Auburn University Students Advocate for Audiology in Washington, DC

Auburn University Students Advocate for Audiology in Washington, DC

Auburn Audiology students at the United States Capitol Building
Left to right: Adam Finkel, Kayla Murphy, Robert Melton, Brandi Davis, Kirston Clifton, T’Kaye Farrar

On March 12th, five audiology doctoral students from Auburn University traveled to the nation’s capitol of Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives regarding the future of audiology. They are the first of hopefully many Auburn audiology students, who made the trip in celebration of the World Health Organization’s World Hearing Day (March 3rd) and in support of SAA’s National Day at Your State Capitol event. Working with Adam Finkel, AAA’s Government Relations Associate Director, these five students were given the opportunity to see our democracy in action while promoting two bills and a resolution all pertaining to audiology.

The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act and the Access to Frontline Care Act were the two primary pieces of legislation that the Auburn students focused on during their trip. The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act would identify audiologists as appropriate providers of telehealth services and authorizes Medicare to reimburse them for providing patients with audiology services via telehealth. As many students do rotations at VA placements nationwide, the group was able to provide insight into the already successful model of telehealth implemented within the VA system.

The Access to Frontline Care Act, similar to the loan repayment services available for teachers, medical students, etc., would authorize the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) to establish a Frontline Providers Loan Repayment Program under which HHS would make student loan repayments in exchange for health professionals providing two years of service in a health care facility serving a frontline scarcity area. This legislation would provide relief to the increasing amount of student loans acquired by audiology doctoral students, but would more importantly offer audiology services to those who desperately need them but may currently not have the opportunity due to location.

Kayla Murphy, a third-year student and a member of SAA’s Public Outreach Committee, stated: “Being able to travel to Capitol Hill and discuss such important matters with state leadership was an amazing experience. As the student representative for the Government Relations Committee of AAA, I’ve been hearing about these legislative matters for months; to be able to educate government officials about them and just our profession as a whole was a powerful experience.”

Auburn University is located in Auburn, AL, a state that faces many challenges in the medical field due to the predominantly rural landscape and its spread-out cities. The students noted that both Senate offices were very much aware of the need for medical care, but were unaware of the role that audiology plays in development and communication. Both offices were extremely receptive to the information students were able to provide regarding the scope of practice within audiology, the effects of late intervention of hearing loss, and recent research linking hearing loss and cognitive decline.

Brandi Davis, a second-year student and Graduate Assistant at the Alabama Department of Public Health, was able to discuss the responsibilities and needs of the ADPH regarding newborn infant hearing screenings with representatives from the office of Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Brandi stated “Going to DC to advocate for audiology was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s very rewarding to know that I can make a difference by advocating for laws that promote exceptional patient care.”

Kirston Clifton, a second-year student and Graduate Assistant for Auburn University’s Office of Accessibility, “really enjoyed being able to interact with staff members from offices representing a variety of states.” Each student met with the legislative correspondent for their hometown Representative: Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS), Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS), Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), and Rep Steven Palazzo (R-MS).  As a second-year, Kirston expressed the importance of continuing this trip for future students. “This is an invaluable experience that I look forward to having again next year, and will hopefully become a staple in the Auburn Au.D. program!”

Robert Melton, a third-year student and the SAA State Ambassador for Alabama, commented on how different the trip was from what they had anticipated. “It was not nearly as intimidating as I had expected, and I felt that we were all welcomed.” Robert has been elected to the SAA Executive Board for the 2019-2020 year and looks forward to using this experience in D.C. to mold the future of SAA and encourage other students to participate. “It’s a rewarding experience to know that you’re out there actively engaging to improve the profession for audiologists as well as our patients.”

T’kaye Ferrar, a second-year student, stated “This trip taught me so much about the impact of advocacy in action, and showed me a side of audiology that I had never seen before. Meeting legislative correspondents and educating them about the field of audiology was such an empowering experience. Advocating for our profession and our patients was both rewarding and motivating, and I look forward to seeing what legislative action takes place as a result of our time at Capitol Hill.”

The Auburn University students expressed their appreciation to Adam Finkel and AAA for providing this opportunity, and they encourage all audiology programs to strongly consider getting involved in both state and national legislation in whatever way possible.


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