The Roots of a Profession: Education

Author: Doris Gordon, Executive Director, ACAE

As Doctors of Audiology in private practice, industry, medical centers, rehabilitation settings, education and research, you seek the assurance that your profession is on a par with other doctoring professions. You worked hard to attain the Doctor of Audiology and would like your chosen profession to be respected by your patients, peers, other colleagues and the public. You know the value that you bring to the field of hearing health and can appreciate the need for the highest standards to be ingrained in all who call themselves Doctors of Audiology. It is in your own self-interest that audiology strengthens and nurtures its root: the educational foundation that defines the profession and feeds the future.

Audiology education was presented a challenge with the advent of the mandatory Au.D. Not long after the Au.D. was a reality, it became apparent among audiology’s leaders that a second step was required for the degree to fulfill its ambitious aspirations. It was not enough to proclaim a clinical doctorate - it was essential for the audiology profession to be in charge of its own educational standards and to make certain that they were rigorously adhered to by academic programs. An ongoing and critical monitoring of the academic education was required to consistently promote excellence in programs and competency in graduates throughout the country. This basis of quality would provide the highest level of patient-care and, in turn, promote public confidence in the profession. Audiology would achieve a standard of excellence that would put the profession on a par with other highly recognized doctoring professions, such as medicine, osteopathy, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy and psychology.

For this to occur, an accreditation organization needed to be established. With the support of the American Academy of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (formerly, the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists) the Audiology Foundation of America and numerous supporters, the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE) was formed in 2003. In light of the time it took to develop the Au.D. (over twenty years), ACAE has moved prudently to put in place the standards and processes requisite to accreditation. This took time because the system was being developed from scratch with a mandate that it be first rate. ACAE met its developmental goal of accrediting its first two beta sites within five years. Since that time, two additional academic programs have been accredited and four are now in the pipeline. From the beginning, ACAE has adhered to the aspirations of our founders to instill excellence and innovation at all stages of the accreditation process. Developing a totally new system was seen as an opportunity not only to promote high standards, but to be cutting-edge, technologically sophisticated and in concert with 21st century thinking. As a result, the ACAE system is rigorous, web-based and collaborative. ACAE is a data driven organization that is value-based while promoting competent patient care and public assurance.

To more fully understand what each of the intentional components are, here are some explanations.

What are Rigorous Educational Standards?
These are the highest level of standards that the profession believes every program must adhere to if it is going to produce outstanding and competent audiologists. It starts here, at the beginning of each student’s education, in the classroom, laboratory and clinical settings. The accreditation commission develops the standards with the assistance of programs, related communities of interest and external agencies. It is this commission, such as the ACAE, that monitors programs critically over a period of time before it decides if the program should be awarded accreditation or not. An investigative analysis of compliance with standards assures the public that a program has been evaluated critically, fairly and according to the scope of practice in audiology. It, likewise, assures the program that if they followed the process and are in compliance, they are rewarded with a stamp of approval and peer-review analyses that are of benefit to them in the future.

What is a Web-Based and Collaborative System?
A new agency needs to take advantage of the major technological advancements of the 21st century. ACAE, from its earliest days, knew that its accreditation system had to be in tune with the new information age. Using a process akin to Turbo-Tax, a program undergoing accreditation enters required data in a confidential web-based online system, onetime, and then updates it as needed. This enables storing data permanently and provides trends and analyses to the academic settings – extremely important for program evaluation.

The process is collaborative, efficient and helpful to programs as they try to improve and strive for excellence. Effective collaboration is inherent in our system. The ACAE philosophy is to help programs identify their successes and challenges. By providing an integrated electronic system that assists programs with their self-reflection, ACAE encourages outcomes that are positive and successful. The ACAE wants programs to succeed, i.e., those that can adhere to ACAE’s rigorous standards of compliance and want to offer the best education possible for their students. The ACAE system allows for this and, at the same time, provides enlightened support.

What is a Value-based and Data-Driven Organization?
If a Chancellor, Provost or Dean of a university asks a program to justify its existence, he/she wants to hear facts, not anedoctal information. From evidence in business and other professional enterprises, ACAE firmly believes that programs must be data-driven to provide these facts. By engaging in our process, a program, with a simple click on the computer, can obtain facts on a variety of variables, such as admissions, recruitment, curriculum, faculty, students, preceptors. ACAE also provides the capability to benchmark with aggregated data from other programs, a feature that will be of great value to a program as it justifies itself or a particular aspect of its curriculum. The benefits of the system are many, resulting in more competent graduates and leading to a stronger profession.

What is Meant by Public Assurance?
A responsibility of an accreditation agency is to protect and assure the public that the program to which it awards its stamp of approval is worthy of that award. ACAE takes this very seriously. It is the reason it has taken the time and effort to design a system that not only allows the program to look at itself candidly, but permits ACAE to see if the program is meeting all of its requirements. Concurrenty, ACAE was recently reviewed and recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), an assurance to the public that ACAE is a competent accreditor.

What is Meant by Competent Patient-Care?
The desired and ultimate result of education and training is a successful outcome. This means that the patient/client will receive treatment by competent audiologists that is positive and valuable, using the most sophisticated evidence-based research, development and technology available. These factors cannot be emphasized enough. They are determined in the beginning, from the academic and clinical foundation that a student experiences within the curriculum. The ACAE system and philosophy of accreditation has been well received by all of the educational programs that have taken part in the ACAE accreditation and they have collectively acknowledged the value-added ways in which the process has helped to strengthen their programs.

The evident value of ACAE accreditation to you, the Doctors of Audiology, is in strengthening the educational roots of your profession. You can be assured that every new graduate of an ACAE accredited education program will be educated to the highest standards and will be prepared to enter the profession at a level that maintains and enhances the reputation of audiology.    
Doris Gordon is the Executive Director of the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education. She can be contacted at