How to Create Work and Life Integration

Author: Gabriel J. Pitt, Au.D.

Striking a harmony between the demands of our professional careers and our family, leisure and personal responsibilities can be a challenging task. Pursuit of finding this equilibrium has been traditionally called a work-life balance, though this term is a bit of a misnomer. “Balance” is not necessarily about equivalent distribution of time between professional and personal activities; rather it is a general satisfaction with one’s life. Alternatively, work-life integration may be a more accurate description. The term “balance” can be too simplistic of a definition, since it fails to reflect the obscured separation of our work-life with our personal life, especially in this digital age. Regardless of the terminology used, the busy private practice audiologist has seen more and more demands placed on both the business and personal sides of their life. Many audiologists are looking for activities that can incorporate both the professional and personal side of the equation.

One way I have found to sharpen my clinical skills and enhance my personal desire to give back to society has been with the volunteer medical mission group Faith in Practice (FIP). FIP’s mission is to improve the physical, spiritual and economic conditions of the poor in Guatemala through short-term surgical, medical and dental mission trips and health related educational programs. They are able to reach this goal through the help of over 1,100 medical volunteers and 700 Guatemalan volunteers per year. The medical professionals are organized into teams of 40-50 professionals that travel to Guatemala for one week rotations in either a “surgical” or “village” team. The surgical teams operate out of Antigua (five state of the art operating rooms with a dental and audiological clinic) or Retalhuleu and stay in that city for the entire week. The village teams would travel to more rural areas and provide medical care in one village for a day or two, and then move on to the next village.

With over half of the population in poverty, Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. The residents of this impoverished nation are in desperate need for all forms of healthcare, including audiological services. In February of 2014, I was able to travel to Antigua Guatemala, with my colleague Dr. Stacy Pickelman, to provide audiological care to over 100 Guatemalans who could not have otherwise afforded care.

A typical day for our team began with a 5:30 am breakfast followed by devotion, then the walk to the clinic to start around 7:30 am. We would conduct case history through interpreters, tympanograms and OAE testing, then audiometric testing. Pending the results, and whether or not the patient wished to be fit with amplification, we would also fit a hearing aid to that individual.

We began seeing patients Monday after spending Sunday becoming familiar with our equipment and facility. We had access to a GSI 61 audiometer and a “sound treated” room. A tympanometer was also provided, and we brought down our own Maico DPOAE. While we were not in the comfort of own offices back in The States, we had enough equipment to obtain sufficient results on most patients. We typically saw 30 patients each day from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday, our first group of patients arrived at 8:00 am. They were bussed in from a rural village, and some of the patients had traveled more than 16 hours to get to our clinic. The patients we saw were as varied as the population in Guatemala, and so were their audiological concerns. One of the most challenging aspects was the language barrier. None of the patients spoke English, so we relied heavily on our translators. In fact there were a few patients that only spoke a Mayan dialect, so we had to have two translators–our English to Spanish translator and a secondary Spanish to Mayan (typically a family member) translator (see below –father who spoke Mayan, son who spoke Spanish and Mayan, and me.). You can imagine the case histories on those patients!

All of the patients we saw were memorable and they were very appreciative of the services we provided them. One especially moving moment was when a little boy was brought in by his aunt. He was six years old and didn’t vocalize. We fit him with a hearing aid and all of a sudden he was mimicking our vocalizations. The aunt was overjoyed and she said that she never heard him do that before. The little boy’s eyes widened when he could hear his voice and a smile crossed his face. The emotion you saw in the patient’s eyes once fit with a hearing device, gave a renewed hope for a better life and work opportunities. There are limited supplies, so each qualifying individual could only receive one body worn hearing aid.

There was also a five-year-old with known severe to profound congenital sensorineural hearing loss who had occlusive cerumen bilaterally. Irrigation was our only form of cerumen management and it took about three hours of irrigation alternating with emulsification to finally remove all the cerumen. By the end of it, the child was extremely upset and would only calm down when his father would hold him. The child would become extremely upset when either audiologist approached him, so behavioral testing was not possible this day. We informed the father who stated that the 16 hour trip required him to take two days off work, so he would not be able to return the following day. We were surprised when they were at the clinic the following day. We were able to obtain reliable results and were able to fit him with one of the hearing aids provided by FIP (see below).

The hearing aid that was provided by FIP was a solar powered body worn device (see below).

Most of our patients did not have access or funds for batteries for hearing aids, so providing a solar powered device was essential. This particular device was manufactured by ComCare International and was made to fit moderately-severe to profound hearing losses. They were comparatively easy to use and upkeep, without as many malfunctions as custom or BTE devices, which is critical for patients who have to wait months and travel 12-16 hours for service on their hearing aids. We had access to a low cut and master gain (screw set) and the patient had a master volume control.

This was an extremely rewarding outreach initiative that is in dire need of audiologists. If you can find the time and funds to participate, it is well worth the trip. You will get much more out of it then what you put in. We sure did.    
Gabriel J. Pitt, Au.D. practices at Optimal Hearing Systems, Inc. in Savannah, GA and can be reached at