I received the above e-mail message while preparing the manuscript for this article. A colleague at the University of Hawaii referred this undergraduate student to me after she had initially inquired about audiology from a family medicine physician at the university. As a permanent part-time professor at the University of Hawaii (living in Maine and Florida), I teach three online prerequisite courses for academically, geographically, and culturally diverse cohorts of undergraduates interested in applying to a graduate program in audiology or speech pathology.
In one of the courses, Introduction to Audiometry and Auditory Disorders, I unabashedly strive to recruit the best and brightest students into our profession, although, not surprisingly, most are already committed to speech pathology as a career.
I immediately responded enthusiastically to this student, providing her with a link to the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) portion of the Academy website, reprints of ACAE Corners pertaining to doctor of audiology education, and also an electronic copy of Chapter 1 (“Audiology Yesterday and Today”) from my 2014 textbook Introduction to Audiology Today.
An undergraduate student considering audiology as a career predictably and logically will want to know what prerequisite courses are required for admission to a doctor of audiology program. At this time, there is no well-defined or well-accepted “pre-audiology” curriculum. In the early 1970s, undergraduate students with diverse majors stumbled mostly by chance upon audiology as a career option.
My story is probably typical. I completed a pre-optometry undergraduate program at a small liberal arts college in New England. My father and grandfather were practicing optometrists. Although I was predestined from childhood to follow in their professional footsteps, I elected to go in another career direction. I had never heard about audiology or laid eyes on an audiologist until I took a mandatory Introduction to Audiology course from the late Earl Harford, during my master’s degree program in speech pathology at Northwestern University. Then and there I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Fortunately, my biology undergraduate major and the pre-optometry curriculum, which also included multiple courses in physics, chemistry, and mathematics through calculus, was perfect for graduate study in audiology.
These days, as a result of audiology awareness efforts by the American Academy of Audiology, the SAA, and other groups, current undergraduate students, and even high school students, are more likely to hear about audiology well before they seriously consider career options. But we haven’t made much progress in defining an appropriate pre-audiology undergraduate curriculum.
An Internet search of the prerequisite undergraduate curriculum for most health-science professions reveals numerous resources that clearly describe the courses expected of applicants. As an example, on one website, general and school-specific requirements for each of 23 optometry programs in the United States are clearly laid out in a neat table. All of the programs require or strongly recommend coursework in physical and biological sciences (e.g., organic and biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, and anatomy), calculus, statistics, and psychology. None of them require courses more relevant to another health profession.
In contrast, there is no consistency in recommendations for prerequisite coursework among the 70-plus AuD programs in the United States. According to information available on university websites, there are three general categories for prerequisite undergraduate coursework required for admission to AuD programs. One rather common category could be referred to as the traditional “communication sciences and disorders (CSD) approach” with a strong preference and often a requirement that applicants complete an undergraduate major in CSD.
The following statement from the website for a major public land grant university in the southeastern United States typifies this approach: “Students with bachelor’s degrees in communication sciences and disorders, or equivalent, receive preference. However, highly qualified students from any discipline are considered. Foundation courses in language development, phonetics, and speech anatomy will be added to the curriculum.” One might question the rationale for requiring students interested in one profession—audiology—to take undergraduate courses required for another profession—speech pathology.
The second category offers much more flexibility in undergraduate coursework. Information available online for admission to the doctor of audiology program at Northwestern University is a good example of this approach. Applicants must have a good undergraduate cumulative grade point average (minimum of 3.0 on 4.0 scale) plus GRE scores and letters of recommendation. In other words, the emphasis is on the quality of undergraduate educational performance and the likelihood of success in an AuD program, rather than the completion of specific courses, including CSD courses.
An AuD program at a major state university in Ohio is a good representative of the third option. Quoting from the admission page of the program’s website: “The audiology program requires prerequisite content in the following areas: At least one course in college-level algebra and trigonometry; at least one course in college-level physical sciences; a course in phonetics; a course in normal language development; an introductory course in audiology.” Among AuD programs in this category, the most common prerequisite in CSD-related content is a course in language development and an introduction to audiology course.
The highly varied requirements for admission to AuD programs reflect in large part the longstanding influence of academics in speech pathology on undergraduate prerequisites for the entirely separate profession of audiology. This is in distinct contrast to admission requirements for graduate study in other health professions such as dentistry, optometry, and medicine. Imagine the controversy and furor that would ensue if audiologists tried to impose audiology-specific undergraduate course requirements for entry into a master’s degree program in speech pathology?
It’s past time for the development of a reasonably consistent “pre-audiology curriculum” for all doctor of audiology programs in the United States. Consider for a moment the impact of this new admissions approach on expanding the pool of undergraduate students from which audiology students are selected, on the diversity of audiology backgrounds, and perhaps on the quality of audiology services.