The Benefits of Specialty Certification

One practice owner boosts her career and her practice with a specialty certification in pediatric audiology

I have been an audiologist for much longer than I care to admit, and started out as a “jack of all trades”– seeing patients of all ages, providing a variety of diagnostic services, and fitting hearing aids to primarily adult patients. Early in my career, I developed a strong interest in working with children with hearing loss and their families. While I had some opportunities to provide this service over the years, I did not begin to exclusively see children until a job change in 2005 led me to an exclusively pediatric position. I was excited for this change as my passion and desire to become a pediatric audiologist had blossomed significantly, and my caseload had shifted in this direction naturally over time along with my interests.

This job change placed me in a university setting where I was not only providing pediatric audiology services, but teaching AuD students to provide best practice services and interventions. It became clear that “pediatric audiology” meant different things to different providers. We worked hard as a faculty to impart the need to adhere to guidelines published by our professional organizations, but our students would report that these procedures were not consistent across their clinical placements and 4th year sites. In addition, we had the task of teaching our students that good pediatric audiology was not strictly about audiology. We function as case managers, make referrals to other healthcare providers, help parents deal with their emotions when their child is diagnosed, advocate for educational services for our patients, help families find funding for devices … the list is endless.

The scope of knowledge that is required to care for kids with hearing loss is immense. As I branched out and ultimately started a non-profit pediatric audiology practice on my own, the need for quality audiology services for children remained apparent. Kids are not little adults, and the skill set required to take care of their hearing needs is completely different. Until recently, there was no mechanism in place to ensure that providers have the knowledge to take care of this very special population.

In 2011, the American Board of Audiology introduced the Pediatric Audiology Specialty Certification, or the PASC. This came on the heels of a successful implementation of a specialty certification for cochlear implants. I was pleased that a group of experts in pediatric audiology had come together to develop a standard for what pediatric audiologists need to know, and contemplated taking the exam for a couple of years. I wanted a way to measure my own knowledge, and take a look at areas where I could improve. I finally decided to apply for the examination in 2013, and I’m happy to say that I passed! That said, the examination was more challenging that I expected. I did have to take some time to prepare by reviewing information from study materials suggested by the American Board of Audiology. For example, one area that I had to study and review a bit was classroom acoustics – as a clinic-based audiologist, I haven’t had to apply this information recently. I would encourage anyone taking the examination to use the list of suggested study materials and review the information, as all the listed areas are represented on the test.

I have always prided myself on maintaining current knowledge and providing top quality services, and now there is a mechanism in place to demonstrate my commitment to providing the best possible care for my patients. In addition to completing specific continuing education requirements in pediatric audiology and ethics, I will also have to recertify every nine years by retaking an exam that has been updated to reflect changes in best practice guidelines.

I took the exam initially as a yardstick to measure my own performance. However, I have been surprised at how well the PASC has been received in the medical community and among families of children needing services. My practice notified all local pediatricians, as well as other providers, about my new certification. We have gotten positive feedback from many referral sources, and gained some new ones in the process. Simply put, pediatricians and other referring providers want to ensure that their patients are receiving the best possible care from the most qualified professional. Other healthcare providers have a clear understanding of the rigor that is required to prepare for and pass a specialty certification exam, and having this certification has had an impact on referral patterns.

Our families are excited as well – they understand that when they walk into this office, they can expect to receive the highest standard of care. Some of our families even reported that they saw our PASC announcement posted at other healthcare offices! They are excited and proud that they are receiving services from a provider that has taken that extra step to demonstrate their knowledge, and commit to ongoing education. One other thing that we have learned is this: families of kids with hearing loss talk to each other. Word has gotten out about the certification, and it has already proven to be an asset for the practice.

The PASC demonstrates a commitment to excellence in pediatric audiology. I would encourage any audiologist that is committed to serving children to apply and sit for the examination. After taking the exam, you will receive a score report that outlines your performance in the following areas: Laws and Regulations, Hearing and Hearing loss, Child Development, Screening and Assessment Procedures, Counseling, Communication Enhancement Technology, and Habilitation/Rehabilitation Strategies. Even if you pass the examination, you will have an understanding of areas of relative “weakness” – which is a great professional development tool. I’m so excited to be the first recipient of the PASC in the state of Kentucky, and hope that my colleagues in pediatric audiology across the country will follow suit!

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