An audiologist is a medical professional who has earned a doctorate degree in the science of audiology. The job involves helping people suffering from hearing disorders, related balance and coordination problems, and associated issues.
These health-care professionals work in clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices and schools. Audiologists may be general practioners, or specialize in a field like pediatric audiology. Some operate private practices, hiring other technicians and administrative staff.
Most people take their sense of hearing for granted, until something goes wrong. Many auditory problems can be remedied. Others result from more serious conditions. Audiologists are trained to determine the source and cause of patients’ impairments. They provide hope and solutions for those experiencing hearing loss.
Audiologist Job Description
An audiologist examines patients, conducts tests, makes diagnoses and prescribes treatments. The challenge is to determine the type of hearing loss and provide a remedy. This requires education, training and specialized equipment.
There are three major types of hearing loss, each with distinct causes and manifestations. Conductive hearing loss happens when the outer-ear canal does not effectively conduct sound to the eardrum. This condition can be caused by fluids left from a cold, infections of the ear, allergies or wax buildup. Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear, or to the nerves that deliver messages from the ear to the brain. Causes include illness, aging, head injury, loud noises and genetic propensity. Some patients suffer from mixed hearing loss, which entails damage to the middle and inner ear.
Several diagnostic tests are conducted to pinpoint the nature of a patient’s disorder. The first thing an audiologist might do is use an audiometer, which emits sounds at varying frequencies and volumes. The patient, wearing headphones or earplugs, indicates which sounds are audible. The audiologist records the patient’s responses on a graph that is used as a diagnostic tool.
The Weber and Rinne tests are conducted simultaneously. The Weber exam features the use of a vibrating tuning fork placed behind and in front of each ear, and on the forehead. The patient’s responses indicate whether the problem is in the middle or inner part of the left or right ear. The Rinne test detects conductive hearing loss.
The Hearing in Noise Test, commonly called the HINT, measures whether a patient can hear well in distracting, loud conditions. It reveals the patient’s ability to pick out certain sounds in the midst of other noises. Audiologists also use a device called a tympanogram, which applies air pressure to the eardrum to test its reactions and function. Speech exams often are administered to see how well patients can repeat words spoken by the doctor at differing volumes.
The results of these tests help an audiologist figure out the cause of a patient’s hearing loss. This is made possible by highly advanced, specialized medical instruments and computer devices. They measure the kinds of sounds, and the frequencies and volumes, that patients can hear. They also indicate the source of the problem.
- Interview patients (and possibly family members) to understand their complaints, identify their symptoms and learn about their family medical history
- Use medical equipment and electronic devices to examine patients, and conduct hearing and speech tests
- Make diagnoses of the causes of hearing loss
- Prescribe medical treatments and surgical procedures
- Clean compacted wax from ear canals
- Fit cochlear (inner ear) implants and hearing aids, and train patients how to use the devices
- Refer patients to other health-care professionals, like doctors, speech therapists, social workers and physical therapists
- Counsel patients about methods and techniques for living with hearing loss, and refer them to lip-reading and sign-language teachers
- Create and update patient records
- Take continuing education courses, and read trade publications and technical documents
An audiologist who runs a private clinic has even more responsibilities. Operating a business requires knowledge and skills in many areas, including administration, finance, marketing and employee management.
How to become an Audiologist
The road to becoming an audiologist is long. As is the case with many professions, the first step is to obtain an undergraduate degree at a four-year college. It is highly recommended that prospective audiologists major in biology or another life science.
The next requirement is to earn a four-year doctorate degree in audiology from a university accredited by the American Board of Audiology. Students take courses in anatomy, physics, pharmacology, genetics and other studies. While in graduate school, they serve internships with professional audiologists.
Qualities and Traits
Audiology is a demanding field. Audiologists must be extremely dedicated to serving people. They have to be patient, understanding and caring. Audiologists are detail-oriented critical thinkers who are required to comprehend complex concepts. They must operate sophisticated equipment and analyze complicated data. An audiologist’s reward for the expertise and hard work is the satisfaction of helping a patient regain proper hearing function.
Audiologist Training and Certification
The training to become an audiologist is provided in graduate school and during internships. While every state requires a license to practice audiology, the methods of obtaining the documentation vary. Each state medical-licensing board has a website that provides details about how to apply and qualify for a license.
Some states mandate that applicants first obtain certification from the American Board of Audiology or the American Speech Language Hearing Association. These certificates are recommended, even where not required, because they may aid in securing employment.
Click here for Audiologist Salary Page
Audiologist Job Description Summary
- Detect and treat ear disorders
- Work with other physicians, speech therapists, etc.
- 4 year bachelor’s degree
- 4 to 6 year doctorate program
- Must be licensed to practice
- 34% employment growth by 2022