Brad Allard was selling hearing aids in Oregon when he made a house call one day to visit a four-year-old girl whose hearing had been damaged by meningitis. She was napping when he arrived, but when she awoke, she pointed to the hearing aid and then to her ear.
“That was it,” says Allard, 54. “That day I thought, ‘I want to be an audiologist.’”
Allard realized that if the child — who couldn’t speak — could clearly communicate her need for the hearing aid that opened up the world of sound, then he wanted to be an audiologist to help others like her.
Unlike hearing aid dispensers, audiologists not only test people’s hearing, they help to prevent and treat hearing loss. They prescribe and fit hearing aids, teach people skills to cope with hearing loss, counsel patients and family members, and even help people with auditory processing disorders learn more effectively.
So Allard earned his master’s degree in audiology, and in 1990 moved to Toronto for a job at Scarborough Hospital. Today he has his own practice in Toronto and is a board member of the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.
“In any given day, I’ll test people’s hearing, talk to them about the degree and nature of any hearing loss, and about how it affects their lives,” says Allard. “I’ll help them understand it, accept it, and help people get over any denial.”
A good audiologist needs to be patient, empathetic and, ironically, a good listener, Allard says. In addition, he or she needs to have a sense for the science and the acoustics of audiology.
“That all comes with the training,” he says. “It’s an art and a science.”
Audiologists often work closely with ear, nose and throat specialists and other doctors, speech therapists, nurses, social workers, teachers, and occupational and physical therapists.
In Canada, audiologists need a minimum of a Master’s degree in audiology and require an internship in a hospital, hearing clinic, or rehabilitation or other health care facility before graduation.