By Lolly Wigall
As an audiologist I am frequently asked by patients, “How did you ever get into this field?” Audiology is not one of those fields you dream about when you are a child. Most people dream of becoming a physician, a lawyer, a nurse, a teacher, scientist, a forest ranger or an astronaut. But, dreaming to become an audiologist? Probably not.
Actually, most people have never even heard of audiology, let alone wanted a career in audiology. It’s an unusual sort of field. It is in healthcare, but it is also retail since many audiologists sell or dispense hearing aids. Audiologists work in a variety of locations such as a hospital, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician’s office, or a private practice.
The complementary field of speech and language is better known because there are so many speech pathologists working in school systems. They also work in hospitals and some in private practice. The two fields are complementary but very different. Today’s speech pathologists usually earn a master’s degree. The Audiologist now must earn a doctorate degree. This consists of three years of graduate school, followed by a year of an externship working in the field.
My Journey Into Audiology
I grew up in a large family. As soon as my youngest sister was in kindergarten, my mother restarted her college career. She used to commute one or two hours a day, take 18 units, maintain a B+ average, cook for and care for five children. My mother also sewed all of our clothes, was active in the community and took her education very seriously. My father worked as a truck driver on the night shift so someone would be there when we children arrived home after school. My mom earned her teaching degree.
My ambition was to become a teacher like my mother. She was a great teacher. She even won the Freedoms Foundation Teacher of the Year Award–twice! I had a great role model I wanted to follow.
When I was in high school I met a girl I will call Q. She has cerebral palsy and wears hearing aids. Q and I had gym together and I chose her to be my partner in tennis, even though she had significant physical challenges. It seemed to me that it was more important to include everyone in the game than to exclude someone because of their handicaps. After all, I grew up in a large family and we had to include everyone, even those pesky younger sisters and brothers!
During our high school years, Q and I became good friends. Because of her hearing loss and cerebral palsy, she took “speech correction” and “lip reading” classes. Today we would call that speech therapy. She asked me to attend some sessions with her, but I never did.
We attended junior college together and then went on to separate schools to finish our college education. I was on track to be a history teacher. She was on track to be a librarian. Back in the days before the Internet, every college had catalogs from other schools. Q found that the University of Redlands, which I was attending, had a “speech reading” class.
In a letter she reminded me of my promise to take a lip reading class. I had to take two classes in audiology as pre-requisites before I could take the lip reading class. Audiology was new to me. I didn’t know what I was in for. Dr. Henry Schmidt taught the classes. He had a private practice in town and also taught at the University.
I discovered that audiology was never the same two days in a row. Seeing patients meant listening intently to understand their hearing problems. It meant suggesting how to solve those problems with hearing aids. It meant fitting patients with hearing aids and counseling not only the patient but the family on what to expect.
There were no lesson plans as there would have been in teaching history. Each person’s hearing loss was a little different. Each person’s story had a different twist.
It was interesting to try to “solve” a puzzle with each client. I found I really enjoyed meeting people and helping them improve the quality of their lives and their relationships. It was challenging and fulfilling at the same time. And, I found I was pretty good at it.
The next step was changing my major as a senior in college and finishing all the requirements in one year. I took freshman, sophomore, junior and senior classes in order to meet the requirements and earn my bachelor’s degree. I realized I had to earn a master’s degree. I applied to Bradley University in Peoria, IL, and was awarded a full scholarship, which included money to live on and fully paid tuition for two years.
That was many years ago. Since then, I have seen the field of audiology expand and change.
Today, I am the owner of a private practice that I purchased in 1989. It all started with a casual promise to attend a lip reading class with a friend. We are still friends today, and she changed my life.