Why I’m Choosing Audiology as My Career
A contradiction exists for those entering the field of audiology. On one hand, the world is full of people who need audiologists and the hearing care services provided by them. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Report on Hearing estimates that $1 trillion is lost each year globally due to our collective failure to adequately address hearing loss, and U.S. statistics show about 1-in-8 people have hearing loss in both ears and about 29 million adults in this country could benefit from the use of hearing aids.
On the other hand, hearing aids have steadily been warped into commoditization, and the profession of audiology has suffered from people who equate a product with a profession. For example, I was forewarned by a podiatrist and a pre-med student that pursuing a career in audiology is form of self-sabotage because the specialty is too exclusive; they said once the public recognizes over-the-counter (OTC) and online hearing aids will suffice, my schooling and expertise will be obsolete.
Counter-clockwise from right is the author, a CDIS classmate, and Texas State University President Dr. Kelly Damphousse.
At an early phase in my career journey, this misinformation made me question if audiology really was worth pursuing. Was audiology really a “dying field” going the way of travel agents and video stores? Despite learning some specific reasons audiology is often abased and its value questioned in the healthcare world, I also came upon a reaffirmation: the hearing health of consumers hinges on much more than a product. Here I share my personal motives for electing audiology as a specific career path and why—despite all the disrepute—I continue to choose audiology.
The Real Truth About Audiology and Hearing Aids
I am currently in my last year of completing my undergraduate studies at Texas State University. This is the most important semester of my life thus far—it’s my last graded semester before I apply to audiology doctorate programs.
Marisa K. Martinez
My dreams of one day becoming an audiologist have been solidified since I was age 15. However, in recent months, I was concerned that this profession was too harnessed to a single product.
Hearing aids are now available widespread through many outlets, ranging from hospitals to big box stores and pharmacies, and it seems ignorance has conquered the general population. Manufacturers have commercialized hearing devices with marketing that has persuaded consumers into believing that their devices are adequate for all hearing losses. If it were true that one universal hearing device—simply hung on a person’s ear and programmed to a first-fit setting with the press of a button— can successfully treat all hearing loss types and solve all the complex needs and requirements of an individual, then I’d be alarmed.
However, there are multiple hearing loss types and everyone’s loss is unique to their person. Likewise, every person who walks into a hearing clinic has a life story, a set of unique needs and hearing goals, and quite often some very real human needs and hearing problems that no “first fit” button is going to address. Not only do audiologists have the clinical expertise, but they treat clients with emotional life situations. Many people, especially a young person like myself, struggle to accept their hearing loss.
Why Audiology? It’s Personal
At 15 years old I obtained my first hearing aid. I adapted to frequent visits with my audiologist because I had been diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease 5 years prior. I was a particularly special case, because Meniere’s is most known to affect adults between the ages of 40 and 60.
Meniere’s Disease involves dizzy spells (vertigo) and hearing loss on one side, so this made being an active student in school a struggle. For example, I had times in class when I would be laughing with friends, and moments later felt a wave of light-headedness. That sickness feeling meant my vision would soon spin like it was a colorful prize wheel, spinning clockwise at an intense speed until minutes later when my line of sight leveled out.
There are no true words to describe the mortification I felt as a child experiencing vertigo in class. The other students would look at me with a disturbed look on their faces as I fell on the floor with my arms held out straight trying to steady myself. The dizziness I experienced would only intensify before getting better. Because of this, I would shriek and squall regardless of who surrounded me. It was terrifying. The vertigo episodes were always so unpredictable; there was no telling if I would feel that way for seconds or hours.
The author as a kindergartner.
The humiliation from the dizziness stopped as I entered high school. I was fortunate enough not to experience a single vertigo episode during school hours for all 4 years. Still, I faced another type of embarrassment with my hearing loss, as it had progressively gotten worse as I became a teenager. I experienced this embarrassment in almost every school setting: in class when my teacher would ask me a question, at lunch with a thousand students' overlapping words, or walking to my next class with the boy I had a crush on but saying “what” every other sentence because the sound of all the stomping footsteps drowned out his voice.
There was no break, and for the first year of high school, I had even refused to get a hearing aid. I begged my audiologist to find an alternative option because I didn’t want to be known as the “teenage girl with a hearing aid.” Hearing aids were for old people!
But eventually, my audiologist fitted me with my first hearing aid and showed me how it was actually kind of cool. I felt a lot more confident walking through my high school hallways with friends and replying to the question a teacher would ask me because I knew I heard them correctly. Also, having the ability to secretly listen to music throughout the day made my classmates jealous of my Bluetooth hearing aid!
Finding pride in my hearing loss did not come easy. I could not have done it alone. I chose to study audiology because I discovered there is no shame in being a person who is hard of hearing or deaf. There is no shame in having dizziness, and I’d like to improve the quality of life for people with hearing and balance disorders, just like my audiologist helped to improve mine.
In short, there is plenty of inspiration in audiology. Audiology is about giving people the tools, the expertise, and the follow-up care to succeed.
There is a counseling aspect to audiology that many consumers do not recognize. A marketed hearing aid could not have done everything my audiologist did for me. Audiology may be debased as an overly specialized field, and mistakenly viewed for now as a profession tied to a commodity. But this stigma won’t last. The commoditization of hearing aids won’t help a child overcome the humiliation that is tied to being a young person with hearing loss.
Grief and resentment are emotions associated with experiencing hearing loss. Refusing to receive proper treatment is a form of denial, which withholds learning about what a person’s loss means for them.
An OTC hearing aid won’t support a person trying to accept their hearing loss as something real and important to address, and it’s highly unlikely a first-fit button can program a hearing aid for all their unique hearing needs. The counseling portion of audiology is of equal importance to the science aspect of hearing remediation. The lack of high compensation and the surplus of student debt encountered in the audiology profession is a small price to pay with respect to changing a person’s negative outlook on hearing loss into something hopeful.
I continue to choose audiology because of what I learned from my own hearing loss, and because people need audiologists.