First of all, let me say this is not meant to demean any individual or profession. In more than 22 years of practice, I have known some very skilled and reliable Audiologists and just as many hearing instrument specialists. Unfortunately, I’ve also known poorly skilled and poorly reliable individuals in both categories. However, it is a topic many people do not fully understand, sort of in the same way we often do not understand the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist.
An Audiologist typically has a doctoral degree in audiology, although there are some Audiologists who have a master’s degree as they have been in practice since before the doctoral degree became a requirement. A Doctor of Audiology, or Au.D., has a bachelor’s degree and a three to a four-year graduate degree in audiology. A Doctor of Audiology is trained in the function of the human auditory and balance systems and how to properly evaluate those systems to determine the exact nature of the problem when they are not functioning properly. Both Audiologists and hearing instrument specialists, or hearing aid dealers, often fit patients with hearing aids.
However, a doctor of audiology is trained to properly diagnose the problem first and to fit hearing aids only when it is appropriate and in the best interest of the patient. Audiologists often find a patient’s problem is a temporary issue, such as earwax, which the Audiologist is trained to remove, or a medical issue in which case the Audiologist is trained and ethically obligated to refer the patient to a physician to address the issue. Audiologists are held to specific ethical and legal guidelines by their state licensure board, their professional organizations, and can achieve the level of Board Certification in Audiology if they choose to do so.
The licensure requirements for hearing instrument specialists or hearing aid dealers vary somewhat from state to state. In Arkansas, they are required to have two years of college education, although there is no specific area of study required. And they are required to study under a licensed hearing instrument specialist or Audiologist, and must also pass an exam administered by the state licensing board. After the two-year college requirement is met, the remainder of the training is typically a 6 month to 1-year process. Those who choose to do so can also take a national exam that, if passed, qualifies them as a “Board Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist” or “BC-HIS”.
Hopefully, this information helps you to better understand the difference between the two professions that can often look very similar. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time.