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  September 7, 2004

New Doctor Of Audiology Program
Will Focus On Clinical Training

The Doctor of Audiology degree (Au.D.) is being offered in the Department of Communication Sciences for the first time this fall.

Students who earn the degree will be well prepared to meet the nation's growing demand for clinical audiologists - professionals who diagnose and treat conditions associated with hearing.

The program was created to meet new national standards that will take effect in 2012, when the doctorate will be the minimum requirement for those who want to be audiologists and work in the field, says Harvey Gilbert, chair of the communication sciences department. Seven students entered the new Au.D. program this semester.

The four-year post-baccalaureate program trains students to become professional clinical audiologists. It includes three years of course work and clinical experiences and a one-year full-time residency. Academic coursework focuses on training professional clinical audiologists, with emphasis on the development of clinical and administrative skills.

The Au.D. degree is the only one offered in Connecticut, and one of just a few in New England. It replaces UConn's two-year master's degree for clinical audiology as the entry-level degree for clinical practice in the field. That program graduated its last students in May.

The communication sciences department still offers a Ph.D. in audiology, which is research-based.

The Au.D. degree was created in response to the recommendations of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the national certifying body for practicing audiologists, says Frank Musiek, professor of audiology. Musiek was instrumental in the development of the new degree at UConn.

"We'll be able to turn out better clinical audiologists than ever before," Musiek says. "Our students will graduate with a strong foundation in both diagnostics and rehabilitation essential for clinical audiology."

Students in the Au.D. program will receive intense study of anatomy and physiology, hearing science, psychoacoustics, and electrophysiology.

The communication sciences department at Storrs will collaborate with the Health Center's neuroscience and otolaryngology departments to broaden the scope of the new program. The otolaryngology department handles patients with problems of the ear, nose, and throat.

"This collaboration will offer students the opportunity to see patients with a variety of medical problems that cause hearing loss," says Kathleen Cienkowski, assistant professor of audiology.

"Audiologists may see patients who are deaf and have had cochlear implants or other kinds of surgeries," she says. "And many audiologists work in hospitals or private practice settings when they graduate, so our students will get excellent experience at the Health Center."

Students will also benefit from the expertise of faculty in the Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, where they will take courses in physiology and neuroscience.

New technologies, an aging population, and the nationwide screening of newborns for potential hearing loss have expanded the field of audiology, and have increased the need for clinical audiologists.

"Mandatory screening of newborns in 42 states for hearing loss, and baby boomers who are approaching an age where some hearing loss can be expected are factors driving the discipline," says Cienkowski. "We need more audiologists to evaluate these individuals and do follow ups."

In recent years, not only has the extent of information about the evaluation and management of auditory disorders increased dramatically, but the scope of practice of audiology and audiologists has also been extended to encompass additional clinical areas. Audiologists may work in medical centers, physicians' offices, nursing homes, school settings, or industry. Their clinical obligations range from neonatal to the geriatric population, with responsibilities that include the administration and interpretatio n of advanced diagnostic auditory tests.

"We're thrilled with the new program," says Cienkowski, whose area of expertise is amplification, or hearing aids, and adult aural rehabilitation. "Our faculty and staff have a wide range of expertise that will give students an opportunity across a broad scope of areas."