Staff Standpoint | September 2019 Hearing Review

On July 12, the US News & World Report MONEY website ranked Audiology as the 29th best healthcare job—dead last on this particular list of 29 healthcare professions. It listed audiologists’ median salary as $75,920, with a 8.3% unemployment rate, and an alarmingly low 1,300 projected job openings from 2016 to 2026. The upper quartile of audiologists made $93,590 while the lowest quartile made $62,370. The job items of “flexibility,” “stress level,” and “upward mobility” were all ranked as “average” compared to other healthcare jobs.

Karl Strom_photo

What happened? Only a few years ago, some career ranking sites placed “Audiologist” near the top of their lists. For example, ranked Audiology as its 2nd best job in 2015 and as its 8th least stressful job in 2016—albeit with the latter eliciting howls of protest from some audiologists. The current report states, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 20.7 percent employment growth for audiologists between 2016 and 2026. In that period, an estimated 3,100 jobs should open up.” On its website, the Bureau says there were 14,800 audiologists employed in 2016 with a job outlook of 21% (much faster than average) from 2016-26. 

What the employment statistics seemingly miss are the large number of employers looking for skilled hearing care professionals right now—and quite possibly the alarming number of professionals exiting the field. Barry Freeman, PhD, in a landmark article published in the Nov/Dec 2009 edition of Audiology Today, estimated a total of 16,095 licensed audiologists and 9,050 licensed hearing aid specialists. Ian Windmill, PhD, and Dr Freeman published a paper in the May 2013 Journal of the American Academy of Audiology showing that “the number of persons entering the field will have to increase by 50% beginning immediately” to fulfill the future demand of hearing-impaired consumers. One can even argue that the shortage of professionals has posed an existential threat to our entire field. Regarding salaries, ASHA recently published a survey showing that the annual median salary of an audiologist in 2018 was $80,000-$83,843.

The top-5 jobs in US News & World Report’s list were Physician Assistant ($104,860 salary with 39,600 projected jobs in the next decade), Dentist ($165,120, 25,700 jobs), Nurse Anesthetist ($165,120, 6,800 jobs), Orthodontist ($208,000, 1,300 jobs), and Nurse Practitioner ($103,880, 56,100 jobs). Among professions often compared with Audiology, Speech-Language Pathologist came in 11 spots above Audiologist at #18 with a median salary of $76,610 and 25,900 projected jobs, while Optometrist ($110,300, 7,200 jobs) was #20, and Chiropractor was #24 ($68,640, 5,900 jobs).

As a side-note, only a day before the publication of these rankings, the website CollegeTuitionCompare ranked its top-10 comparison of audiology academic programs. The website stated: “Vanderbilt University ranked first in the Best Audiology Colleges, and University of Iowa and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are following it…The average undergraduate tuition & fees of Best Audiology Colleges is $11,301 for state residents and $38,572 for out of state students in academic year 2018-2019. For graduate programs, the 2019 average tuition & fees of the schools are $14,437 for state residents and $31,622 for out of state students…”

I will leave out a detailed discussion of the cost of an audiology education versus ROI/salary. On this subject, I admit that Audiology should rank lower on any such list of professions. This is a problem several in our field have brought up, and it still requires greater professional attention. According to the ASHA survey (p 8), the median student debt for audiologists who were clinical service providers age 30 or younger was $100,000. Particularly, when you compare the ROI (ie, average earnings vs educational costs) between those doctoral professions classified as “LLP” versus masters degree professions largely classified as “allied health” professions, Audiology does not fare well. In fact, it has been argued that Audiology has a doctoral degree (AuD) cost on par with Optometry, with earnings more on par with the masters degree level (MS/MA) allied healthcare fields.

However, even given this—as well as the looming uncertainties surrounding OTC/DTC hearing aid regulations, etc—it remains my opinion these rankings vastly underestimate the number of highly qualified hearing care professionals needed in today’s labor market, as well as in the future.

Citation for this article: Strom KE. Audiology rankings and workforce. Hearing Review. 2019;26(9):6.

Image: © Alexey Novikov |