Its mission accomplished, the Audiology Foundation of America decides to disband
March 16th, 2010
Twenty-one years after the Audiology Foundation of America (AFA) was created to turn the dream of the professional doctorate of audiology (AuD) into reality, its board voted February 26 to declare victory and close its doors in April.
“Our mission has been accomplished,” said Deborah Price, AuD, chair of the AFA since 2006 and a member of the first graduating class of the AuD program at Arizona School of Health Sciences, now A.T. Still University. She added, “We have reached a critical mass of AuD audiologists and we are now a doctoring profession.” She noted that most practicing audiologists hold the AuD–about 7000 today and a projected 8000 by the end of the year–and that an audiologist can no longer enter the field with a master’s degree, which less than a decade ago was still the standard entry-level degree.
As the founding and final chairs of AFA, David Goldstein and Deborah Price had good reason to celebrate the successful conclusion of its mission to transform audiology.
David Goldstein, PhD, the founder of AFA and chair from 1989 to 1999, expressed similar sentiments. “It’s marvelous that we were able to accomplish what we did. We are now an AuD profession, and it is time to step down.”
Although AFA’s decision to close came as a surprise to most, Price told The Ear Hears, “Some of us had been mulling it over for a couple of years.” She added, “With the number of AuDs in the profession, we feel confident that time and momentum will continue to propel the profession forward. It’s a real victory.” The board took a preliminary vote last October, then made its final decision last month.
Susan Paarlberg, executive director for 16 years
As executive director of the foundation since 1994, Susan Paarlberg was immersed in the day-to-day struggle to advance the AuD movement, often in the face of fierce resistance within the profession. Thus, she said, “It’s very satisfying now to be able to declare victory and move on.”
She described AFA’s campaign as “a bottom-up movement” in which a great number of people contributed their time, efforts, and money. “Our mission,” she said, “has always been about upgrading the profession with improved education, more autonomy and independence for practitioners, and quality care for consumers from audiology professionals.”
Over her 16 years at AFA, Paarlberg said, “One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is in how audiologists feel about themselves.” In the 1990s, she said, “they had to constantly explain to patients who called them ‘Dr.’ ‘I am not a doctor.’ That made it hard to get patients to believe what they told them.” Now, said Paarlberg, “Audiologists feel empowered by being doctors. That is a huge change.”
$1 MILLION PLUS TO ATSU
In one of its last orders of business, the AFA board voted to assign the remainder of its funds and assets, worth almost $1.2 million, to the audiology program at A.T. Still University (ATSU) in Mesa, AZ to launch the AFA Institute.
“This grant will be the AFA’s enduring legacy,” said Price, who added, “ATSU came to the AFA with a proposal that secures a win-win for the profession and the school.” The institute is intended to enable the audiology program at ATSU to provide cutting-edge resources for its students and further enhance the audiology practice model.
Tabitha Parent Buck, a trailblazing AuD
Tabitha Parent Buck, AuD, director of the ATSU program, has been in the middle of the AuD movement from the beginning. As an undergraduate at Purdue University, she took her first course in audiology with David Goldstein, then earned her master’s there. While at Purdue, she also worked as a volunteer in getting the foundation off the ground. When Baylor College of Medicine opened the world’s first AuD program, she enrolled and in 1996 was one of the first three audiologists awarded the new degree. It’s no wonder she says, “I feel like I grew up with AFA.”
While ATSU will need time to decide exactly how to use the grant, Parent Buck said the AFA institute will help it continue educating students so as to “promote excellence in both the clinical and business aspects of audiology.” Parent Buck, who is currently president of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), expressed her gratitude to the foundation for its gift to ATSU.
While AFA considered various ways to use its residual assets, Goldstein said that ATSU’s AuD program is “the one best able to carry forward what we had started. They instill in their students a philosophy of being autonomous, independent practitioners.”
Earlier, AFA gave some $60,000 to Salus University and the Northeast Ohio AuD Consortium for scholarships and to the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) for its student-mentoring program.
BORN OUT OF ADA
AFA did not turn audiology into a profession of doctors by itself. ADA, originally known as the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists, was a strong advocate from the start, and the American Academy of Audiology, which endorsed the AuD in 1991, has championed it since, even when it and AFA clashed over strategy. However, only AFA existed exclusively to promote the professional doctorate.
The foundation originated in October 1988 at an ADA-sponsored Conference on Professional Education in Chicago. For years before that, Goldstein and other ADA members had been advocating a professional doctorate in audiology. The conference attendees decided the best way to achieve that was to create a separate organization to spearhead the movement. In early 1989 AFA was officially incorporated, with Goldstein as its chair.
From the beginning, Goldstein told The Ear Hears, he was confident the AuD would succeed, despite fierce opposition, especially from the academic establishment in audiology. There had been efforts as early as 1949 to create a professional doctorate, but they had gone nowhere. But, said Goldstein, having observed the efforts of
optometry and psychology to do the same thing, he had learned what worked and what didn’t and had developed a plan that he believed would be successful.
Among the hurdles facing AFA was to persuade universities to offer a degree that did not yet exist. It took time and persistence, but in 1993 Baylor opened the first AuD program, followed by Central Michigan University in 1994 and Ball State University in 1995. The movement also needed students willing to take a chance on a degree that might not catch on. As an incentive for students to make that leap of faith, AFA raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, enough so that for several years every on-campus AuD candidate received financial support.
Another turning point came in 1999. Key to AFA’s goal of creating a critical mass of AuD audiologists was enabling practitioners to earn the degree without giving up their jobs and returning to school. While several universities began offering distance-learning AuD programs for master’s audiologists, none gave them academic credit for what they had learned in practice. However, AFA persuaded two colleges–Arizona School of Health Sciences (now ATSU) and Pennsylvania College of Optometry (now Salus University)–to create new audiology programs with a distance-learning component that gave practitioners credit for their professional experience. Doing this reduced the time and cost required for seasoned master’s degree audiologists to become doctors.
Two AFA leaders took the helm at these schools, which also started residential programs for people seeking to enter the field. Former AFA chair George Osborne, PhD, DDS, led the PCO program until his death in 2007, and Parent Buck became director at ATSU, where she remains.
As intended, a great many practitioners did enroll at ATSU and PCO, which shortened the time it took for AuDs to become a majority in the profession. And it was that development that freed AFA to declare its mission accomplished and draw to a close its successful 21-year run.
Article By David H. Kirkwood