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Distance Education in Audiology: Interview with Tabitha Parent Buck, AuD

Distance Education in Audiology: Interview with Tabitha Parent Buck, AuD

April 27, 2011 Interviews

Douglas L. Beck, AuD, speaks with Dr. Parent Buck about the developments of the AuD program and her insights on distance education.

Academy: Good Morning, Tabitha. Thanks for your time this morning!

Parent-Buck: Sure thing. Happy to help.

Academy: Tabitha, I’d like to use this brief time to update the Academy with respect to distance education. I know lots of people ask me about the status quo fairly often, and so I’d like to find out straight from the source—where are we and where are we going with regard to transitioning to a doctoral-level profession?

Parent-Buck: Well, of course we’ve come a very long way very quickly. In brief, over the last 10 years or so, we’ve had five programs involved in transitioning the profession to a doctoral-level degree by offering AuD programs to licensed audiologists who already held the master’s degree in audiology.

Academy: And at this moment (May 2011), it seems there are two distance education programs left. Specifically, the program you chair at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona, and the program at the University of Florida?

Parent-Buck: Yes, that’s right. We don’t have the exact figures, but we know that more than half—and perhaps two-thirds—of the audiologists in the United States have gone back to school in the last 10 to 12 years and have successfully transitioned to doctoral-level education and credentials. The exact numbers are somewhat difficult to track at this time as that was one of the statistics the Audiology Foundation of America used to track while they were up and running. So based on their numbers and projections from two years ago, I suspect more than 9,000 audiologists now hold the AuD degree earned from distance education or residential programs.

Academy: That’s quite an accomplishment and a wonderful success story. Of course, many of us who’ve been in the profession for a decade or two (or three) can recall when the idea of the doctoral transition seemed pretty unlikely and the doomsday predictions and nay-sayers ran rampant….but the accomplishment is real and the benefits to the patients, the profession and the professionals more than apparent.

Parent-Buck: Absolutely. There are many benefits from the increased education, enhanced patient care unifying designator of the AuD degree, enriched interprofessional interactions, and more that have served the public and the profession very well—and the future is very bright.

There have even been some valuable unpredicted benefits that graduates report about how the online AuD helped rekindle their passion for the profession and helped them to network with colleagues and even mentors, making audiology a more cohesive and supportive national (and even global) community.

Academy: I totally agree. I’d like to get your thoughts as to why there are still a few people out there who have not bothered to transition?

Parent-Buck: Well, that’s a great question. Based on the students I’m familiar with and their life situations and stories, it seems a few reasons prevail. The primary reasons seem to involve those who chose the “watch and wait” tactic to see how the transition faired….issues and questions like, does it matter, would they get the recognition they hoped for, would salaries increase and more weighed into the equation. So some folks are early adopters and like to jump right in, and others tend to watch and wait.

I’ve seen that some of our new students over the last months and years have been those who have been watching and waiting long enough. Other people have reported career opportunities that prevented them from studying weekends and nights as they needed to dedicate their non-office time to work and professional-related tasks. Of course, some people report family issues such as having very young children at home or siblings, parents, or others that need their attention. Although there are various reasons why audiologists wait, a common theme of “not having enough time” tends to surface because the commitment with regard to time and work related to the educational program is indeed, quite significant.

Academy: Sure, as well it should be! Nonetheless, suppose you have an audiologist who’s been practicing with a master’s degree for 10 years, and they’re interested in transitioning to the doctoral degree. What would they expect?

Parent-Buck: Well, I’m glad your example involves someone who’s been practicing for 10 years, as they have to complete four years of practice before they would be eligible to qualify for our program to transition—so 10 years is great. In terms of average numbers, that individual is looking at perhaps 18 to 19 months of class time, and when you add in vacation, time off, holidays, etc., they’re probably looking at about two years or just a little longer of calendar time to complete their transition. Of course, some people may need more time and some less, but on average, 24 months of calendar time is a good guess.

Academy: And what about the financial cost? Again, in a typical scenario, what would the candidate expect to pay for books, tuition, and miscellaneous costs?

Parent-Buck: We actually have a flat fee tuition rate for the program, which is just under $8,000. That includes the whole program with respect to tuition, and then if you add in books and whatever miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses there are, you can plan on about another $750 to $1,000.

Academy: That seems very reasonable—in fact, it sounds pretty inexpensive to me! Can you tell me a little about the quantity of students you’re working with through distance education in 2011, and perhaps compare that to 7 or 8 years ago?

Parent-Buck: Sure. We founded the program at A.T. Still University in 1999 and we took our first students in 2000. We had 33 students who matriculated at that time. From that moment things grew rapidly. In fact, we grew to more than 600 active students at any given moment in time, with some 320 new students matriculating per year for many years.

Academy: That is a staggering amount of students! And how does that compare to 2011?

Parent-Buck: In 2011, we’re enrolling about 25 students per quarter, or about a 100 per year and we currently have 262 active students at this moment…so the program is still busy, but relative to the tidal wave of a few years ago, things are quieting down.

Academy: And with all of that that as background, what can you tell me about why people enroll at this time?

Parent-Buck: Again a few themes tend to surface. Some people say peer pressure made them do it. That is, they watched their friends and colleagues complete the program, and they now want to have the same knowledge, ability and title. Some people say they enroll to increase their marketability, while others say they love learning and want to be a more highly prepared, well-rounded, and competent professional.

Academy: And when you speak to the graduates—what do they say?

Parent-Buck: The vast majority of graduates report they learned more than they ever thought they would, and they are extremely grateful for the experience. The graduates are our greatest resource for recruiting because they serve as ambassadors telling their colleagues of the value of completing the AuD degree.

Academy: I probably know more than 150 audiologists who’ve transitioned, and I have never heard one say it was a waste of time or money. Every single person I know with their AuD reports it was well worth their time, effort, and money.

Thanks so much, Tabitha. I appreciate your time and energy and I’m glad to know there’s still an opportunity for those who would like to transition at this late date.

Parent-Buck: Sure thing, Doug. Thanks for your interest in this topic!

Tabitha Parent Buck, AuD, is an associate professor and chair at A.T. Still University, in Mesa, Arizona.

Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.

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