained at a different level, in what is in many ways a different field of endeavor.”
To achieve this, the ADA and the AAA developed an independent agency, the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE), with the goal of creating an innovative accreditation process that would streamline the process, increase accountability, and minimize duplication. The ACAE process is a collaborative rather than an enforcement process with educational programs and aims to create a culture where improvements are planned and where student outcomes are the goal.
The ACAE has developed a web-based, automated system for data collection that increases efficiency, but also allows programs to benchmark student and program performance across a variety of standards. The system focuses on continuous improvement through the identification and sharing of best practices in audiology education, and provides a means for programs to assess performance via student learning outcomes. The process truly is a self-study process utilizing the data warehouses created by each program. ACAE has raised the accreditation bar by partnering with, rather than policing, academic programs.
As with anything else that is new, there are early adopters who choose to lead the profession into its future, and there are those who are more cautious, just as we saw with the entire doctoral education movement. Thus far, four audiology programs have been through the ACAE process and have attained ACAE accreditation. Two more universities are in the data-gathering process and several more are in the early stages of the ACAE application.
ACAE’s application to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for recognition is in process. Our work is just beginning, but we are certain that clinics, hospitals, and practices will soon begin giving priority to externs and graduates of ACAE-accredited programs, knowing that they will be working with individuals from rigorously evaluated programs. Students too have begun to appreciate the clear quality advantages in ACAE-accredited programs.
Support of ACAE and its mission to create an innovative accreditation process to ensure the highest quality training for the profession is in the best interests of our profession, its students, and practitioners, and, most certainly, the individuals we serve. It is the single most important process in our march toward true autonomy.
Angela Loavenbruck, EdD, is a Board Member and former Chair of the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education. Dr. Loavenbruck, who has been in private practice in audiology since 1975, is also a former President of the American Academy of Audiology.