What Is an Audiologist? Duties, Skills, and Career Paths

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A detailed look at careers in audiology, focusing on the role of an audiologist working with hearing loss. It will cover the skills, job description and job requirements for audiologists, including skills, qualifications and certifications.

[Featured Image] A female audiologist examines a male patient in a clinical setting.

An audiologist is a health care professional working directly with patients to diagnose, assess, and treat hearing problems and balance disorders. Audiologists cover a range of duties, from fitting hearing aids to conducting research into various conditions. You can find audiologists in hospitals and private practice. Careers in the field of audiology are expected to grow over the next 10 years. 

What is an audiologist?

Audiologists work with patients experiencing hearing problems and balance disorders, diagnosing conditions and offering various treatments tailored to the patient’s needs. They assess patients based on symptoms, family history, and a thorough physical assessment. Audiologists make referrals to other health professionals if the condition is treatable or provide audiology care to manage the condition. 

Duties

An audiologist helps patients by diagnosing, managing, and treating disorders related to the ear, hearing, or balance. In this role, you may have different areas of specialty, but on a day-to-day basis, you will typically perform the following duties:

  • Examine patients with hearing loss, balance problems, and other problems related to their ears

  • Administer hearing tests and assessments, including determining any medical or emotional symptoms 

  • Assess medical history and examine test results

  • Fit patients for hearing aids and implanted devices

  • Offer aural rehabilitation and balance therapy or treatment for tinnitus

  • Support patients to lip read and use assistive devices

  • Perform ear wax removal procedures 

  • Refer patients to other specialist medical professionals for treatment, surgery, and specific care

  • Support patients with preventative care, such as earmuffs and earplugs 

Audiology vs. ENT

Sometimes audiologists are confused with otolaryngologists, more commonly known as ear, nose, and throat doctors (ENTs). Audiology and ENT are not the same, although there is some crossover, as an ENT doctor also covers the ears. 

ENT doctors are doctors of medicine, whereas audiologists are not. Some progress through further study to specialize in ears specifically and are responsible for ear surgery. For example, they perform the surgical placement of the internal part of an ear implant, diagnosed and recommended by the audiologist.  

How to become an audiologist

Audiologists undertake significant education and training to be able to work professionally. They must first earn a doctoral degree, achieve certification and licensure and continue to engage in professional development to keep practicing. 

Earn a bachelor’s degree

Step one is to earn a bachelor’s degree. This doesn't have to be in a specific field, but this level of study sets the path for being accepted to a master’s program or a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) program.

Earn a master’s degree

Many audiologists have a master's degree in audiology; however, this is not a requirement. Obtaining a master’s degree in subjects such as audiology, speech, language and hearing science, or speech-language pathology can be helpful on your way to the more commonly sought-after AuD designation. 

Complete an AuD program

It is becoming increasingly common for candidates to take a doctoral degree in audiology, a graduate program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation. In most cases, this is the standard needed to enter the profession of audiology. 

An AuD includes coursework on physiology, genetics, physics, anatomy, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as ethics and pharmacology. Clinical practice also forms part of the course, which takes four years to complete. 

Pass the Praxis Exam in Audiology

Passing the Praxis Exam in Audiology confirms that you are able to make sound clinical decisions, and it is required for state licensure. You will generally take the exam after you have completed all graduate coursework and clinical training but might take it while completing clinical hours. The state licensing agency determines when you should take your exam and the minimum passing score. The exam is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS). 

Get licensed by your state

All states require audiologists to be licensed, but different states have different rules when it comes to requirements. Most will likely require that you have an AuD, but some may accept a doctoral degree with a major in a field related to hearing science. You may also need to have a certain number of supervised clinical hours and professional employment experience.

Get certified in audiology (optional)

Following completion of an accredited course, aspiring audiologists can choose to complete an exam to receive certification from the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) or the American Board of Audiology (ABA). ASHA administers the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) credential, which shows potential employers you have met professional and academic standards beyond what is required for state licensure.

Likewise, voluntarily becoming American Board of Audiology Certified indicates you are committed to high professional standards. Becoming certified in audiology and maintaining your certification throughout your career show current and potential employers you are committed to continuing professional development.

How long does it take to qualify as an audiologist?

It typically takes four years to complete a doctoral degree in audiology (AuD). Prior to this, you must have completed a bachelor’s degree, which will have taken four years on average. States will set their guidelines on how long you are able to wait after graduating with your doctoral degree and passing the Praxis Exam in Audiology before getting licensed. 

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What are the skills you need as an audiologist?

Aside from the technical skills learned through your education and clinical training, such as assessing patients and fitting hearing aids, audiologists must possess human skills that make them excellent at their job, including:

  • Patience: Audiologists need to show patience and understanding to patients who may not be responding well to treatment or who may be struggling to deal with their diagnosis.  

  • Problem-solving: Diagnosis involves a certain level of problem-solving. As an audiologist, you should be able to use the evidence you have to form an opinion on the patient's condition and decide on appropriate treatment and advice. 

  • Time management: Managing appointments and keeping to time while being available for patients requires good time management and the ability to keep to a schedule.

  • Communication: Audiologists work directly with patients and their families, explaining complex information in a way that is easy to digest. They also communicate with other health professionals at all levels. 

Where do audiologists work?

Audiologists work in a variety of settings including:

  • Hospitals

  • Clinics

  • Schools (with students who have hearing loss)

  • Colleges and universities (in research and training)

  • Military facilities

  • Private practices

  • Rehabilitation centers

  • Physicians' offices

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 26 percent of audiologists work in physicians' offices, and 24 percent work in audiologists' offices or those of speech, occupational, or physical therapists  [1]. Another 15 percent of audiologists work in hospitals, and 10 percent work for private or state and local educational services. 

Are audiologists in high demand in the US?

Audiology is a growing field, with a projected increase in positions between 2020 and 2030 of 16 percent, according to the BLS, which is much faster than average compared to all occupations [2]. 

How much do audiologists earn on average?

An audiologist in the US earns an average of $78,950, with highs of $120,210 for senior positions [3]. The average median wage for audiologists who work in hospitals is $94,690, according to the BLS.

Certifications in audiology

If you are looking to specialize in a certain area, additional certifications may be beneficial. The American Board of Audiology offers several certifications and certificates to licensed audiologists including:

  • Cochlear Implant Specialty Certification

  • Pediatric Audiology Specialty Certification

  • Certificate Holder-Audiology Preceptor (CH-AP)

  • Certificate Holder-Tinnitus Management (CH-TM)

AHSA is in the process of creating specialty certifications in the following areas:

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

  • Voice and Upper Airway Disorders

  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH)

  • Specialty Certification in Clinical Instruction and Supervision (SCCIS)

Audiologists must keep up with professional development to maintain certification and licenses.

Next steps    

If you’re ready to dive deeper into audiology, an introductory course on hearing loss is a great place to start. If you’re looking to specialize, you can take a course specific to hearing loss in children or a subject that is more all-encompassing, such A Public Health Approach to Hearing Loss and Aging course offered by John Hopkins University on Coursera.

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1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook- Audiologists- Work Environment, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/audiologists.htm#tab-3.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

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