“Becoming a _____ Audiologist” is a continuation of the “So You Want to Be a _____ Audiologist” Interview series, and is dedicated to informing students of the vastness of audiology and how they can become the audiologist they never knew they wanted to be.
Dr. George Whitaker is a medical audiologist at the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center/Clinic in Temple, TX. Dr. Whitaker has been a medical-based audiologist for 11 years.
Q: Where did you receive your bachelor’s and AuD?
A: I first graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of North Texas (UNT). I went on to earn my AuD from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Q: What made you want to become an audiologist?
A: Well, audiology starts with “A”. Backstory, when I was in high school I was a slacker with no real good plan about what to do after graduation. I knew that I was going to college at UNT but had no career goals. The school’s guidance counselor gave me a website to check out from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It had information on every job/career you could think of, listed in alphabetical order. I read down the long list but only got as far as “A” when I saw a word I didn’t know, “audiology”. The description included related jobs such as speech pathologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and more. I checked them out and thought that helping people speak was a noble career choice. UNT had a Speech Pathology and Audiology program and that was it. I quickly hated speech and was about to change my major until I took the Introduction to Audiology class.
Q: More specifically, what made you interested in becoming a medical audiologist?
A: Even in my youth, I knew that I wanted to work in healthcare. I thought that being a doctor would be awesome but I lacked the motivation and self-esteem at the time. I had no desire to go to college for eight years. Joke was on me when I realized that I’d have to go to school forever to become an audiologist. I have always been fascinated by anatomy, physiology, biology, and the medical field – that pushed me to pursue medical-based practicums in graduate school.
Q: What opportunities or classes do you remember from your (under)graduate career that really helped you solidify your interest in medical audiology? What kind of placements would you suggest to a student wanting to go into medical audiology?
A: The undergraduate introductory class played a big role in my decision to keep on the speech pathology/audiology track and pursue a career in audiology. We touched very little on the vestibular portion of the inner ear at that time. During my first class in graduate school, I learned that there was a part of the ear responsible for dizziness and balance; that immediately interested me. Vestibular evaluations directly led me to the medical setting. When I got to my first off-site medical placement, I remember being so impressed with the skills and knowledge of the audiologist there. I loved the whole environment and then asked our clinic coordinator to put me in as many medical placements as she could.
Q: What do you do as a medical audiologist? In other words, what are some daily tasks that you are responsible for?
A: As a hospital-based medical audiologist in a busy ENT clinic with neuro-otologists, I do just about everything. Vestibular assessment and interpretation is my sub-specialty. Two days a week, I perform advanced diagnostics, including videonystagmography (VNG), sinusoidal harmonic acceleration (SHA), auditory brainstem response (ABR), cervical vestibular-evoked myogenic potential (cVEMP), and electrocochleography (ECochG). One and a half days a week I perform audiograms and tympanograms for the ENT clinic. The other day and a half is spent working with cochlear implants and hearing aids. Days can be hectic, but luckily, the audiologists and ENTs have a good relationship. Also, we are independent providers and are responsible for our own caseload. In addition, I am part of the ENT resident education program and teach the ENT residents about audiology and interpreting test results.
Q: Because you work with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and perform vestibular testing, can you tell aspiring students how you manage to keep up with research, best practices, and juggle between so many different aspects of audiology?
A: Short answer is that my brain has to work a million miles an hour. In one day, I could jump from interpreting a VNG to mapping an implant to doing a complicated post-op hearing test. I have to be able to change gears pretty fast. Regarding keeping up with best practices, for me, supervising audiology students and externs is the best way to stay on top of things. Additionally, the audiology profession has continuing education requirements for licensure and/or certification, which requires us to stay informed in order to offer the best care to our patients.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were deciding to become a medical audiologist?
A: I don’t have a good answer for this. Pay attention and do well in all your courses but don’t get overconfident. You’ll quickly understand that book knowledge is great but it’s nothing like the crazy real world. I don’t think anyone can truly understand any healthcare profession until they are in the thick of it.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say or suggest to students considering this field broadly and/or this specialty specifically?
A: I always recommend that students not paint themselves into a corner too soon. Be open to all areas of audiology, as you never know when you will discover your niche. Also, when it comes to your final year externship, choose a placement that will offer a wide range of experiences. You also never know what your first setting as a new audiologist will be.
This interview was completed by Adam Sulaiman, a second-year AuD student at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, NY. Adam is a member of the Communications Committee and his interests in audiology include diagnostics and vestibular audiology.
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