Audiology at the New York Otolaryngology Group (feat. Kathleen Wallace)
Alumni Aloud Episode 56
Kathleen Wallace earned her AuD in Audiology from the Graduate Center. She is now a clinical audiologist at the New York Otolaryngology Group and an adjunct assistant professor at the Graduate Center.
In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Kathleen shares what it’s like to work in a clinical field. She also talks about the importance of networking and the many career paths audiology graduates might take.
Listen to the episode below, download it, or stream it in Apple Podcasts (or your preferred podcast player).
VOICE OVER: This is Alumni Aloud, a podcast by Graduate Center students for Graduate Center students. In each episode we talk with a GC graduate about their career path, the ins and outs of their current position, and the career advice they have for students. This series is sponsored by the Graduate Center’s Office of Career Planning & Professional Development.
SARAH HILDEBRAND, HOST: I’m Sarah Hildebrand. I’m a PhD candidate in English at the Graduate Center, and a fellow in the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development. In this episode of Alumni Aloud, I interviewed Kathleen Wallace, who graduated from our AuD program in Audiology and is now both a Clinical Audiologist at the New York Otolaryngology Group and an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Graduate Center. She’s going to be talking to us about her professional journey, the state of the field in audiology and the many career paths that audiology graduates might take.
So Kathleen, if you wouldn’t mind I’d kind of like to start all the way at the beginning with your educational journey because I noticed that you have a BA in Music and I was wondering if you could talk about how you decided that you wanted to become a practitioner in audiology?
KATHLEEN WALLACE, GUEST: Sure. So I was in college and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to major in but certainly I’ve always been a musician. Music’s always been very important to me. So I ended up majoring in music, trombone performance and composition as a focus. And it’s just one of those careers where it’s hard to make it after you graduate. And I didn’t really have a future direction that I wanted to go. So when I was thinking practically after I left college, I thought about you know what I really like. I like music, I like sound, I like people, I like science. And it led me towards communication disorders, which is the general umbrella for audiology and speech-language pathology. And initially being more familiar with speech-language pathology both because it’s a larger profession and also I had personal experience going to a speech pathologist when I was younger.
So that was the initial vision and then in the coursework, audiology really jumped out to me because of that music connection, the understanding of acoustics, and how sound works. So that led me towards audiology and absolutely the right call. It’s a wonderful blend of hard science of you the physics, the acoustics of sound, and then the people skills necessary to actually make a connection with people, understand the psychology of how people are thinking, how people would view any sort of hearing handicap or hearing impairment. And it seems like a, certainly it’s a growing field and a promising field.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, as it should be, it sounds really important! So once you got to grad school, what were you interested in researching?
WALLACE: My initial perception of audiology, which is probably accurate for a lot of other audiologists or even people outside the field of audiology, would be…you see those YouTube videos of people, of babies getting their cochlear implants getting turned on for the first time. The tear-jerking videos. So that is one end and I knew that wasn’t my end. As beautiful as those videos are, certainly the pediatrics is not my angle. But geriatrics. I’ve always loved old people. I was always very close with my grandparents, one of my…my grandmother in particular. And I knew I wanted to do something with healthy aging. And how hearing loss is so prominent, you know, it gets up to about 75% of the population 70 and over have hearing loss. So prevalent and so debilitating if left untreated in those older adults.
So that’s what I thought I would want to do. And that’s still throughout my coursework was a major focus of mine. I loved geriatric audiology, I loved healthy aging. But what I ended up actually doing my research on was on third party disability. Which essentially is how your hearing loss doesn’t just affect you but it affects your communication partners. Whether it is your spouse, your friends, a parent, a child if you’re an adult child. And how treatment for hearing loss, whether it’s hearing implants, cochlear implants, Baha’s, oral rehabilitation. How that will also mitigate the effects of hearing loss even in the person that doesn’t have hearing loss because communication is a two-way street. And if one side is broken down, it will impact both parties.
HILDEBRAND: Right, that’s great. So it sounds like you had a few different interests going into the program. Did you always know that you wanted to be an audiologist or were you kind of entertaining other careers at the same time?
WALLACE: Once I took the coursework in the…I did a post-bac program between my Bachelor’s and applying for grad schools, which is common for a lot of, you know to get the proper pre-req’s for the program. So once I took that I knew that audiology was it. It definitely seemed to make a lot of sense for me. I think there’s certainly similar professions. If you’re looking at what is on par with audiologists. People definitely do consider speech pathology like I did. Physical therapy, optometry, chiropractor, these parallel clinical doctorate levels I think is a very common niche to look into.
HILDEBRAND: Are there other places you think they could be looking?
WALLACE: Yeah, I think anything music-based for sure. I do think it’s surprising that there’s not already a lot of overlap between music and audiology. Surprising there’s not a lot of that between engineering and audiology. Because it really is all about sound and then when you’re getting into the nitty gritty of hearing aids, you need to have…it would be very useful to have a strong understanding of how systems work like through an engineering lens. I think if we got more people from different backgrounds it would help expand the field. So people that come from a psychology background would certainly bring something different. An education background, even you know nursing or even a more pre-med track. I think that would also be helpful.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, the more inter-disciplinary we can be, the more we can harness our collective knowledge.
WALLACE: Exactly, exactly.
HILDEBRAND: So once you graduated, what was your job search process like? Did you kind of have a place in mind right away? Or were you kind of job hunting around?
WALLACE: So, perhaps the best part about the CUNY Grad Center, is they have an extremely strong presence in New York City. So all of my clinical rotations, so you know, from your second year of the program through, through the end you’re doing clinical rotations. And almost every single rotation had a CUNY alum that was either my direct supervisor or worked at that facility. So when you’re coming out of the program, you have just by when they see CUNY on your resume, you have a network of people that know exactly what kind of training you got as a clinician. And you know, from just a scholarly perspective of how much you know from your, your classroom studies. And that really holds a lot of weight in, in New York City.
So I was fortunate enough that my residency or the equivalent of a residency was…I did it at Mount Sinai Hospital with two CUNY alum’s, three CUNY alum’s actually. And while I was still doing that, they connected me with someone they knew that would be hiring. And I ended up landing a position by the time I graduated. Which is certainly not always the course for people but audiology…it is a high-demand profession and still relatively small so I believe my entire cohort had a job within two months of graduating. And certainly, most of us ended up staying in the city. So that CUNY alum network is just growing. Yeah.
HILDEBRAND: Wow, that’s amazing. I wish all of us students found jobs that quickly.
WALLACE: Yes, yeah.
HILDEBRAND: What you’re talking about with that network, I think that’s the key part. Because most jobs are obtained through networking. So we’re always really encouraging our students to tap into that alumni network. And it sounds like that’s why a lot of those students are able to be so successful. Because they’re talking to each other. And there’s that also brand recognition of the CUNY name. People know what it means. Was there any other networking you did to get your specific job? It sounds like you were introduced to someone by someone else. Were you involved in other kinds of networking activities?
WALLACE: So a big thing to do for any prospective audiologist is to go to the national conventions to try and stay active. And you know CUNY, again, they make it pretty easy. They give you a stipend to do so. So I went to the American Academy of Audiology convention every year when I was in grad school. So certainly that deepens your network. Some of the hearing aid manufacturers also put on, essentially, you know, student training camps. So I had the opportunity to go to some of those. Because it is such a small community there are certainly a lot of opportunities and the CUNY staff has a pretty…the whole faculty, both clinical and classroom. They have a very good pulse on what’s going on and always make sure to keep the door open of what they’re hearing and make sure everyone knows about what opportunities are out there.
So certainly the national conventions helped a lot. And American Academy of Audiology has some great resources with places to post your resume, resume editing sites where my resume was sent to an audiologist in Michigan who gave me feedback on it before I even applied for jobs. So certainly, there is a little bit of audiology looking out for their own because we know we need to keep pushing the, the profession forward. So I think a lot of people do look at the students to sort of make sure they’re taken care and they have the resources they need. Which is a great, that’s a great aspect of the profession.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah it’s great that you have that tight-knit network that’s willing to help each other out. Were there any other things that you did in grad school that you helped boost your resume for the job?
WALLACE: I definitely…I tried to always, in general, as I’m still building my career, I try to say yes to as many opportunities I can. So in grad school, certainly if an opportunity came up to help at a private practice, just on a volunteer basis, I did that. If someone needed help with their research, being a subject or help edit something, I tried to do that. I tried to do a lot of little things, I can’t think of anything massive that I did. But it was really just showing, continuously showing, that I was highly motivated and driven that I, I really took this seriously you know. I really wanted to portray that this is my career very intentionally. And that I am going to work pretty hard at getting where I want to be. And I’m still working to get there. *laughs*
HILDEBRAND: *laughs* Where do you want to be?
WALLACE: So, a lot of things. I think that there’s, one of the most appealing parts of audiology is that there’s so much work that needs to be done in the field. It’s sort of a relatively young profession. It didn’t come about until after World War II, after veterans returned with a ton of noise-induced hearing loss. That’s really when people started paying attention to it. It was originally a Master’s and it transitioned to an AuD, the doctorate of audiology, about twenty years ago give or take. And it has really evolved but certainly, in some aspects, it’s pretty stagnant since the 40’s and 50’s. And when you’re dealing with noise and when you’re dealing with sound quality, it is a very tech-driven field. So of course it needs to evolve. So with that in mind, I’ve always thought that in audiology, there’s a lot of pushing of the envelope that could be done.
So I would like to keep challenging what the status quo in audiology is, to see where we can go and how much improvement we can make. Both by improving peoples’ knowledge of what an audiologist is within healthcare and within, talking about the general public. And then within how people view their hearing loss and how important that is. And also then just the standards that audiologists hold themselves accountable and how we’re actually delivering care. So I’m not sure exactly what the future will look like for me but certainly, I’m sure that will continue to be the driving force of innovation and trying to think of how we can keep improving ourselves.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, those are great goals! And some of the interests that I had been really intrigued about you having with public health and patient advocacy and some of these issues that are within the field that people do need to be working on and developing. So I’m wondering kind of in your day-to-day job, how do you help reach towards those goals?
WALLACE: So clinically, it definitely depends on the setting you’re working in with how you’re delivering care and what sort of framework you’re working within. So I’m in, certainly the more medical end of the spectrum of audiology. So my current job is at the New York Otolaryngology Group where…that is a practice that’s owned by Northwell of six ENT’s and six audiologists. So I’m working within that framework. I’d probably be doing different things if I were within a private practice or if I were on the tech side of it working for a manufacturer or start-up or in a school. Those would all be very different situations. So within my care, because I’m getting a lot of patient interactions with people that might not be coming in primarily for hearing loss. They’re coming in for another ear, nose and throat issue, it’s a lot of patient education. It’s taking the time, when they do see you for that hearing test, conveying why it would be important for them to get a hearing test and what these results really mean. And how you don’t just have to accept that your hearing loss is declining as you get older. Yes, it’s more common as you age but that doesn’t mean that you just don’t do anything about if you’re having difficulties, it is a priority.
So that is certainly one part of it, is trying to educate patients of why their hearing matters. And then the other interesting aspect that we see sometimes is that people don’t know where to go to get their hearing evaluated. They don’t know what profession that is. So they make an appointment with an ENT specifically because it’s ear, nose and throat, they think, “Ear, ok, we’re going to go…I’m going to go there for hearing loss.” Not realizing that ENT’s don’t conduct audiological evaluations, they don’t do hearing tests. That’s actually an audiologist. So then there’s an opportunity for patient education as well of getting them to associate hearing loss, balance issues. That’s, that’s audiology realm. So it’s sometimes challenging because there’s a big barrier to break down for people to understand why these things are important. But it’s also a ton of opportunity to sort of make change on a micro-level with each of these people individually.
And then we also have the opportunity to actually create care plans and dispense hearing aids and to actually see the effects of hearing aids and when it opens up opportunities in peoples’ lives, when it eases communication. Those are some great moments at work.
HILDEBRAND: That’s great. And I did notice that you work in a few different health environments. You’ve worked in medical centers, you’ve worked at hospitals. Are there any major differences between doing your job in those different settings? And I know you mentioned private practice too, even though I know you don’t have one yet. But, what’s kind of been the difference in those roles?
WALLACE: So, yeah, that’s something I don’t think a lot of people realize, is audiologists think sometimes in a narrow framework of becoming an audiologist means hearing aids and hearing tests. So they think that it’s about hearing aids and hearing tests. But if you’re in a private practice, you can specialize in tinnitus, you can specialize in auditory rehab. So oral rehabilitation of more of like the training side of getting people to decipher what they’re hearing. You can do just balance testing, you can do just hearing aids, you can do a cross of any of these things, you could do pediatrics, you could do geriatrics. There’s a lot of different specialties. Private practice is good because it gives you all the flexibility to really deliver as much of your scope of practice as you’d like. The downside obviously is that you are creating that entire infrastructure, you’re not working within a bigger hospital system. So you’re also the HR person and the billing person and you’re doing everything. And that can certainly be daunting, and getting referral sources.
Being on the medical side of it, whether it’s in an ENT practice or in a hospital itself, is interesting because you have the opportunity of multidisciplinary teams forming. So that again would depend on how the hospital is structured but certainly ENT and audiology is a very close relationship. They’re really close to separate. But when you’re looking at other aspects that we deal with, you often see an overlap with physical therapy and optometry because those also have a giant role in balance disorders. So those are certainly players. Geriatrics, gerontology, absolutely. And then if you’re working with different populations, then maybe you’re overlapping with a podiatrist because people, older people are more likely to have hearing aids and they’re more likely to have feet issues. So it’s interesting how this network can be created of referring to each other.
If you work in a school, that’s going to be completely different. You are very tech-oriented and you’re dealing with trouble-shooting hearing aids, making sure FM systems are working, dealing with the acoustics of classrooms, monitoring kids’ hearing loss, which is complicated in and of itself. Doing a lot of paperwork to make sure that things are covered by insurance and that services are provided. Writing IEP’s. So it really can change tremendously based off of where you’re working.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah that’s interesting. So there are actually a number of different paths that someone who studies audiology can take besides what everyone kind of assumes they do.
WALLACE: Exactly. And then you could also not have any patient contact at all. There are plenty of audiologists out there that then either create their own business of doing something more on the tech side of things, like a start-up for instance. Or become a consultant. Forensic audiologists are things. Expert witnesses. There are things that you can do where you’re not even ever touching a patient. Which is absolutely something that people don’t initially think of and those are not the jobs I’m sure that would be the first job out of grad school. That might be a job that you steer into you know ten years down the road. Or you know working for a manufacturer would be another example of that. But it’s nice to know that, that there are options down the road. Because sometimes the clinical demand can, it can wear people down. It’s tough to work with the general public sometimes. And it can be tiring to do so day in and day out. And often the trajectory seems to be that people will eventually transition out of clinical work. But that doesn’t mean your career is over. There are plenty of other avenues to go down.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, of course. But yeah it makes sense that there would be some burn-out that you need to find a way around. But at least there are these other options where you can stick in your wheelhouse if you’re still passionate about audiology, you can just shift into a different gear. So on your job now, do you still have the opportunity to conduct any research?
WALLACE: I haven’t yet, but it is something I’ve been thinking about, particularly during COVID. So I do think there’s plenty of possibilities for research, particularly because of our close relationship with the ENT’s. So I think there could be some really interesting studies that are developed. Future areas that I’m also interested in researching is not necessarily the clinical nitty gritty side of things, but more looking…zooming out and looking at big-picture professional issues of, “Is there a disconnect between what students think audiology is and what the profession actually is?” How satisfied are people with their career choice?
Audiology, so my story of getting into audiology isn’t that unique where I initially thought I was going to be a speech-language pathologist and then I pivoted and became an audiologist. And essentially, I made that decision off of two classes, which is a big leap. And it absolutely worked out for me, but that is a big ask and I don’t know if we’re preparing students well enough to make that decision. So my concern is that maybe people are getting into the field of audiology without a full understanding of what it actually is just because these communication disorders programs are so skewed towards speech. And then if you don’t…it’s more of like, for some people, “Well I know I don’t like that, so I should just do audiology.” And they’re not thinking about, “I like audiology, I want to do it.” It’s not necessarily a proactive decision. So there’s I think a lot of clinical, there’s a lot of research questions to explore in there. Those are in the pipeline, but are not in motion yet.
HILDEBRAND: It’ll happen eventually. It sounds like there’s good opportunities for collaboration where you’re at where you can make that kind of come into play. Are there other things that you do to make sure you stay at the top of your field?
WALLACE: I, I like to stay up to date with as many publications as I can. And there are some great resources. You know I encourage audiology students to read the Hearing Journal, Hearing Review, American Academy of Audiology. Be a member of that, be a member of ASHA, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. There are some great publications that are putting out wonderful material. I also do intend to go to these national conventions every year when COVID does not cancel them. And that is certainly a great way to stay you know on top of things and stay sharp because it’s a clinical field, things are changing rapidly. So you really need to stay up to date with continuing education. And making sure that you’re still providing the best care and the most up to date care.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, it really never ends. You’re always going to be learning something new.
HILDEBRAND: And the field is constantly evolving so there’s always something to be working towards or researching yourself. But I think one thing that we haven’t talked about yet is that you are also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the GC.
WALLACE: I am.
HILDEBRAND: So I was sort of wondering what that’s like, what your teaching commitments are, what your workload is like?
WALLACE: So this is my second year doing it. I’m teaching anatomy and physiology of the auditory and vestibular systems. It is a class that first year students take in their fall so I’m right at the very beginning of their AuD experience. And it is certainly a whole lot of material to cover. That is a huge foundation to set for the rest of the program. I had a ton of help with preparing for it from Carol Silverman, Dr. Silverman, who was the previous professor who taught this course. Whose still full-time faculty at the Grad Center, so she has been very helpful. And she was my…she was my advisor when I was in the AuD program. So it’s been a really fun experience.
That certainly keeps me on my toes too, to just really brush up on everything anatomy and physiology that I might not be using on a daily basis in clinic. And then certainly Zoom is adding a whole other curve ball of how to translate this online. So I’ve had two classes so far, I’m sure I’ll just keep learning and evolving through that too. But it’s been really fun to connect back with the AuD program and I think that…I hope it’s meaningful to the students to see an alum teaching them and knowing, again back to that alumni network, knowing that they already have a connection to someone that’s outside the program.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah and I’m sure they love hearing from someone who hasn’t been through the program that long ago so you really know what the state of the field is like now and what it’s like to go on the job search now. Which is good information for all of our students to have.
WALLACE: Yup absolutely. And a lot of our faculty are PhD’s. Not all of them are actively in clinics so I and some of the other adjuncts who are currently in a clinical position, I think really helps the students here. Like what would there day actually look like and realistically what is audiology? Getting back to just those realistic expectations of yes, there’s a whole lot of information you have to learn in the classroom but you also should be very well informed of what a day actually looks like. And how we translate all of that knowledge into like a…how we simplify it into something that’s actually digestible by the common patient, who might not have any understanding of the auditory-vestibular system. Free of jargon and that takes a lot of knowledge, to be able to sort of simplify it and convey it in a way that people will understand.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah I mean that’s its own skills, communication. And I’m sure while you were in grad school you picked up a lot of transferrable skills that you didn’t realize would be so important once you left. What do you think are some of those skills that help you be successful in your career besides of just like the knowledge base that you have?
WALLACE: I think it was, it was great for a lot of ways. So, CUNY I think a lot of people in my cohort feel like we developed independence pretty early. We really, there is…I think this is a good thing…there’s not a ton of hand holding. Which it, you know, it makes you really grow up and be accountable and makes you really treat this like your future career. And if you don’t want to be there, then you shouldn’t be there. So there’s certainly a level of investment that is, that’s ingrained in you really from the beginning. Where no one’s really going to stay on top of you about things, this is on you and if you want it, you’ll make it happen. So I think that’s great. I think also ways of thinking were also engrained. So Barbara Weinstein, Dr. Weinstein, another one of the big professors, full-time faculty members at the Grad Center, has had a ton of research. A very, very impressive career, and she has always pushed us all to think critically and to always think about how we could change things. And do things differently and do things better. Not necessarily disrupt audiology but aide in its evolution. So I think that that was also a wonderful skill to develop. Of, just because things have always been done this way doesn’t mean that’s how we should do them.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, sounds like you’re really being trained to become innovators which again is going to open up all those different career paths because you’re forging, you know, new ground for audiology.
HILDEBRAND: Looking at what needs to be happening next so that’s great. So this has all been great, you’ve covered so much good stuff for us here. Usually as a final question we like to ask if you have any advice for current students, whether they’re in audiology or in grad school at large. Is there anything that you would tell them to do now while they’re still in grad school or anything you wish you had known at the time?
WALLACE: Oh that’s a good question. Well certainly audiology specifically—stay involved, always do…try to do more. Get outside of the classroom. Try to get your hands dirty a little bit in the field. And really try to get some experience while you’re still in school. For grad students in general, keep developing those time management skills. That is absolutely crucial. Be proactive, be responsible and take advantage of the faculty. Because they will be great resources for you and if you put in the time to make those connections, certainly that will…that will take you pretty far.
HILDEBRAND: Are there any ways you found helped you make those connections even outside of academia?
WALLACE: I loved LinkedIn! I love to post on LinkedIn, you know, I connect with people even if I’ve never met them before. And it is amazing what opportunities it opens for you. That’s how this came about, I’ve gotten other opportunities strictly through LinkedIn. And it has a ton of power and a lot of people in my field at least don’t use it. So if you do use it, you really stick out. It doesn’t take much for you get on, you know, the top ten for #audiology posts. So it’s…you have…it can’t hurt you, you know. It feels uncomfortable to put yourself out there in the beginning but definitely you can get a whole lot back.
HILDEBRAND: And well Kathleen, thank you so much for sharing all this with us. It was super interesting to hear about all your work and I just want to thank you for coming in!
WALLACE: Thank you, thanks for having me.
HILDEBRAND, VOICE-OVER: Thanks again to Kathleen for coming in and giving us lots of tips on working in the field of audiology. The Office of Career Planning & Professional Development can help you decide what career path is right for you. Find a list of our upcoming events or make an appointment to speak with one of our career advisors at cuny.is/careerplan. You can also follow us on Twitter, @CareerPlanGC. Thanks for listening.
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