By Esther Ginsberg, Au.D., LA Unified School District, Gardena, CA
School-Based Practitioners on Solid Professional Road with Au.D.
When Leigh Lamb became an educational audiologist 25 years ago, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of students suffering from hearing loss. With a return to school as an Au.D. student, and while continuing to work full-time, Lamb will now be able to offer even more to the students she serves.
"I decided to pursue my Au.D. due to recent advances in technology, as well as the expanded scope of practice in audiology," said Lamb, who works in a mid-sized school district in Tennessee. "Many changes have occurred since I received my master's degree, and even with annual continuing education, it has been a challenge to remain current."
Aided in part by a scholarship from the Audiology Foundation of America, Lamb is well on her on her way toward fulfilling her goal. And she's not alone. Many other school-based practitioners have also made the move and are enrolled in Au.D programs, both residential and distance-based, throughout the country.
Audiological services were mandated in the 1970s in public schools, and children with hearing loss have been benefiting from those services ever since. Statistics vary, but the essential need for school-based audiologists is clear:
* According to hear-it.org, approximately one school-aged child in ten suffers from some type of hearing loss (over five million children).
* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that two percent of U.S. children are born with hearing loss.
* The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that, for children under the age of 18, 17 out of every 1,000 are affected by hearing loss.
* Information from the National Center for Health Statistics indicates that 12 out of every 1,000 people with hearing impairment are under the age of 18.
The Role of the Educational Audiologist
School-based audiologists play a key role in helping children with hearing impairments find success in school. Students spend a large portion of their day in school settings, making school-based audiologists a primary and daily contact for students and families. Unique school settings also challenge audiologists to modify school classrooms and environments to best serve their hearing impaired population.
School-based audiologists also play a huge role in educating teachers and other school personnel about the unique needs of students, and also serve as an educational resource and advocate for parents and families. The need for clear communication and a unified and effective team approach can help guarantee the success of each student in using their individual communication methods to gain access to language.
The Role of Au.D. Education
With almost 70 Au.D. programs throughout the country, the degree is more accessible than ever for audiologists. And while the choice to pursue the Au.D. degree certainly has numerous personal benefits, it's also the cumulative effects that are important for service improvements.
"I resisted it (an Au.D. degree) initially -- more than anyone else I knew," said Rebecca Anderson, an educational audiologist and certified SLP for the Palm Beach County School District who is earning her Au.D. at the Arizona School for Health Sciences. "I was afraid that it would make our profession look like we had 'delusions of grandeur.' Then I realized that I was truly practicing a profession on par with optometry -- with similar training requirements and professional practice implications. I am glad I did this for me and for the profession," she said.
"I really feel like the program has 'rounded me out' as an educational audiologist," Anderson added. "There are many areas of the profession where I simply do not remain current, but I need to be aware of these principles and practices to fully appreciate the practice of our profession. Being Dr. Anderson will put me on a more 'level' negotiating field when I meet with child study team psychologists and educators with their educational doctorates. I think it will help the team listen to me more, which will benefit the children."
Shirley Albright is also pursuing an Au.D., and has taken several classes while enrolled at Pennsylvania College of Optometry, School of Audiology (PCO). For her, the Au.D. movement was something too important to overlook.
"I did it (chose to pursue an Au.D.) because it is right," said Albright, who has been an audiologist for over 30 years. "We need to be a doctoring profession, and two years in a master's program is insufficient to cover all that is necessary to be a competent audiologist these days."
"It's unbelievable how much I have learned just from the five classes I have taken already," she added. "The ethics class really opened my eyes, and the genetics class has made me look at hearing losses differently. The studies I have done so far have not only taught me a lot, but spurred me to do additional readings in subjects that were touched upon in my classes."
Like most school-based audiologists, Anderson, Albright and Lamb are motivated to better themselves so that they can better serve those they have come to care so deeply about -- their students.
"The Au.D. has enabled me to 'network' with many of my classmates from across the country to share information and to broaden my perspectives," said Lamb. "The pursuit of the Au.D. has not only increased my confidence level, but it has also increased my awareness of the educational audiologist's broad scope of knowledge, skills and services that we provide to the school-age population."
"I realize this has been my best personal move of my career," said Anderson, who made the move to work as an educational audiologist about five years ago after spending almost 20 years in clinical settings. "I especially love being part of the educational planning team for the HI kids. I feel what we do in consulting with teachers and parents is really essential to the success of the kids. I simply love what I do and can't imagine doing anything else with my life."
The Role of the Audiology Foundation of America
Anderson, Albright and Lamb each received financial scholarship assistance from the AFA to help them pursue their Au.D. degrees. Special scholarship monies are set aside each year specifically to aid school-based practitioners, and this year is no different. A recent donation from Phonak will enable the AFA to offer 11 new scholarships to educational audiologists to enroll in an Au.D. program in 2005-2006.
The AFA was founded in 1989, and has been working ever since to lead the transition of audiology to a doctoring profession. One way to accomplish that is to make the Au.D. the entry level degree within the field. AFA has awarded almost $500,000 in scholarships over the last 16 years to assist practitioners in obtaining this degree. It continues to be the AFA's mission, in part, to foster the education and training of audiologists and promote the autonomous practice of audiology for the benefit of the general public.
Ongoing licensure efforts aimed at establishing the Au.D. degree as the defining credential for new audiologists have already been successful. Several states, including, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, have made changes to licensure laws requiring new license applicants to hold an Au.D. or the equivalent. The AFA has allocated resources to assist with licensure upgrades.
Opportunities abound for practicing audiologists to earn their Au.D. and help direct the profession down a new road. Scholarship money is available for school-based practitioners -- you only need make the commitment and join the Au.D. movement. Visit the AFA website (www.audfound.org) for more information about Au.D. programs, state licensure efforts and school-based scholarship information.