Audiology has gotten a lot of buzz lately. Whether we are topping the list of desirable professions, inspiring debates about over-the-counter hearing aids, or making headlines with the Yanny-vs-Laurel debate (#TeamLaurel), one consistent message is made clear to us as students over and over again: we are the future of this growing profession. I find myself encouraged by the responsibility and was proud to see those at the AAA annual conference this year proudly sporting their “Future of the Profession” ribbons. While I think many students take on this responsibility and look excitedly towards the future, many of us may be feeling some sense of hesitation. We work in a field with ever-changing technology and thus are susceptible to “disruptive innovation,” like over-the-counter hearing aids, patient-controlled hearing aid adjustments, and automated hearing testing. These innovations raise the question, what are we doing to “future-proof” our profession? How are we looking forward to the future and establishing our place on its ever-changing landscape?
Last year, the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) moved forward by creating new task forces to investigate the changing professional landscape of both current audiologists and the broader health care field. As the profession of audiology continues to grow, it is likely our service and delivery will also continue to expand. As audiology evaluates its role in this changing landscape, it begs the question, “Do you have the training necessary to embrace changes to our scope of practice?” Over the next year, the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) hopes to begin asking you these questions and, based upon your answers, build a plan for students to work with universities and preceptors to help drive preparation for the future of our field.
The AAA has already begun to evaluate how audiologists can strengthen our place in the provision of healthcare by investigating the audiologist’s role in two important, related aspects of healthcare delivery: radiologic imaging and pharmacology. As audiologists begin to look to a future that may rely less on fitting and dispensing technology and more upon our roots as a diagnostic and rehabilitative profession, it is important to consider how audiologists as healthcare providers can expand these services to our patients and how we can better understand the significance of diagnostic imaging and pharmaceuticals in the hearing and balance care of our patients. Last year, when AAA underwent a large organizational restructure, it created several new committees and task forces to better target member needs and the changing healthcare landscape. Two task forces, “The Audiologist’s Role in Radiologic Imaging” and “The Audiologist’s Role in Pharmacology,” are particularly relevant to our question of “future-proofing” audiology.
This sentiment is also seen in our changing standards for the preparation of future audiologists when they expanded their requirements for pharmacology education. This update, however, does not require a stand-alone course in pharmacology and so it is difficult to assess how comprehensively pharmacology is discussed in many university programs. While most audiology students are able to name common ototoxic and vestibulotoxic compounds, many students would feel uncomfortable discussing the effects of other medications on hearing. A possible question would be “by what mechanisms of action might a patient’s blood pressure medication affect their hearing?” Additionally, as an increasing number of hospital systems require allied health providers to check medication lists for interactions, how comfortable are recent graduates with satisfying these job responsibilities?
Currently, no accrediting body for audiology mentions standards for radiologic imaging nor could I find in a cursory search of university curricula any stand-alone courses in imaging designed for AuD students. This is, again, not to say that universities do not cover this important topic, but to draw attention to the fact there is little standardization to the way audiology students are taught to understand the ordering and interpretation of these images across programs. While audiologists do not generally play large roles in the ordering of pharmaceuticals or imaging today, any movement towards greater involvement in these areas will require more professional training. Many AuD students rightfully look toward their universities for this training. As a result, the SAA is beginning to evaluate student experiences in these growing areas and how universities are preparing them to comprehensively discuss patient care as they enter the healthcare field.
For those of you wondering how the SAA is getting involved in this important discussion, I have good news! The SAA recently created a task force to examine audiology education and the externship process. Over the next year, we will send out a short survey to collect information about your experiences with pharmacology and imaging along with several other important parts of the audiology scope of practice and we hope you will participate. While we are collecting this information, we will also be working with the the Academy’s education committees and the task forces mentioned earlier on imaging and pharmacology to ensure that the student voice is represented in these important discussions. Once we have compiled your responses for the committees, we can begin evaluating how to best work together to empower future audiologists to participate fully in healthcare alongside other providers.
If you’re interested in getting involved in this task force or have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me and don’t forget to watch your email for that survey!
Riley DeBacker is an AuD/PhD student at the Ohio State University. His primary audiological interests and research focuses are ototoxicity and hidden hearing loss.