I graduated with a doctorate in audiology in 2010 from the University of Florida. But it wasn’t until my freshman year in college during an introduction to communication disorders that I even discovered what an audiologist was, and since then I’ve seen a lot of misinformation about the industry (which is one of the reasons I created Everyday Hearing).
I’ve had the opportunity to work in the Veteran’s Administration (VA), an ENT practice, and for a hearing aid manufacturer. I’ve seen all sides of the industry, and today I’m going to walk you through every aspect of the field, starting with education and ending with salary.
Education: What are the best colleges for audiologists and what is college actually like?
I think the second part of this question is significantly more important than the first, and overwhelmingly less asked, but I understand people want to know what colleges are best for studying audiology. So, I’ll touch on that, but only briefly.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the first thing you should consider is graduate school.
Because many colleges have undergraduate programs for communication sciences and disorders (or other relevant undergrad major), but do not offer a graduate or doctoral program for audiology. I personally attended Florida State University for undergraduate, but since they only offered speech pathology in graduate school, I ended up attending the University of Florida for my Audiology degree.
With that said, U.S. News puts out a rank of graduate programs each year for specific discipline. Here’s the latest ranking they have for audiology programs:
You can read about how U.S. News ranks their schools here, but I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention some of the top schools in my personal opinion (based on discussions with colleagues and conferences over the past decade):
- Vanderbuilt University
- University of Florida
- University of Texas at Dallas
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Washington University in St. Louis
In the event you want to follow in my footsteps, of changing schools for the audiology program, here’s two resources for the best colleges that offer communication sciences and disorder undergraduate degrees:
(Note: the above links are not a list of the best communication science and disorder programs, but a list of the best colleges that offer these degrees)
What is graduate school actually like for audiology?
As I mentioned above, this is the question that gets asked a lot less, but is a lot more important. Or at least a lot more interesting.
Most audiology doctorate programs (Au.D.) are four years, with the last year being an externship that you can do anywhere in the country. Some Au.D. programs (like Pacific University in Oregon) are three years with the final year being your externship year. In terms of experience, I can only speak for the four year programs, as that is what my program at the University of Florida was.
The first year of the program is coursework intensive, and light on clinical practicum.
The courses you take the first year are heavy on science and building a good foundation for audiology. Not much practical knowledge is learned, however. It can be challenging to be thrown into a clinical practicum during your first year because you know nothing about how to actually interact and assist patients. Don’t worry, everyone feels this way.
All of your classes are chosen for you and everyone in your program class takes the same courses together. You will get to know your Au.D. classmates very well.
As you move into your second year, you will be involved in more clinical practicum, but still have a full coursework load.
By your third year you are getting a lot of clinical practicum experience (about 30 hours/week) as well as your courses. Because your clinic time increases each year, your free time in between classes diminishes drastically. During your third year, you will be either in class or clinic all day.
Some programs have a very large audiology clinic on campus and can accommodate many students in the clinic. However, other small programs rely on Audiology preceptors in the community, or even supervisors nationwide to take on a student clinician.
In your third year you will also begin looking for and interviewing for an externship (residency) position. Some Au.D. programs will place you in an externship position (based on your specialty interests and geographic desires), while other programs will leave it up to you to find an externship placement. The latter was the case for me at UF.
It is important that you get a wide variety of clinical practicum experience during the first 2-3 years, everything from vestibular, tinnitus, interoperative monitoring, APD, to cochlear implants and hearing aids. This is where you will begin to determine what areas you enjoy most about Audiology and can look for an externship position that offers these specialties.
This is your externship. If you’re not familiar with that word, think of it as a one year residency for audiologists.
You’ll be a full time employee at a hospital or private practice. Unfortunately you don’t get paid quite as well. Looking back at my old pay stubs, my hourly wage at my externship was about 50% of what it was at my first year out of graduate school.
The most important thing is to be logging hours in the clinic and learning from a more senior audiologist that can mentor you.
Career Paths: What do audiologists actually do?
The amount of career opportunities available to audiologists is quite astonishing.
Most people picture audiologists in their white lab coat with an otoscope sitting loosely in their front pocket, waiting to fit the next patient with a new pair of hearing aids. And while fitting hearing aids are a significant part of the industry, it’s far from a complete picture.
Audiologists are employed primarily in three different fields:
- Private practice
- Public practice
Private practice audiology
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) this is the primary employment opportunity for audiologists, comprising approximately 50% of the over 13,000 audiologists in the U.S.
Let’s talk briefly about the two faces of private practice:
1. Working with an ENT (or other physicians). In this environment many times an otolaryngologist, ophthalmologist, or dermatologist will bring in audiologists and optometrists because their typical patient is a prime candidate for referral services. As an example, a patient may see a general physician or ENT with dizziness and after a general checkup, if an audiologist is part of the group practice they can perform a VNG to further clarify the patient’s symptoms.
2. Audiology only practice. These practices have been becoming more popular, as more audiologists prefer to be their own boss, so to speak. Audiology practices range from a single audiologist to several in a group practice with audiology assistants, officer managers, etc. While you have more freedom, the downside is the loss of a direct referral from a primary physician or ENT that you could be working with.
Public practice audiology
About 25% of audiologists work in the public sector, mostly in children’s hospitals or veteran’s hospitals.
I got my start as an extern in a VA hospital, and loved it.
I’ve spoken to many VA audiologists over the years, and many times this can be the most rewarding work because you have patients coming to see you who actually want hearing aids, or balance tests, etc. On top of which, their insurance covers their expenses.
Just over 15% of audiologists work in education related fields. It’s pretty evenly split between research and teaching positions on the collegiate level, and developmental services in grades K-12.
Other career opportunities for audiologists
In addition to the above fields, another 5-10% of audiologists have moved into ancillary fields, such as:
- Sales and training. The major hearing aid manufacturers all have account managers (that are predominantly audiologists) to provide support to private practices and retailers on new products.
- Developmental learning or daycare services.
- Administrative agencies at the federal, state, or local level.
- Non-profit organizations.
- Business consultation for new audiologists. This may be private consultation, or creating a buying group and providing services to multiple practices.
All of the above audiology positions will perform a wide range of functions. Clinical audiologists can be expected to develop the following skills:
- Diagnostic audiometry, interpretation, and counseling
- Immittance testing and interpretation
- Otoacoustic Emission evaluation and interpretation
- Electroacoustic testing to include ABR, ECoG, VEMP, etc.
- Tinnitus assessment and rehabilitation
- Vestibular testing, interpretation, and counseling/rehabilitation
- Hearing aid selection, fitting, troubleshooting, and modification
- Earmold impression and selection
- Cochlear implant candidacy, evaluation, counseling, fitting, and follow-up
- Auditory processing disorder referral, evaluation, counseling, rehabilitation
- An understanding of the syndromes, diseases, and comorbidities associated with hearing loss
- Report writing and consultation with other professionals
Salary: How much do audiologists really make?
Because we’ve covered so many different aspects of audiology this is the most difficult question to answer.
According to the BLS, the median wage for audiologists is $75,980.
Salary.com shows a wider range of $66,082 to $91,610, with the median being $77,906.
It should be noted that neither of the above numbers incorporate commissions or bonuses.
In a 2014 survey conducted by ASHA (this is the most comprehensive data we’ve found), they found the median commission to be $20,000. And while there is no comprehensive data on bonuses for audiologists, the most recent U.S. average was $1,081.
The only problem with the above numbers is none of them are job specific, and none of them incorporate experience, or degrees.
So, here’s a few other numbers we found:
- Glass Door reports the base salary of a VA audiologist is $83,971 with a $500 annual bonus and $0 in commissions.
- Payscale provides data on teacher salaries (per state) and these are typically inline with K-12 educational audiologist salaries. The median pay is in the low to mid $40k.
- Using BLS data, combined with my own experience, audiologists employed in private practice usually have a base salary of $60-$75k and commission/bonus of $20-$30k.
I know this is a lot of information to take in, especially if you’re currently on the cusp of making a decision to become an audiologist or not. So, if you have any questions I haven’t answered here, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly.