When I entered the profession of audiology, I never imagined that I would spend most of my time with current and future SLPs. Employment as an audiologist in a speech-language pathology-only graduate program has proven to be both interesting and challenging. My fellow faculty members include nine SLPs, one of whom is dually certified. I am the sixth audiologist to hold this position since 1994. My previous experience included assessment and management of children and adults, including working with individuals with cochlear implants.
My work with cochlear implant recipients around the state led me to believe that some SLPs felt uncomfortable or unprepared to manage this population. Yet their value in patients' rehabilitation and potential success with hearing technology cannot be overstated. Often an SLP is the sole resource for people with hearing loss and their families. So when the opportunity came, I gladly accepted the chance to teach future SLPs about the needs of people with hearing loss.
From the outset, I felt welcomed and appreciated by my speech-language pathology colleagues. I quickly learned that new requirements for clinical certification have changed the way in which speech-language pathology graduate students could obtain clinical clock hours in the area of audiology. New standards required no set number of clinical contact hours in audiology, but specified that all of the hours must be obtained in activities that related to the scope of practice of SLPs (see Background Information and Standards and Implementation for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology at www.asha.org).
Our faculty determined that students should obtain a minimum of 10 hours of audiology clinical experience. Although less than the 20 hours previously required by ASHA, the 10 hours presented a challenge for our clinic director and me.
Southeastern admits approximately 15 new graduate students every fall and spring semester. That number of students translates to a need for a large number of opportunities to provide hearing screenings and aural rehabilitation, skills considered within the speech-language pathology scope of practice as it relates to audiology.
Southeastern has established many opportunities for our speech-language pathology students to obtain their required hours and audiology skills:
- partnerships with private speech and hearing centers that provide audiological screenings
- audiological testing of speech clients at the university clinic and at off-site placements
- affiliation with a local Council on Aging to provide screenings at their centers
- on-campus screenings of education and music majors, campus police, and physical plant employees
- participation in community and campus activities during which hearing screenings are provided to the general public
Moreover, as an audiologist, I want to continue to provide complete audiological testing services in our clinic. These evaluations, though few, provide excellent observation and teaching opportunities for both undergraduates and speech-language pathology graduate students.
Our program offers under-graduate and graduate courses in audiology, acoustics, and aural rehabilitation to meet the certification knowledge and skills requirements. In developing the graduate audiology and aural re/habilitation courses, I strive to relate information to the students relating to their future roles as SLPs.
My experience working closely with SLPs in managing clients with hearing loss allowed me to understand that the connection between the professions is obvious and necessary. Hearing has the potential to affect the speech and language of any individual, of any age, in any setting. At the same time, development of speech, language, and good communication are benchmarks for success in individuals with hearing loss. The focus of my teaching is to help students make this connection before they enter the workplace.
Course requirements are designed to familiarize students with equipment and procedures important in providing complete audiological screenings in addition to learning skills that I hope they will use to facilitate collaboration with audiologists. Some examples of these skills might include how to condition a child to play audiometry, act as an assistant in obtaining results with visual reinforcement audiometry, or troubleshoot and give feedback on hearing aid or cochlear implant performance. An addition I have made to both courses, but more extensively to the aural re/habilitation course, is a module focused on teaching oral speech and language skills to cochlear implant recipients and hearing aid users. Students link their existing knowledge of speech and language development with their knowledge of acoustics to appropriately tailor goals and activities for the client with hearing loss (yes, that acoustics course does have a purpose!).
In my particular work setting, the need for SLPs is very apparent as they train our graduate and undergraduate students for careers in their profession. Our clinical supervisors reinforce the same themes of professional collaboration and teamwork by including hearing in each client's assessment and by encouraging students to seek my advice on hearing-related issues such as chronic otitis media or auditory processing disorders.
For our undergraduate students who pursue audiology in their post-graduate studies, the contributions of our speech-language pathology faculty pervade development of their academic and clinical skills. They gain an understanding of the impact their roles as audiologists will have on the speech and language of individuals with communication disorders. Additionally, their clinical experiences, although focused on speech and language disorders, allow them to gain professional skills and confidence that will enhance their future as audiologists.
Being an audiologist at Southeastern Louisiana University has allowed me to grow as a professional and teacher in ways I never imagined. Our faculty and students have welcomed me, continue to teach me, and hopefully will benefit from my clinical and course instruction for years to come. My hope is that our professional collaboration in this academic setting will have an impact on the availability of services for people with hearing loss in the state of Louisiana.