So You Want to be a Private Practice Audiologist?
Allison J. O’Grady, AuD, is a graduate of the University of Maryland. Prior to attending graduate school, she spent time working in her father’s private audiology practice and has over 10 years of experience fitting hearing instruments. After graduating with her AuD, Dr. O’Grady spent time working as a clinical audiologist in large hospital setting specializing in electrophysiologic and vestibular testing as well as hearing aid fitting and verification. Dr. O’Grady was a member of the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) Board of Directors for two years during her graduate program and is currently a member of the SAA Advisory Committee. Dr. O’Grady resides in Northeast Ohio and is completing her first year in a private practice.
1. How did you get into the profession, and specifically into working in private practice?
I grew up around audiology. My father owned a private practice that employed audiologists. As a kid, I would spend time with him around the office and found a very strong interest in diagnostic testing and hearing aids. While in high school and during my undergraduate studies, I was afforded the opportunity to work in my father’s practice. I knew I wanted to become an audiologist and focused much of my graduate work on advanced diagnostic testing to offset the private practice/hearing aid experience I already had. Upon graduation, I spent time in the hospital sector working with all age groups from neonatal to geriatric. My time spent in the hospital was heavily focused on diagnostic testing. Eventually I returned to the private practice setting that first interested me in the audiology. I have been working for a private practice for one year now and I’m enjoying every minute.
2. What is a typical day like?
I work for a company that has 10 offices in the region. I split my time between clinical activities which include overseeing support staff, maintaining the offices and equipment, and pretty much anything that may pop up from a plumbing issue to an “emergency” patient situation. My typical day is spent assisting the geriatric community with audiologic testing and hearing aids. I tend to have multiple longer initial appointments in which patients participate in diagnostic testing and hearing aid demonstration. I also have up to 20 shorter hearing aid check appointments in which I perform cerumen management, clean and maintain patients’ instruments, and participate in aural rehabilitation. I also find myself visiting immobile patients in their home/nursing facility, or participating in community outreach during other times. When my schedule is not full, my support staff and I spend time on patient recall through phone calls and/or mailing our patient database. It is our responsibility as a team to keep people coming through the door and keep the office moving forward.
3. What do you like most about working in private practice?
My favorite part about working in a private practice is the flexibility and autonomy I am afforded on a daily basis. I feel I am able to best serve my patient population through a flexible schedule. I can spend as much time as needed with a patient as they make the important decision to obtain hearing aids, ensure they are properly fitted, and assist the patient and their family with learning to care for and maintain their new devices.
4. What are some challenges of working in private practice?
The challenges that I encounter on a daily basis are marketing the practice and the professionals in a very competitive market. Many patients are shopping around, and in turn, may not find the best care or most appropriate instrumentation. They may be looking for the best “deal,” but it can be hard to explain that if it’s “too good to be true,” it probably is. Typically, when one thinks of marketing, they think of newspaper, mailer, or TV ads; however, I have found that the best marketing is done through marketing myself to the patient as soon as they enter my practice. I want the patient to choose me because he or she knows that I will do everything in my ability to get them the best piece of equipment to meet their needs.
Another big challenge is the fact that hearing aids are not covered by most insurance plans, causing most patients to pay for hearing aids out of pocket. No matter what a person’s budget is, and where along the continuum of pricing they land, hearing aids are a huge investment. As a result, emotions and expectations can run high. The challenge is explaining to the patient the benefits of technology while keeping expectations in check and motivating them to make that investment. It is just as important to provide great follow up care. The first time their investment breaks, and it may, you need to be available so that they don’t get too discouraged or frustrated.
5. What inter-professional roles do you play?
I may interact with primary care physicians and nursing staff that may be assisting in the patient’s decision to obtain hearing aids or even helping to maintain their equipment. My primary communication with physicians is through my reports. I send a patient’s primary physician copies of the patient’s hearing evaluation and a summary to keep them in the loop. I also reach out to many ENT Physicians in the community through referrals or when seeking medical clearance. Lastly, I find myself often working with a patient’s legal counsel or power of attorney as they may be assisting a patient in providing payment.
6. Any tips for students wanting to work in private practice?
Shadow and obtain experience in the private practice sector to see if it’s right for you. A private practice setting can be a very rewarding experience. I really enjoy the relationships I’ve made in the small practices in which I work. You really get to know the patients and their families well as you care for them. It also has let me grow as a professional. This is the most autonomous role I have taken in my career and I have had to learn to keep myself accountable, on task, and efficient.