In the world of hearing, there are two professionals who can provide hearing tests and prescribe hearing devices. It is important to know the difference between the two professions so you can decide who to entrust with your hearing healthcare.
Audiologists are licensed healthcare professionals who specialize in the assessment and treatment of the auditory and vestibular systems for patients in every stage of life.
Currently, audiologists are required to obtain a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree in addition to a bachelor’s degree. Audiologists may also have a Masters of Audiology (MA) degree, which was the previous requirement for licensing.
After a doctoral degree is earned, audiologists must continue educating themselves on current research, laws, and evidence based practice. They do this by completing classes at conferences, online, and special trainings. To hold a license in Michigan, audiologists must complete at least 20 hours of continued education. Beyond the hours mandated by the state, the amount of training may vary depending on how many entities the audiologist belongs to and how many certifications they hold.
Certification and Memberships
Audiologists can become certified in a specific area of audiology (e.g. pediatrics or cochlear implants) or general audiology, by completing rigorous requirements specified by the particular group they belong to. The American Academy of Audiology, American Speech-Language Hearing Association, American Board of Audiology, and the American Doctors of Audiology are the most common groups audiologists hold memberships with. Audiologists also typically belong to a state organization, such as the Michigan Audiology Coalition, to stay educated about local issues. With every membership comes a code of ethics that must be followed strictly.
Audiologists can work in a variety of environments such as otolaryngology (ENT) practices, hospitals, private practices, universities, industrial settings, and school systems. They can also work for hearing device manufacturers as a training resource for other audiologists throughout the country. Audiologists often work with other health professionals to create a comprehensive hearing/ balance treatment plan.
Scope of Practice
The well-rounded, strenuous education obtained by audiologists enables the professionals to work within a large scope of practice. The practice of audiology includes the following:
- Development of hearing screening programs
- Administration and interpretation of behavioral, and electrophysiologic tests regarding auditory and vestibular function
- Vestibular rehabilitation
- Evaluation, fitting, and verification of amplification, osseointegrated devices, and assistive listening devices
- Cerumen management (ear wax removal)
- Tinnitus management
- Participation in creating Individual Family Service Plans (IFSPs) and Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs)
- Auditory training and (re)habilitation
- Cochlear implant mapping
- Intraoperative neurophysiologic monitoring
- Creating and implementing a hearing conservation program
For the full scope of practice, please visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s website.
HEARING AID DISPENSERS
Hearing aid dispensers are state licensed professionals who specialize in assessing auditory function through basic hearing tests for the purpose of selling devices. Although education requirements vary by state, Michigan currently mandates that hearing aid dispensers be at least 18 years old, graduate from an accredited high school or secondary school, and pass a Hearing Aid Salesperson examination. Before becoming eligible for licensing, dispensers must complete two years of experience as a hearing aid salesperson under the supervision of a licensed hearing aid dealer. In Michigan, hearing aid dispensers are not required to complete continued education classes after receiving their license. Hearing aid dispensers primarily work in private practice settings.
In summary, audiologists and hearing aid dispensers are both able to diagnose hearing loss and fit hearing devices. The main difference between the professions is the level of education, scope of practice, and the ability to interact with other health professionals as part of a treatment team. If you are considering having your hearing tested or pursuing hearing devices, make sure to find a professional that fits your unique needs.