Read as Audiologist Carol Hawkins gets JobShadowed.  You can find her and her practice at www.hawkinshearing.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living?

I am an audiologist.

How would you describe what you do?

I diagnose hearing loss and prescribe solutions that will help my patients to hear better.

What does your work entail?

First I consult with my patient about their lifestyle and what specific situations they’re having difficulty communicating in.  Next I examine their ears and ear canals to rule out any medical conditions, and then I perform a comprehensive audiological evaluation to map their hearing and measure their ability to understand speech under various listening conditions.  Finally, I review the test results with the patient and settle upon a treatment option.

What’s a typical work week like?

I usually have a mix of new and returning patients throughout the week, so on any given day I can be doing hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings, and follow-up hearing aid services.  Over a one year period I will see a typical patient for their initial evaluation, their hearing aid fitting, two or three follow-up fitting visits, and a few clean and check visits.

My office is open 35 hours per week, with occasional hours on the weekend as needed.

How did you get started?

I wanted to be in a profession where I could help people, and my undergraduate degree is in communicative disorders (speech pathology).  I really enjoyed my audiology classes (audiology and speech pathology are related fields and we cross-train to some extent), so I changed to audiology for my graduate degree.

What do you like about what you do?

I enjoy helping people stay connected to their friends and family through better hearing.  I also like learning about the latest technologies available to assist those with hearing loss.

What do you dislike?

I don’t like dealing with insurance companies.  It’s difficult to get clear answers regarding how much they will cover for a specific patient or procedure, and they often take quite a while to pay us.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I have a mix of private pay and insurance patients.

How much money do Audiologists make? 

The salary for audiologists varies by practice type, as well as geographic location.   The average salary is around $73,000 per year, and private practice owners generally make more than non-owner audiologists.  Audiologists can make over $100,000 depending on their experience and compensation package.

How much money did/do you make starting out as an Audiologist? 

Starting salaries are in the range of $42,000 per year and up.  I made around $20 per hour when I started back in the 1980’s.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Audiology requires a bachelors degree and four-year doctoral program.  One important necessary skill is  communicating well with others, since it’s a people-centered profession.  You do need lots of patience as well since you often have to reinstruct patients several times on the same issue (how to put in batteries, etc.).

What is most challenging about what you do?

It’s really important to stay up-to-date on the latest research and technology, since the field changes so fast.  Also, with hearing aids I’m working against many erroneous beliefs that patients come in with (“hearing aids don’t work”, etc.) that I have to overcome before I can help them.

What is most rewarding?

I love the look on the patient’s face and their family’s reaction when they realize what they can hear with properly fitted hearing aids.  Most people tell me they wish they had gotten hearing aids sooner.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

I recommend shadowing an audiologist to see if you will enjoy this field.  There are many specialties in audiology now: pediatrics, hearing aids, cochlear implants, intraoperative monitoring, vestibular testing/rehabilitation, and diagnostics to name a few.

How much time off do you get/take?

I own my own practice, so I set my own hours and vacations.  I generally work 35 hours per week, and take several weeks vacation per year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

It’s getting better now, but when I used to tell people I was an audiologist they didn’t even know what that was.

One thing I hear is that many people think that all hearing aids are the same so they just select their hearing aid provider based on price, but in reality there is an art to fitting hearing aids.  Experience matters!

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I would like to expand my practice and open up more locations so that I can help more people.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I really enjoy audiology, and find it to be a rewarding profession.  It’s a nice blend of technology and people.