Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, CISC

Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, CISC

Audiology Director, Hearing Implant Program
Cleveland Clinic


Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, is audiology director of the Hearing Implant Program at the Cleveland Clinic and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. She is also adjunct faculty at the Kent State University and the University of Akron (NOAC) where she teaches the graduate Implantable Technologies course.

In these roles, she has mentored nearly 80 fourth-year AuD externs, achieved the Cleveland Clinic Distinguished Educator Level I distinction, and was nominated for the Health Sciences Educator Award.

Dr. Sydlowski is past president of the Ohio Academy of Audiology. She has served the American Academy of Audiology in a variety of capacities including as member-at-large on the Board of Directors, chair of the SAA Advisory Committee and National SAA Advisor, chair of the Academy's Annual Conference Subcommittee for Learning Modules, chair of the Academy's Governance Committee, and chair of the Academy's Audit Committee, and as a member of numerous taskforces and committees. Dr. Sydlowski currently serves as trustee for the American Academy of Audiology Foundation, is a member of the Editorial Board for The Hearing Journal, and is co-chair of the American Cochlear Implant Alliance Program Committee.

Her clinical and research interests have been predominantly focused on implantable hearing technologies. She has delivered numerous presentations and authored various publications, book chapters, clinical guidelines and position statements primarily on this topic. More recently, her interests are centered on the intersection of healthcare and business. She is currently completing her Executive MBA at Case Western Reserve University and is interested in clinical business strategy, optimizing care delivery and efficiency, and the economic impact of healthcare regulatory/policy issues. Dr. Sydlowski received her BS in psychology from the University of Dayton, AuD from the University of Louisville, and PhD in audiology from Gallaudet University.

Nominee Position Statement

Why are you interested in serving on the Academy Board?

I was fortunate to serve on the Academy Board while tremendous work was being done to restructure the organization to build future capacity for success. We spent many hours analyzing every aspect of the organization, holding every component under a microscope and asking whether each resource was being utilized and each decision was being made in a way that would directly support the Academy’s mission to create value for its members and to advance the profession of audiology. The answers we found were not always easy or clear but piece by piece we strengthened the foundation of the organization, steered the direction of a new course, and when I rotated off the Board I was confident we had done all we could to optimize the organization’s capacity. It has been fulfilling to watch the enhanced capability of the Academy to collaborate, promote its mission, and effect change.

This is a critical time in audiology’s history. Strong leadership, consistent messaging, clear priorities, and unwavering dedication to the desired outcome are essential to achieving success for the profession. The Academy is my professional home. I believe in its mission, its people, and its ability to improve the lives of patients and audiologists. I have volunteered for the Academy consistently in various capacities over the years and at this stage in my career I am confident in my ability to lead the forward momentum that has been created by countless individuals working together toward a common goal.

What challenges or key issues do you see for the audiology profession in the next five years? What would you hope to accomplish relative to these challenges during your term on the board? 

The greatest challenge to audiology is ensuring our position as an essential part of the healthcare system. “Being essential” encompasses public and professional awareness, valuation of our services and expertise, establishment of an effective position for legislative and regulatory advocacy, and recognition of hearing and balance as healthcare priorities. Controlling our future direction is more possible now than ever before. Our entire health-care system is moving from volume-based, deficit-correction to value-based, preventative wellness. This health-care redefinition creates an exciting opportunity for audiology. There is emerging evidence that appropriate, timely management of hearing loss improves quality of life and promotes downstream health-care cost savings. Furthermore, audiology is uniquely positioned to provide education and resources regarding hearing loss and falls prevention that complements a wellness-oriented health-care system.

Audiology is not just about devices. Audiologists provide a spectrum of care, including hearing loss prevention, over-the-counter (OTC) and traditional hearing aids, implantable devices, diagnostic evaluation, aural rehabilitation, assessment of functional and perceived capabilities, and patient education. We are an interdisciplinary profession that supports patients across the lifespan. However, we are a small, historically insular profession. We are just beginning to embrace key collaborations and opportunities outside of our direct networks and to proactively steer our future course rather than react to changing circumstances. In order to capitalize on the opportunity of a rapidly changing health-care environment, the Academy needs to focus on the following:

  1. Audiologists and our services must be recognized and sought after not only by other health-care providers but also by consumers seeking information on their own. We can advance this effort as an Academy by prioritizing the timely creation and ongoing maintenance of contemporary, evidence-based best practice guidelines and position statements, by interfacing with non-audiologists to understand the needs of the public and the opportunities for rethinking our traditional approaches, and by ensuring that representations of hearing and balance care to our professional colleagues and the public are accurate, compelling, pervasive, and easy to find.
  2. Effective collaboration among the various audiology organizations must continue to be encouraged. We are a stronger voice united than individually. Similarly, opportunities will increase as we expand that network to enhance collaborative relationships with our ENT, speech therapy, and primary care colleagues (among others) all of whom have a vested interest in hearing and balance. As audiology director of an interdisciplinary Hearing Implant Program, I have successfully cultivated a tremendously implant collaborative team and am currently leading an initiative to build similar cooperative relationships throughout our organization to advance awareness and effective management of hearing loss beyond the confines of our department.
  3. We must continue to advocate for reimbursement that is commensurate with our expertise. Hearing care in America has not been a healthcare priority, but there are signs this outdated perspective is evolving. It is imperative that the Academy is proactively driving the strategy to make hearing care more accessible and affordable, guiding decisions by legislators and regulators to achieve positive patient outcomes as well as financially-viable practices for our members.

What experience do you have in the planning, evaluation, and implementation of a strategic plan?

Strategic planning is an essential exercise in any forward-thinking organization. It allows leadership to pause and evaluate the goals of the organization and whether resources are being utilized in a way that align with these priorities and are likely to lead to success. I have been fortunate to both lead (state level) and participate in (national level) formal strategic planning processes for audiology organizations. In my clinical practice, I have designed and led strategic initiatives to change referral practices, increase patient volumes, and develop innovative delivery models to manage our changing practice environment. In the process, I have had the opportunity to learn how to reflect honestly on the current state, imagine a more expansive yet intentional future, and use a variety of techniques to ensure that there is a clear path between the two.

Through these experiences, I have learned that several of the most important components of successful strategic planning and implementation are (1) ensuring short, intermediate, and long-term goals are well-defined, without being overly prescriptive, (2) remaining open to novel ideas and being willing to retire activities that were previously successful but may have outlived their usefulness, and (3) recognizing that people are the key to success. Implementation of strategy evolves from a thoughtful process of understanding the perspectives of key stakeholders, clearly communicating strategic decisions, and empowering people at every level to work together toward accomplishment of the shared vision. Without a clearly communicated rationale and engaged partners, even the best strategies will fail.

List any experience in financial management. Describe your experience in developing and implementing a budget for a practice, business, department, or organization. 

I have been involved in financial management activities as a member of the Academy Board, including serving as both a member and chair of the Audit Committee, as well as when serving as president of the Ohio Academy of Audiology (OAA). As is typical with state organizations that are entirely volunteer run, budget and responsible management of resources is always a top priority and arguably the biggest challenge. During my three years on the OAA Board as president-elect, president, and past president, I initiated a detailed review of our finances that led to redirection of a number of resources, re-contracting some of our vendors, and generally building a stronger financial position for the organization. I also worked with our state convention planning committee to reconsider our strategy for our annual meeting leading to one of the highest revenue netting meetings we have offered.

In my clinical position, I have worked with administration to conduct a service line review of charges and revenues for our program and have used that information to develop innovative service delivery models designed to increase practice efficiency, optimize patient outcomes, and increase positive contribution to the department.

Finally, practice efficiency and innovative delivery model implementation are two of my primary interests, so I enrolled in an executive MBA program at Case Western University, which I will be completing in May 2020. This opportunity has been invaluable for increasing my financial management knowledge and enhancing my capacity for integrating financial strategy with clinical best practice and organizational goals.

From the list below, select five competencies you feel best represent your leadership strengths:

Commitment, Governance Experience, Organizational Knowledge, Problem Solving, Teamwork

Based on the five competencies selected above, comment on how you feel these qualities would positively affect your ability to serve on the Academy Board. 

Leadership requires a unique set of skills. The Academy Board represents the diverse interests of many members, interfaces with a variety of stakeholders including council and committee volunteers, sponsors, legislators, regulators, and other professional organizations, and is responsible for developing strategy and leading action plans in diverse areas including research, public awareness, advocacy, and education. Leadership at any level, but particularly for an organization like the Academy, requires all of the competencies listed. However, I have highlighted those strengths that I believe would allow me to make the most substantial contribution on the Board.

Commitment: When I commit my time to any endeavor, it is with my full attention and follow-through. I recognize that accepting any role with an organization is a promise to represent the membership, be accountable for certain deliverables, and leave the organization better than when I joined it. For that reason, I will not volunteer for any position or responsibility unless I believe that I can make a meaningful and valuable contribution.

Organizational Knowledge: I have been fortunate to participate in the Academy and its partner organizations (AAAF Board, ABA liaison, SAA advisor) in a variety of capacities. I was also very involved in the governance committee during my recent term on the Board. As a result, I have a strong understanding of the organization, its history, its framework, and its opportunities. Perhaps even more importantly, I recognize that any of my terms have been brief moments in time in the history of the organization. I have been very fortunate to build a wonderful network of past and current volunteers who I am confident would be welcome support in assuring that the direction of the organization is truly future-focused and not an inadvertent replication of past efforts.

Problem Solving: I am extremely detailed oriented and analytic. I recognize the value of considering various aspects of a situation then stepping back to consider the bigger picture, including the downstream ramifications of a decision. Logically considering each angle and developing a clear understanding of the problem and relevant solutions creates confidence for me in decisively implementing a chosen strategy.

Teamwork: If there is one lesson I have learned during my career, it is that the whole is always better than the sum of its parts. I could list countless projects whose results were infinitely better because the right people were invited to the table to bring competing perspectives and diverse capabilities. Any of those projects could have been completed by an individual but would have been shadows of the powerful work that was accomplished by a team.

Governance Experience: No matter how many times you’ve done it, joining a board involves a transition. Although no two board experiences are identical, having previously navigated these transitions creates capacity for effectively moving through the transition to being a contributing member of the team much sooner. My past board experiences have given me confidence in the process and taught me how to effectively optimize my term.

Collaboration, consensus building, and conflict resolution are three qualities associated with effective leadership. Reflect upon these characteristics and provide your perspective on how each of these traits would be of importance to you as the Academy president.

The Academy Board cannot be a group of individuals tasked with unilaterally developing a strategy and implementing action items. Rather, the board is a representative conduit through which members can achieve their professional goals. It would be impossible for 12 individuals to effectively envision a future for thousands of members. Rather, it is the role of leadership to collaborate with stakeholders from within the organization and externally to identify opportunities, understand perspectives, convey the strategic rationale, confirm buy-in, and deliver desired outcomes. People cannot be pushed or pulled toward a conclusion.

They need to be engaged in the process such that they have a vested interest and believe in the outcome. In order to be successful in any leadership role, it’s important to hear both assenting and dissenting opinions, to effectively collaborate with others, to develop a shared vision, and to come to a common resolution. Importantly, leadership doesn’t mean getting everyone to agree. It does, however, mean making sure everyone is heard. Treating others with respect, engaging their interest, harnessing their passions, and understanding various perspectives are all essential to success. Implementation of even the most well-thought out plan cannot happen without each of these very important qualities. In my opinion, leadership is much more about listening, guiding, questioning, and envisioning that about commanding or controlling.

The best leadership I have witnessed involved empowering others, not directing others. Collaborative, consensus-building leadership that embraces respectful conflict is the leadership that will successfully move the Academy forward.