Editor’s Note: Student Corner showcases submissions by students who are attending audiology and dispensing-related educational programs. This month’s column features an interview conducted by Sugata Bhattacharjee of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who recently visited with Brandon Sawalich, vice president of sales and marketing at Starkey Laboratories, Eden Prairie, Minn, and asked questions about private practice opportunities.

It is not always easy for a young audiologist to choose his/her area of interest. There are many career opportunities available for up-and-coming hearing care professionals. Some of these include clinical, educational, manufacturing, retail, and industrial audiology, as well as research/academia, military/VA, and private practice. Owning a private practice is a frequently mentioned goal for many young audiologists, but now with the help of the hearing health care community this goal is becoming a reality for more professionals.

The economics of owning your own practice represent only one of the excellent incentives for setting your sights on becoming a private practice audiologist. A recent survey1 pointed out that 51% of audiologists (all disciplines) made between $30,001-55,000, while 37% made more than $55,000 and 13% made less than $30,000 per year. However, in this survey, about one-quarter (27%) of the surveyed audiologists worked in ENT offices, 20% in private practice, 13% in hospitals, and 10% in outpatient clinics. In contrast, the AAA 2004 Compensation and Benefits Study shows that the mean salary of an audiologist in private practice is $76,050 annually.2 Similarly, according to the 2005 Hearing Review Dispenser Survey,3 the average salary of a private practice audiologist is $59,047 for employees and the average declared salary for all practice owners is $96,301.

However, it takes time and the utmost dedication on behalf of the professional to have a successful and profitable private practice. Starting a private practice is not easy, but it can be an extremely satisfying endeavor. There are many decisions that need to be made in order to create a business that will not only be effective, but profitable as well. One of the first decisions revolves around whether the business should be a proprietorship, partnership, or a corporation.

No matter the size of the practice, it is important to have a person or several people that can help with legal issues, accounting, advertising, marketing management, and bookkeeping. Although many new professionals would like their practice to be solely their own, it is important to make sure all of these bases are covered in order to ensure the business prospers.

In recent years, the health care industry has come forward to help young audiologists build their own private practices. Many companies are now investing in new practices and giving them the support they need to get off the ground. Although this brief article focuses on Starkey Laboratories’ business development efforts, it should be recognized that several companies have programs designed to assist both established and budding entrepreneurs in private practice.

Brandon Sawalich

Starkey Laboratories has two programs to offer: the Starkey Hearing Alliance (SHA) and Five Star Audiology. The SHA is designed to assist new practices and continues to be a strong supporter of the independent hearing professional. I recently had the opportunity to discuss this program with Brandon Sawalich, vice president of sales and marketing at Starkey Laboratories.

Q What do you find most compelling about the hearing care industry?

A I’ve been directly involved in the hearing industry for the past 15 years, although hearing health care has always been a part of my life. In fact, my grandfather [Bob Winslow] was the president of Miracle Ear in the early 1970s. I think my exposure to the industry at a very young age helped me to gain a real appreciation for the challenges that those with hearing loss face every single day.

What’s most compelling to me about the industry today is knowing that I can help make a difference for those people by ensuring that Starkey is researching, developing, and distributing the best products that offer the best results.

Q Who has been the most influential person to you in this industry?

A It is a great privilege to work with William [Bill] Austin, founder of Starkey Laboratories. I don’t think anybody knows the industry better than he does. We are driven by Bill’s philosophy of, “Better today then yesterday, and better tomorrow than today.” It is a wonderful learning experience to work with him. Bill has a vision for Starkey. [Starkey President] Jerry Ruzicka and I work hard with the Starkey team to make that vision a reality. Jerry encourages you to be hard working, methodical, and disciplined in doing what you say you are going to do. And, of course, my mother, Tani [Austin], has provided me with insight and helped me stay the course.

Q How do SHA and Five Star Audiology work?

A The challenges faced when serving patients is constantly changing in the field of audiology and hearing health care. Yet it is the quality of the patient interaction that can ensure a dispensing professional’s success. Starkey’s goal is to provide a mutually beneficial partnership between the manufacturer, the hearing care professional, and the patient that lasts the duration of that patient journey. The SHA and Five Star Audiology are national networks of hearing professionals chosen for their dedication and ability to provide superior levels of patient care.

Q What kind of investment is required to be a part of SHA and Five Star Audiology?

A There is no initial financial commitment on behalf of the hearing care professional, as Starkey makes the start-up investment. The professional receives direct access to various benefits and resources when they work directly with the manufacturer. In return, Starkey expects the professional to build a successful practice.

Q How can health care professionals know if the program is right for them?

A There is a general profile of characteristics that typify the professionals in these elite networks. Professionals in our networks possess an exemplary history of superior patient care, with a strong focus on sound business practices. An important characteristic is the belief that an integrated approach to patient care can build revenue.

These professionals have a strong interest in running their own practices and making their own business decisions. They are looking to better compete in their market by continued business growth in order to become a more valuable asset to their community.

Q What are the benefits to joining the network?

A There are many benefits to becoming an Alliance Partner. The first is practice management support, in which Starkey helps you upgrade or change computer systems, software, and/or diagnostic equipment. The second is consumer marketing and support. Starkey provides professionals with help to effectively reach more prospective patients through focused marketing solutions. Network goals are to increase brand identity and help enhance a practice’s image by way of coordinated strategic planning, graphic design, direct marketing, media buying, and retail advertising.

The third is e-Business Support. In order to support professionals in the difficult task of Web page management, our Web site [www.starkey.com] includes customized SHA provider pages to help them with the development and hosting of Web pages. This service allows hearing care providers to create professional Web pages with national support while allowing them to keep a continual maintenance of local identity.

The fourth is business management, in which the network provides proactive assistance in matters pertaining to accounting, taxes, payroll, budget planning, and financial management. The final benefit to becoming an Alliance Partner is public awareness. A key component of the national network is the benefits of “patient-focused” hearing care professionals for the hearing-impaired public.

Q What are the responsibilities and expectations of network members?

A Members are responsible for following the guidelines and expectations listed in the quarterly SHA newsletter and for implementing the training they have received. There is close interaction between members and Starkey sales representatives who are available to assist and work with the members to enhance business activities.

The success of the network is based upon direct and indirect ideas and suggestions from members. Each member is expected to provide effort and continued motivation in order to be the best. This benefits the members, Starkey, and ultimately, the patients.

This article was submitted by Sugata Bhattacharjee of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Sugata Bhattacharjee at [email protected]. Brandon Sawalich can be contacted at [email protected].

1. Campbell-Angah D. Salary survey 2005. Advance for Audiol. 2005;7(4):53-55.
2. American Academy of Audiology. AAA 2004 Compensation and Benefits Study. Available at: www.audiology.org/hearcareers/compsurveyintro.php; 2004.
3. Strom KE. The HR 2005 dispenser survey. The Hearing Review. 2005;12(6):18-36,72.