It was 25 years ago this month that 32 audiologists convened in Houston for the founding meeting of the American Academy of Audiology. To commemorate that historic occasion, I invited James Jerger, the man who organized and hosted the meeting and who served as the first president of the Academy, to write a Hearing View reflecting on the first quarter century of the organization he founded. I am pleased and honored to present Dr. Jerger’s thoughts here.
David H. Kirkwood, Editor, Hearing Views
By James Jerger
A quarter of a century has passed since we launched the American Academy of Audiology. Most of today’s student body had not yet been born when we took that first tentative step toward independence; they have had no first-hand knowledge of what it was like in our profession before the Academy was formed.
But if you were practicing in the 1960s, 70s, or 80s you may find yourself in agreement when I quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
THE BEST OF TIMES
Those three decades saw an incredibly rapid expansion of the depth and scope of audiology. The auditory brainstem response, otoacoustic emissions, dichotic tests, new speech-in-noise tests, vestibular evaluation, universal infant screening, and, thanks to digital technology, impressive advances in hearing aids and assistive listening devices, broadened our profession substantially. For all of us it was an exciting time to be an audiologist. It was, indeed, the best of times.
THE WORST OF TIMES
But we were a comparatively young profession, burdened by still strong ties to a parent organization, the American Speech, Language, Hearing Association (ASHA).
These historic ties hampered our search for independence. The ASHA educational model, emphasizing the bachelor’s degree as the entry level for professional practice, was incompatible with our need to upgrade audiology to the doctoral level. In those years the vast majority of audiologists held the master’s degree (by 1988 there were more than 120 master’s-degree programs in audiology). The highest level to which most MA holders could aspire was working as an audiometrist in an ENT practice. Here there was little respect for us as professionals. Unless you held a doctoral-level degree, your work was equated with “laboratory technician.”
Many of us felt, throughout those three decades, that to be included as a professional in a work environment inevitably strongly related to health care, it was vitally important that we phase out the master’s level degree in favor of a professional doctorate. But the ASHA was strongly opposed to the idea. No doubt they feared that it would only hasten the day when audiology would break its ties to the ASHA altogether. In any event, the ASHA had consistently lobbied against any attempt by audiologists to break away. This was a difficult obstacle to overcome. From the standpoint of professional independence, it was, indeed, the worst of times. But we persevered.
Now that audiology is an independent health-care profession, we can thank those 32 individuals who met in Houston on January 30, 1988, and agreed, against all odds, to launch a new organization of, by, and for audiologists. We can thank, also, the many individuals who have supported the work of the Academy over this last quarter of a century. I like to think we have made a difference.
In addition to being the founding father and first President of the American Academy of Audiology, James Jerger, PhD, was Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of the American Academy of Audiology from its inception in 1989 through 2011. During a long and illustrious career as a teacher, researcher, author, and editor, Dr. Jerger spent 35 years in Houston, where he was Director of Research at the Houston Speech and Hearing Center, Professor of Audiology in the Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, and Director of Audiology and Speech Pathology services of the Methodist Hospital. In 1997, he joined the University of Texas at Dallas as Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.