A hearing aid specialist, also called a hearing instrument specialist, assists audiologists in all aspects of care for the hearing impaired. They often are the first person seen by a patient visiting a hearing doctor. The hearing aid specialist is a health care professional whose skills are vital in the diagnosis, fitting and use of hearing aids. Licensure is required in some states.
Hearing aid specialists evaluate patients' needs based on test results and professional assessment. As a specialist, you'll administer a basic hearing test, called an audiogram. You will assist patients in the selection of the appropriate hearing aid based on sound amplification, fit and personal preference. There are devices worn behind the ears (BTE), in the ears (ITE) and in the ear canal (CIC). You may take impressions of the ear and make or modify molds for devices that will be worn internally. You will guide patients through the process of inserting and adjusting their hearing aids, and meet with them during one or more follow-up appointments to make any adjustments.
Hearing aid technician school is a two-year degree, typically offered through a community college. The curriculum includes math, science and classes on audiology, the technology used in hearing aid development and the anatomy of the ear. Alternatively, you could continue your education and become fully licensed as an audiologist after obtaining a master’s or doctorate in audiology.
In states that require you to obtain a license, you’ll also need to spend a requisite number of hours training under the supervision of a licensed practitioner before you can work on your own. Audiologists who work as hearing aid specialists must complete an internship before earning a license, while hearing aid dealers often are required to work for as long as two years before applying for an individual license. Requirements vary by state. Individual state requirements are available through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.
Once you’ve accomplished the requisites for licensing and have worked two of the previous five years as a full-time dispenser, you can apply for board certification through the National Board for Certification in Hearing Instrument Sciences. Board certification boosts your credibility and assures your clients that you remain up-to-date on the latest hearing aid technology. Obtain a letter from your employer and you can sit for the exam to become board certified.
A number of organizations, including the International Hearing Society and the National Board for Certification in Hearing Instrument Sciences provide continuing education courses that you will need to maintain your current certifications and earn additional credits. You must earn 24 hours of credit over a three-year period.
Hearing aid specialists work in a variety of settings. Some work with audiologists in private practice or in hospitals. Others work in a retail environment for franchised hearing aid dealers, or in larger retail establishments like Costco and Sears with hearing aid divisions. Many of the patients will be elderly, but people of all ages experience hearing loss. Patience and compassion are essential to working with people who need hearing aids.
Salary and Job Outlook
Annual salaries average $37,370 to $74,530, depending on geographic location, employer, education and experience. Hearing aid specialists usually earn more in metropolitan areas, where the population is large and there is a significant percentage of elderly residents. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth of around 6% through 2026, which is average growth compared to all other occupations.