House-passed audiology bill heads to Senate for consideration

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[post_thumbnail] Rep. Brandon Hixon voted in favor of increasing audiology education standards.

It passed the House by an unusually close vote, 37-30. Now a bill increasing the requirements for calling yourself an audiologist heads to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.

House Bill 34 would strike a section in Idaho Code where a master’s degree in audiology would be sufficient to practice audiology in Idaho. The Idaho Speech and Hearing Services Board, which regulates the licensure of audiologists in the state, would be tasked with enforcing any new provision passed by the Legislature.

The bill would also require that any audiologist within the state have a doctorate in the field of audiology from an accredited university recognized by the board.

According to the American Academy of Audiology website, an audiologist is trained in the “audiologic identification, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of individuals with impairment of auditory (hearing) and vestibular (balance) function, prevention of hearing loss …”

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R–Caldwell, was one of the 37 House members who supported bill. “The reason being because they (the board) basically are moving that program from a master’s degree to a Ph.D program in audiology.”

Hixon said he was very concerned about the people who are currently licensed with master’s degrees and how this legislation would impact them. “I had raised the concern as to what’s going to happen to the people who are already licensed in this area and have master’s degrees, and whether this was going to be retroactive.”

He says he was told that those who already have a master’s degree in audiology would be grandfathered in and that they would not need to re-apply to school for a doctorate or risk their licenses. He said that if the board did not grandfather those with master’s degrees, he would have voted against the bill.

Rep. JoAn Wood, R–Rigby, who voted against the legislation, said she thinks that a potential change in the requirements from a master’s degree to a Ph.D is a big deal.
“Particularly since we’re one of the lowest states with access to doctors and specialists of any kind and we’re such a rural state, very rural.”

Wood added that the cost of doctorate program cannot be discounted as well. “I can’t imagine why a doctor would want to come back here, once they got their doctorate, and I’m going to guess the only place they would want to come would be Boise, maybe Coeur d’Alene.” But, “why would they go into a rural area to serve? They won’t.”

She sees this legislation as limiting access to doctors in rural areas, and that the master’s program helps fill a gap in the need for specialists. She is also concerned as to why the universities in Idaho are not offering master’s degrees in audiology. “I can’t imagine why the universities would not offer the master’s program and help us with our need for more medical providers.”

Wood is convinced a master’s degree is sufficient to provide a professional level of service to the state as well as provide in-state professionals. Says Wood: “I think the master’s (program) would allow more people to access a university program offered in our state and those people would be more inclined, I would think, to stay in our state and provide the services to the people.”

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  1. Mary Whitaker

    This bill as written does not allow someone who is already practicing as an audiologist with a master’s degree in audiology to come into Idaho and be licensed. That should be changed before this bill is approved. There are many qualified audiologists with master’s degrees and many years of experience that would be excellent additions to the audiological services pool in the state. The bill should be amended to state that all audiologists with master’s degrees who are licensed in Idaho or another state are eligible for grandfathering. The audiology profession has transitioned to requiring a doctorate degree. The most common degree earned is the Au.D. The Doctor of Audiology or Au.D. is a clinical doctorate not a research doctorate like the Ph.D. In the future, master’s level audiologists will be difficult to find. Beginning in 2007, the American Board of Audiology required individuals seeking board certification to have a doctoral degree in audiology. The American Speech and Hearing Association requires that anyone applying for certification as an audiologist have a Doctorate degree in Audiology instead of the master’s degree. Typically, someone with a Ph.D. in audiology will have a master’s or Doctor of Audiology and then finish the research component and obtain a Ph.D. I disagree with persons who suggest that the master’s degree is all that is necessary. The field of audiology has grown to the point where the credit hours required by the master’s degree no longer suffice to provide a well rounded and thorough education. In the past it was sufficient. Today’s practicing master’s level audiologist have grown with the field and have continued their education by attending workshops, conferences or other opportunities in order to stay current. New audiologists will start their professional careers with appropriate education, an Au.D. or other doctorate in audiology, and they too will have to seek continuing education as the field changes.
    Persons who have a master’s degree in audiology and are currently licensed should be grandfathered in regardless of the state in which they are licensed and for future audiologists the Au.D. or other doctorate in Audiology should be required.

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