Your Story (June 2011)

Peer-to-peer exchanges provide exceptional opportunities for knowledge transfer but more importantly for the discovery or rediscovery of camaraderie and common purpose within our profession. For this reason, ADA facilitates the sharing of member experiences through “Your Story”. This month we feature ADA member Dr. Judy Huch.

I am Judy Huch, Au.D., I own two audiology private practices in the Tucson, AZ area. Areas of private practice along with running the businesses, which I have been exposed to is leasing property, being a landlord to another audiologist and building the physical structure, which I own for my practice. I see patients in both offices and on occasion teach at the University of Arizona. I supervise Au.D. students from across the country and I also blog on the challenges of private practice in the hearing industry.

AP: Tell us a little about your professional journey and how you ended up in private practice. JH: My career trek to where I am now currently is so different from what I had envisioned when I entered college as an undergraduate in the mid 1980s. To be honest I was never a stellar student in high school and college. I did not want to be perpetually in school because I felt it was so difficult for me to learn. I followed in my mother’s footsteps and went into education when I had to declare a major. It did not take me long to know this was not a calling, but working with children still had appeal. Through the search for another major, I took an Intro to Speech Pathology and Audiology class. It was so interesting, but audiology held my attention more than the speech side. What frightened me more as an undergrad was more math and the looming Masters degree. But I stuck it out and graduated. I squeezed by and entered a University that did not require me to take a GRE (standardized testing of which I have a long hate/hate relationship). Now, when I admit this to people, their first impression is that I should never have gotten into school. But I found my calling, I graduated with a 3.7 GPA (I almost loved the math) and found that I could make decisions quickly for the benefit of my patient, fellow clinicians and our program. I thought I would be the bridge between the Deaf and Hearing Worlds and still work with children. It was during my 10 week internship in the Kansas City area where working with hearing aids opened a new world for me. There, adult aural rehabilitation and I became well acquainted. I often explain that I have faced forks in the road and my turns brought me to where I am today. I sometimes just went full steam ahead without much deliberation. After I was out of school with my Masters, close to 2 years, I had the opportunity to move to Tucson to work with Holly Hosford-Dunn, Ph.D. I took a leap of faith and moved here sight unseen (so did Dr. Dunn!), and within 6 months I was working solo in the office I would purchase two and half years later. I learned to run the business before I bought it. Since that was not insane enough for me, I married, opened another office , had two children and obtained my Au.D. (I did better than my 3.7 Masters GPA). I also learned in graduate school that I thrived in chaos.

AP: Can you speak to your ideas on professional autonomy and what it means to you in your current position? JH: In private practice I have felt that our profession does need to be more autonomous. I would often be frustrated in grad school because there was not one thing that I could do that another profession could not–a nurse can screen or remove cerumen, a dispenser can work with hearing aids. What I had failed to see is that an audiologist does encompass the best of all of these. Audiologists can better serve by incorporating the medical side of diagnostics and the clinical side of the rehabilitation, with a whole lot of business savvy no matter what the setting. It has taken me 20 years of educating those in my personal and professional life, of the importance of what makes a great audiologist the best professional to see for their hearing health.

AP: For audiologists in private practice, what do you see as the biggest challenge? JH: The biggest challenge for me is collecting from insurance and staying competitive in the internet age. For those insurance companies that I have a group contract with, collection is not as difficult as for those insurance companies that I have contracted inbidually with. Some insurance companies make my front office do so much more work to collect what is the patient’s benefit, it gets ridiculous. I am still working on how best to work through this, and I am not giving up! The other area is connected to our autonomy. We know that service along with hearing device purchases make for more successful fits (BHI May 2010) but when the difference is more than 500 dollars, I think patients look more at the bottom line and look past the risk of not being fit optimally. I also do not feel those companies who sell the aids through the internet, or third party payers that offer a fitting fee less than 500, are beneficial to audiology either. People then look at the place they go not the product and expect to be treated the same as their neighbor who purchased directly from your office. It is very difficult to find this balance in any business model.

AP: What has been your greatest lesson learned from your experiences as a business owner? JH: My biggest challenge is trying to balance my work, my family, and myself. It’s easy to lose track of time and work too much and not exercise enough or come home too late at night.

AP: What has been your greatest lesson learned from your experiences as a business owner? JH: Saying “Please”, “Thank you”, “May I help you” and “Have I answered all of your concerns today?” I have received many blessings and business openings through patients, my employees, vendors and other networking inbiduals just by being nice. No matter what your day is like, how you feel, what just happened 10 minutes ago, you NEVER let the patient or the next person you encounter, feel anything but joy and to strive that they feel better when you are finished with their encounter with you. Sending thank you notes (the hand written, snail mail kind) make more of an impact than you realize.

AP: What do you like the most about being in practice for yourself? JH: What I enjoy the most about having my own private practices is I can experiment, or go out of the box with technology, advertising, etc. With this flexibility I can bring ideas to my patients and their unique challenges. I also surround myself with people smarter than myself to bring in ideas that maybe I have not envisioned. The most important factor for me is that private practice has also given me the flexibility of being there for my kids, to have them come to work with me or to allow me to go on field trips with them. I don’t think I could do all of these things working for someone else. I feel I have so much support from those I work with and my spouse and kids, that we all have found a healthy balance.

AP: If you could advise a new graduate deciding on a professional setting, what advice would you give them? JH: Take the risk for crying out loud! There are so many in our profession who want all of the benefits but do not want to put themselves out to achieve those benefits. They want to follow or work for someone else and reap the same thing as those who are risking so much to forge the practice of audiology ahead. I know not everyone is cut out to head their own office or have gifts in management areas, but every employee needs to see what they are bringing to the table for their employer. What they bring in needs to be MORE than what their salary and benefits are, because the owner is risking more than they are. So forge forward, be the best you can be, be kind and make audiology the ‘go to’ profession for all!

AP: What do you like best about being an audiologist? JH: What I like about being an audiologist is I can use my geekiness of loving gadgets and technology along with counseling and just talking with my patients. I think getting people’s life story is one of the best side benefits of this job. People are so fascinating and the wisdom we all have is astounding! All of my patients give me a life lesson no matter if they are the kind, gentle ones, or those who are not.

AP: Was there any one person in your life that was influential in your career choice/path? JH: One of my favorite phrases which is attributed to an old African proverb is “It takes a Village” and although this was connected to raising children, I see it in so many other aspects of life. My village started with my family, my parents have had the best work ethic and outlook on life. My mother Alma Nealon, who we lost to ALS over 5 years ago, was there without fail to help those who needed it and always with humor. My uncle, Ed Nealon, has been in the hearing industry since the 1950s. He has had a long history with dispensing and the manufacturing side of the business and we have had many thought provoking discussions. My clinical supervisors, Claire Hogan and Larry Ruder, encouraged me to find my calling. Earl Harford, Ph.D. taught me how to physically make a hearing aid and then how to make it work on the patients. And last but not least, Holly Hosford-Dunn, Ph.D. saw something in me and helped me to make that leap into owning my own practice. They are the most instrumental inbiduals when I have come to the biggest forks in the road. There are so many others as well and I love you all! I am not just saying this for you to forgive me that I did not name you all either!

AP: What’s one thing you want other audiologists to know about your practice or how you take care of your patients? JH: I want everyone who comes into contact with my offices, by phone, in person, or by internet to see that we strive to do everything we can to help each person in the most kind, (and if the right patient humorous) and ethical way. Everyone in the office goes above and beyond to work with those who want to prevent hearing loss, but especially those who are affected by it.