Pathways to Audiology is an interview series that highlights unconventional paths to becoming an audiologist and individual journeys from where they started to where they are now.
Dr. Joshua Huppert started as an actor in musical theatre, went on to get his master’s in Speech-Language Pathology, and found his fascination with audiology in the few classes he had about it in graduate school. Here is his journey to audiology:
Describe your title, where you got your AuD, and where you currently are in the field of audiology:
I obtained my AuD from Pacific University in Hillsboro, OR (just outside of Portland). Currently, I’m a Pediatric Audiologist, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, and Balance Team Lead at the University of Miami Ear Institute. I do pediatric diagnostics (behavioral testing, sleep and sedated ABRs), pediatric traditional and bone-anchored (non-surgical and surgical) amplification, and balance across the lifespan (pediatric and adult).
What was your undergraduate degree in?
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Musical Theatre.
Wow, that is quite a different major than what one would associate with audiology. Describe your first exposure to audiology?
At the time (2012), I was in my first semester as a post-bacc student in speech-language pathology, and enrolled in a course called “Introduction to Communication Disorders.” The course was dually-taught by a speech-language pathologist and an audiologist.
I remember being beyond enamored with audiology, but I had to be careful about how obvious/vocal I was about this given how much the speech-language pathology students dreaded the topic. This was challenging for me, because, at least at that time, no one else in my post-bacc group was even remotely interested in audiology.
I found the ear absolutely fascinating. These complex labyrinths of fluid with tiny, delicate structures all responsible for helping individuals communicate and interact with the world around them and maintain equilibrium — it floored me.
Because I soon came to realize how minimal the audiology coursework was within the post-bacc curriculum, I ended up reaching out to local audiologists to see if they might be open to having a student shadow them in an effort to get a better idea of what a day in the life of an audiologist might be like. It wasn’t long before I connected with Susan Sacks, MA, an audiologist with her own practice. Little did I know that Susan would not only become one of my most endeared mentors but also a close friend.
I shadowed Susan two-three times per week and fell even deeper in love with audiology. What began with me being a fly on the wall soon transitioned into me testing, helping with amplification, counseling, etc. After about two months working with her, I knew that I couldn’t push forward with speech — the ear is where I belonged.
Where were you before you decided to enter into the world of audiology?
Interestingly enough, I was a musical theatre actor. I had just closed a production of High School Musical at Drury Lane in Oakbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where I played Ryan.
What made you want to switch from the SLP track to audiology?
Prior to the start of my next semester, I decided that it was time to have a heart to heart with my guidance counselor about my newly-found passion for audiology, and further, what options there might be to switch my post-bacc coursework to focus on audiology.
I was surprised to learn that the coursework was actually less, as a majority of the coursework for audiology was taught in the graduate coursework. That said, in making the switch, I would have completed all coursework required to apply to most programs that year, and therefore could apply for graduate school that spring with the aim of beginning a program the following year.
As you can imagine, I was both thrilled and terrified, but it was at that point that I made the switch. Thankfully, the transition was easy and my professors at the time were beyond accommodating, allowing me to focus on assignments, projects, and required clinic observation on audiology instead of speech. That said, I felt like I had the opportunity to really explore audiology throughout my remaining coursework, which, as I’ve come to understand, is not the case for many others who went this route.
In your opinion what is the most fascinating thing about audiology?
The vestibular system, hands down. From day one, I was HOOKED. I went home after the ten-minute lecture on the vestibular system taught during my “Introduction to Communication Disorders” class and bought EVERY book I could find on the vestibular system and read them all multiple times. I began pulling journal articles (most of which I didn’t understand in the slightest at the time) and contacting the authors to chat more about their work. I attempted to create my own kitchen-made models of how the fluid dynamics of the system might work in a typical and insulted system. I talked about the topic to my friends ad nauseam until, much to their dismay, they, too, knew more about balance than the average person. Without a doubt, I knew that I would focus on this sub-specialty area of audiology and low and behold, I did just that and in pediatrics nonetheless…haha.
What is some advice you can give to someone contemplating going into audiology?
- Do your research and make every attempt you can to fully understand the profession, its practice, and what your future might look like as an audiologist, particularly considering how little exposure to audiology you’ll get in most post-bacc programs.
- I would strongly suggest you consider taking additional coursework in anatomy and physiology, math, science (particularly organic chemistry), communications, and finance. Pursue any opportunity you can to be involved in multidisciplinary approaches to medicine/patient care.
- Be smart about money and know what you’re getting into — this is a BIG one. The disparity in what you pay for your AuD versus what you will make is alarming, particularly if you’re aiming to go the clinical route. Meet with financial aid regularly, particularly if you don’t have familial support with the costs of your education, and apply for any and every scholarship available.
- Lastly, while it’s important that you are trained across the scope of audiologic practice, don’t be afraid to find your niche and get lost in it. I was cautioned by many to not fall too deeply in balance, particularly into pediatric balance, as being “too specialized” would make it challenging for me to get a job; however, in many ways, my specialization in pediatric vestibular has helped to craft my professional reputation, made me think deeper about my professional trajectory, and served as a catalyst for me to speak at national and soon-to-be international conferences. That said, trust your gut, follow your heart, feed your mind, and most importantly, breathe. -You got this! 🙂
Lastly, are you planning on going to AAA 2020 + HearTECH Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana?
Likely! I’m not 100% sure at this point, but I will likely be there!
This interview was completed by Conner Jansen, a first year AuD student at the University of Texas – Dallas. Conner is a member of the SAA Communications Committee.
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