World Hearing Day was celebrated this month to raise awareness on how to identify and prevent hearing loss while promoting ear and hearing care across the world. It’s a timely opportunity to check in with the IHP’s Audiology program, which is educating its first doctoral cohort. 

Emily Jo Venskytis, AuD, is the director of Clinical Education and assistant professor in the program. On top of her administrative and academic duties, she is a clinical audiologist for Mass Eye and Ear. We caught up with the seven-year veteran about the field, the program, and the opportunities the audiology field offers. Our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. 


What is the biggest misconception people have about the field of audiology? 

I love that question actually because for so long, audiology was just associated with hearing aids. Of course, you think about audiology and people with hearing loss and many of them wear hearing aids. Where people are missing the full scope of audiology is that audiologists are hearing healthcare professionals. So, although hearing aids are one option, there are so many other things that we think about with hearing healthcare. This includes people who have vestibular or balance disorders, people who have hearing that's at normal levels but have difficulty with sound sensitivity, or they have ringing in their ears called tinnitus. There's also so many different ways that that audiology is involved in healthcare and to even go further into that, there are many disorders where people are at risk for hearing loss. So, we can work on interprofessional teams and monitor hearing when they're undergoing treatment for cancer, for example. 

Talk about how the field of audiology has become more rigorous with higher-level degrees to practice in the field.

A number of years ago, audiologists realized because of this broad scope and the need to be really well versed in hearing and balance healthcare, the degree transitioned from the master’s to the doctorate. That allowed us to expand the curriculum into all of these different specialty areas. By having students be at these hospital settings like we have, they're practicing at the full scope of practice of an audiologist – in one day they could see all of the different components of audiologic care. So having that strong clinical component has been really helpful. 

You mentioned more student exposure to additional specialty areas with the transition from master’s to doctorate. Can you expand on that? 

We can cover in greater depth the complexities of tinnitus, for example. And there's a variety of treatment strategies for that, including cognitive behavioral therapy. So, audiologists can provide specialized therapy to people with tinnitus as a smaller part of our scope of practice. There also is central auditory processing disorder, where people with normal hearing thresholds have a difficult time understanding speech in the presence of background noise or incorporating complex speech messages. Additionally, our program expanded so that we now offer two vestibular courses, so students have a full grasp of the balance system. Add to that all of the different tests we can do, and the treatments that can be done, we can really dive deeper into a lot of those topics because the students are taking more courses. 

Audiologist vacancies have jumped more than 900% over the past year, with nearly 4,000 unfilled jobs in 2023.. Talk about the shortage and the opportunity.

Audiologists are needed, especially in the Boston area. There are so many hospitals here that have audiology departments, but all of these programs have patient wait lists of three months or more. The opportunities for jobs are abundant, especially in this area.

How did you get involved in in the field of audiology? And why?

One thing that I'm very passionate about is trying to expand the reach and understanding of the importance of audiology. Like many people who are in the field, I happened across it. I knew I was interested in healthcare, so I identified the speech-pathology field, which is closely tied to audiology. I then took a few audiology courses and just really loved the way that you could balance the science and technology side with caring for patients. You could really blend all of those interests together.

Besides helping someone hear, talk about the impact an audiologist can make in someone’s life. 

It's an enormous impact - it can't be understated. Really. I have a lot of experience as a pediatric audiologist, and so for children in particular, hearing can change their educational outcomes and their social and emotional development by being able to hear and understand what people's different inflections are. To be able to talk about feelings you need to have a complex understanding of language. So, giving people access to language is so important. And when we think about adults, having hearing loss and having no strategies for managing that can be really isolating.

One of the things we talk about when trying to determine management for someone is, ‘What are the things that you used to do before you had hearing loss?’ And ‘what don’t you do anymore?’ ‘What are the things that you now avoid?’ And so, our goal is to help them be able to do those things again that they like to do.

It must be fulfilling to not only teach this profession but practice it too and help people have a better quality of life.

That actually was really important to me and it’s why I made the transition to the IHP – to have the opportunity to teach students who then can become good providers. Someone said something that really struck me when I considered the IHP. They said, ‘As a clinician, I can help out patients, but as an instructor teaching students how to be good clinicians, I can help so many more patients.’ That was really important to me, to help students have the foundational skills that they could apply anywhere. Being connected also to what's going on in patient care is important, so I can stay up to date with what the best practices are - what's actually working in the clinic - and be able to continue that relationship with patients and make an impact in my own way as well.

Is there anything else you want readers and prospective students to know? 

There are so many different ways to use an audiology degree. You can work in direct patient care. You can do research in a number of ways - you can do direct audiology research or work on teams with other scientists. There's a lot of technology in audiology. So, you can work for manufacturers and help design the best product or help teach audiologists how to use products. And so, audiology can really be adapted to where you're at. And our goal in the doctoral program at the MGH Institute is to make you prepared to do any audiology job.

 Do you have a story the Office of Strategic Communications should know about? If so, let us know.