How to Become an Audiologist
Audiologists help patients to preserve and enhance one of the most fragile and valuable senses: hearing. By detecting and treating ear problems, these professionals help patients to succeed at school and work and to get the most out of their interactions with others. Thanks to the intervention of audiologists, many people with hearing loss are able to continue much-loved activities, from playing music to chatting with grandchildren.
Audiologists are experts in the structures of the middle and inner ear, including the cochlea (critical for hearing) and the vestibular system (which aids in balance and spatial orientation). Illness, injury or repeated stress due to loud noise can damage these delicate organs. When an ear disorder is suspected, audiologists perform a variety of diagnostic tests to discover the nature and extent of the damage and pinpoint the underlying cause. Depending on the problem, they conduct a variety of interventions, including:
- Cleaning of the ear canal
- Fitting a hearing aid or cochlear implant
- Instructing patients in compensatory strategies such as lip reading or American Sign Language
- Prescribing physical, occupational or speech therapy
- Referring patients to physicians or other providers
In addition to treating disorders of the ear, audiologists serve an important public health function by conducting hearing screenings at schools, workplaces and community agencies. These professionals also work to educate teachers, employers and the public on strategies to prevent hearing loss.
Most audiologists work in health care facilities such as hospitals, physician offices or audiology clinics. Government agencies and corporations sometimes employ these professionals to oversee activities related to workplace safety and hearing loss prevention. Because ear disorders impact many areas of a person’s life, audiologists often work alongside other health care professionals as part of interdisciplinary treatment teams.
An audiologist with a master’s degree can currently practice in the field. However, beginning in 2012, audiologists must earn a doctoral degree (PhD or AuD) in order to be eligible for national certification.
The first step in becoming an audiologist is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. While no specific undergraduate major is required, audiology doctoral programs require courses in physics, math, anatomy and physiology. Some colleges offer undergraduate communication science programs that prepare students for careers in audiology or speech-language therapy.
Formal audiology training begins at the graduate level. When enrolling in a doctoral program, it is important to choose one accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Completion of a doctoral degree in audiology generally requires at least four years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s level. Because they involve a research component, PhD programs may last as long as 5-6 years.
To become ASHA certified, candidates must complete a minimum of 1,820 hours of supervised clinical practice. The training provided by accredited doctoral programs generally fulfills this requirement.
Licensing and/or Certification
Licensure of audiologists is mandatory in all states.
National certification is available through ASHA. Requirements include graduation from an approved training program and a passing score on the relevant Praxis exam.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Because the auditory and vestibular systems are highly complex, audiologists should have strong analytic skills and a passion for science. Comfort with technology will help the audiologist to operate and troubleshoot the many high-tech instruments used in the field. Audiologists rely on their strong communication and interpersonal skills to establish a rapport with patients and explain concepts clearly.
Opportunities for Advancement
Over time, certified audiologists can expect pay increases and other enhancements to their benefits. Those who hold a PhD have the option of leaving clinical practice to conduct research.
If you would like to gain the necessary education to become an audiologist, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for audiologists was $66,660 (or approximately $32/hour) in May 2010.
Earnings vary with education level and practice setting. One self-reported survey found that the median annual salary for audiologists holding AuD degrees was $70,000 while those with PhDs reported median earnings of $96,097. The highest salaries went to those employed in private industry and hospitals, while those working for schools reported below-average pay.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of audiologists is expected to grow by 37% between 2010 and 2020, which is considered much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because the field is quite small, this increase will amount to only 4,800 new jobs nationwide.