The incredible power of neuroplasticity and changes that occur in brain pathways due to auditory stimulation and life experience is fascinating, as are the changes in neural pathways and brain processing with decreased auditory input after one sustains a decrement in auditory peripheral function.

According to Wikipedia, neuroplasticity “is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. These changes range from individual neurons making new connections to systematic adjustments like cortical remapping.”

Neuroplasticity is highly individual—some people may adapt readily to new stimuli, while others do not. Driving neuroplastic change can require intensive practice, leading researchers to explore facilitation of neural pathway reorganization through targeted rehabilitation or pharmaceutical intervention.

I often think of clinical practice and our profession as intricate neural networks and seek ways to drive what I will term “professional plasticity.” Professional plasticity could be defined as the ability of professional skills, practices, and perspectives to change through increased knowledge and experience leading to growth and reorganization of professional philosophy and implementation.

For some advances, change is easy. Consider transitioning from monitored live-voice to use of recorded-speech stimuli. This change does not take much effort, possibly akin to the concept in neuroplasticity of “individual neurons making new connections.” However, other advances are more intimidating to embrace and require greater effort to remap.

Telehealth has been an option in health care for many years, with limited implementation. Why has there been reduced professional plasticity for embracing telehealth? One reason cited has been provider reluctance.

Britannica.com defines plasticity as the “ability of certain solids to flow or change shape permanently when subjected to stresses of intermediate magnitude between those producing temporary deformation, or elastic behavior, and those causing failure of the material, or rupture.”

Before COVID-19, the professional and practice “stresses” for many were not sufficient to drive professional plasticity to embrace telehealth. However, with a global pandemic limiting the ability for audiologists to meet patient hearing and balance needs due to restrictions on in-person service delivery, the “stresses” increased almost to the point of “rupture.”

Although difficult at first, audiologists  developed new protocols and procedures to deliver care remotely. Over time, and through repeated practice, these remapped implementations of professional protocols became more fluid and efficient. Increased use of remote applications to provide services more effectively and efficiently will continue to be important for patient access and cost-effective care provision post-pandemic.

My mantra throughout my career has been one of professional plasticity—I should be changing some aspects of my practice substantively every year, especially in a profession as dynamic as audiology.

In reflecting on the past few months, I recognize that my commitment to professional plasticity has often been more akin to “individual neurons making new connections” rather than a more comprehensive “cortical remapping.”

I can fall prey to “provider reluctance” when an innovative approach appears overwhelming or threatening. Fortunately, the Academy helps to facilitate professional plasticity through collaboration with excellent colleagues in our audiology community and access to the many resources we collectively develop and share.

My new mantra is to employ these facilitators to overcome reluctance more proactively in embracing innovations and more ambitiously driving professional plasticity to creatively remap before “stresses” reach the point of “rupture.”

Each of us has the opportunity to change and grow until our very last breath. Happy creating.
—M.F. Ryan