This letter refers to a recent article in Audiology Today (May/June 2018), “Together We Can Do So Much: A Challenge to All Academy Members,” by Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD. 


First, the article describes the “motivation, foresight, and raw determination” by audiologists in forming a new organization, the American Academy of Audiology (Academy). Yes, the reference to Richard Talbot, PhD, and James Hall III, PhD, in discussing the excitement and interest generated by the ASHA session of 30 years ago was accurate. 

By contrast, Dr. Sydlowski makes the statement later in her article indicating that “many Academy members may lack appreciation of the continued importance of their role in advancing the profession.” However, no evidence is given for this statement. Prior to this, the writer made another reference to the beginnings of the Academy and the “necessity of personally pounding the pavement to make it happen.” 

Feature Spread in Audiology Today (May/June 2018)It is possible that newly graduated audiologists do not have knowledge or an appreciation of the founding of the Academy. It does not follow, however, that the same type of energy, drive, and determination is not present in Academy members. 

Another statement that caught my attention was as follows: “Dues are paid and members expect that their monetary contributions are enough for the organization to take up arms and defeat any challenges that come along.” 

Another comment expressing a similar opinion was the following: “While the passion for issues facing audiology today has presumably not diminished, the enthusiasm has not coalesced into the productive energy that catapulted the Academy into being.” The author provided no basis or evidence for such a description of Academy members. 

Finally, the writer states: “In the absence of everyone contributing the same level of enthusiasm, dedication, and personal sacrifice of time and energy so many gave to create this Academy, efforts to increase public awareness and sustain the profession of audiology will fall short.” My comment again is what evidence does the author give to support this conclusion? In my view, most Academy members are active, concerned, and involved in their profession; I am unaware of any evidence suggesting otherwise.  

Edwin L. Harless, PhD
Clemmons, North Carolina


Response from the Author

Thank you, Dr. Harless, for your response to my article, “Together We Can Do So Much: A Challenge to All Academy Members” published in Audiology Today (May/June 2018). I appreciate your concerns regarding my challenge that audiologists could be, and should be, doing more for our profession and our Academy. 

You’re right, many Academy members are “active, concerned, and involved in their profession.” I don’t for a moment suggest that audiologists aren’t engaged in their chosen profession and actively concerned with achieving personal and professional success in that profession for themselves and their patients. 

But I offered in my article the opinion that we could, and should, be doing more and working together to have a stronger impact. Membership in an organization does not absolve us of personal obligation to contribute beyond our dues.   

In any organization, there is a life cycle. There is the start-up, or inception, where engagement and excitement are high. The dedication and pride of our founders and early members as evidenced by the fact that any one of them can proudly tell you their Academy member number and what a revolution starting this organization represented at the time. 

The second phase is growth. During this phase, the Academy focused on strengthening its internal system, developing policies and procedures, accumulating resources, and better defining goals. Membership grew to more than 12,000, representing perhaps as much as 75 percent of licensed audiologists1 in the United States who identified the American Academy of Audiology as their professional home. 

The third phase of an organization is maturity, where the focus shifts to sustaining momentum, developing long-term planning, and becoming a steady fixture in the lives of members. With 30 years of history, the Academy has certainly achieved that maturity. 

This is also a phase often marked by complacency. At this point, the vast majority of the Academy’s members never knew a time when the Academy didn’t exist. To some extent, we may take for granted the publications, meeting resources, advocacy representation, and historical knowledge that membership in the Academy affords us. For many of us, we have never known professional life without the understanding that our interests are being represented at a higher level than we can reach as individuals.  

What we may not always realize is that the Academy, the business itself, is not large. It is a 34-person staff with a couple hundred audiologist volunteers. 

Is the Academy effective in its mission to provide quality hearing care services through professional development, education, research, and increased public awareness of hearing and balance disorders? Absolutely. 

Do the efforts of its volunteers make a difference in the lives of members? You bet. 

My challenge to us all is to imagine the further possibilities if we multiplied those efforts. 1.95 percent of members currently volunteer for the Academy. Donations to the American Academy of Audiology Foundation represent less than $2.50 per member annually. Some Academy members may believe that the contributions of one person may not matter. But how much more could we achieve if each of us gave a little more of our own resources? Or if not more, if we coordinated those resources toward one common goal for the profession?

After the maturity phase, organizations ideally enter a cyclical pattern of revitalization and renewal. The continued growth and development of an organization, or even a profession, is almost entirely dependent on the effort that is invested in it. To me, the life cycle of the Academy is intertwined tightly with the life cycle of the profession of audiology itself. 

Both are facing a key crossroad right now, marked by the lack of understanding of the term “audiologist” by the public, the introduction of OTC hearing aids (which is challenging us to define and defend our value to patients), and the business reality that we are not reimbursed commensurate with our expertise and the services we provide. 

The greatest asset our organization and our profession have are the people in them and the resources we are willing to donate. For each of us, those resources may be different. Some of us have the ability to give our time to structured volunteer leadership roles. Many of us could use the public awareness resources provided by the Academy to promote our profession to the community. Some of us may be able to provide financial support for grants and other programming through the Academy. Many of us already do these things…and I genuinely appreciate the commitment and effort of everyone who does their part to advance the interests of audiologists. 

But I don’t withdraw my challenge. Let’s do more. Let’s do better. Let’s reach further. 

Academy past president Jackie Clark, PhD, recently ended her term by paraphrasing U.S. President John Kennedy and challenging members to “ask not what your Academy can do for you, ask what you can do for your Academy.” 

It is imperative that we all ask what we can do together to improve reimbursement, increase visibility and awareness of audiology by the public, and revitalize our profession and our professional home.  

Respectfully, 

Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD
Cleveland, Ohio


Endnote

1Windmill IM, Freeman BA. (2013) Demand for Audiology Services: 30 Year Projections and Impact on Academic Programs. J Amer Acad Audiol 24:407–416.

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