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So, you walk into a hearing aid clinic and you get a guy in a white lab coat. You see all the certifications on the wall, so you ask him, “Where did you go to school?” And he’s like, “What do you mean “where did I go to school?” And you’re like, “You know, to become a doctor.” And he’s like, “Oh, hold on, no. I’m not a doctor, I’m a hearing instrument specialist.”
Now, it’s not your fault for thinking he’s a doctor. The white lab coat can be a little misleading, and he still may be completely capable of providing you with excellent hearing healthcare, but there are some major differences between audiologists and hearing instrument specialists that you should know about.
Audiologists vs. HIS
First, let me give you some background. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, audiologists were prohibited from dispensing hearing aids by their professional service organizations, for instance, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). An audiologist would essentially do the hearing test and make the recommendation of a hearing aid, and then they would refer them to a hearing instrument specialist to complete the fitting.
It was also during that time that audiologists were seeking to expand their scope of practice to include education, auditory rehabilitation, and research. Hearing instrument specialists were also seeking to certify and protect their well-established positions of retail businessmen.
Basically, a battle ensued between the two professions, something that I’m not necessarily proud about, but may have been necessary for the growth of both professions. Ultimately, it resulted in audiologists and hearing instrument specialists being able to fit patients with hearing aids.
Before I get into the differences between audiologists and hearing instrument specialists, it’s important that you know that I think that both of them are necessary to treat this massive population growth that we have of individuals with hearing loss. Now that you know the history of audiologists and hearing instrument specialists, we can now move on to the differences.
Difference #1: Education
Education may very well be the largest difference between an audiologist and a hearing instrument specialist. Audiologists are now required to earn a doctorate, which means eight additional years of education beyond a high school diploma. The best programs are very selective and competitive to incoming students, and the programs are very rigorous and require a full understanding of hearing healthcare in order to pass the program.
Hearing instrument specialists can be required to complete up to a two-year associate’s degree, depending on the state that they wanna practice in, and that degree doesn’t necessarily have to be in hearing instrument sciences, but it can be.
Difference #2: Education Requirements
Both professions are required to complete an exam to become licensed in a particular state.
Audiologists are required to pass the praxis exam, which encompasses all areas of audiology, from diagnostic testing, to cochlear implants, to auditory rehabilitation, to pediatrics, to you name it, it covers it all. It’s intended to ensure that an audiologist understands all aspects of hearing healthcare.
Hearing instrument specialists must also pass a state exam, which includes hearing aid testing, fitting, and ear mold impressions, and it’s for the sole purpose of fitting hearing aids.
Difference #3: Clinical Practice
The required amount of time spent in supervised clinical practice can be vastly different between audiologists and hearing instrument specialists.
Most audiology programs who are ASHA-accredited require over 2000 hours of supervised clinical experience under a seasoned audiologist. Many students will exceed this number, and some students receive the bare minimum.
Hearing instrument specialists generally have to practice under another hearing instrument specialist if they’re on a temporary license. If they’re on a permanent license, it depends on the state, but most of them do not require that they have any supervision at that time.
Difference #4: Research
This is another really big difference between the two. Research essentially determines what the best practices are in the hearing industry. Hearing healthcare is constantly changing because of new discoveries and rapidly changing technology. Being able to determine what is good research can dictate what is taken and put into clinical practice.
Audiologists are generally required to complete a capstone project during their time in school. This is a research project that they develop from beginning to end to really give them a complete understanding of how research works, and what dictates whether or not research is works and what doesn’t, what you should take and incorporate into clinical practice.
Hearing instrument specialists may be required to read some research if they attended an associate’s degree program, but there is no requirement for them to conduct any kind of research during that program.
Difference #5: Certification
Essentially, any certification that is obtained by an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist is done at their own free will, and it is showing their patients that they are upholding that certification board’s standards for ethics and care.
Audiologists have the ability to join a variety of different certifying associations, a couple of them being ASHA, and also the American Board of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, etc. There are also state boards that you can essentially be a part of as well. Each of these associations has their own code of ethics, including their own continuing education requirements for you to maintain certification with those associations.
Hearing instrument specialists have the opportunity to take an exam or attend a particular program, of which there are several, in order to become Board-certified as a hearing instrument specialist. This is why you commonly see the letters BCHIS, which stands for Board Certified Hearing Instrument Specialists. Based on information from the NBC website, the certification essentially shows to consumers that that instrument specialist is upholding a higher level of education and competency.
So, these five differences aside, you have some great audiologists, and then you have some not so great audiologists, and you have some great hearing instrument specialists, and you have some not so great hearing instrument specialists.
The important thing, though, is that you are informed about the differences between the two, so you can make a decision on who you want to go see and to entrust your hearing healthcare with. If you would like to know more about your state’s licensing requirements for audiologists and hearing instrument specialists, you can go to your state license or board website to find that information out. It is free to access.