Your Story (June 2012)

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 Jeanne Ward, Au.D.

I graduated from Central Michigan University’s first residential Doctor of Audiology (Au.D) program in May, 1998. After graduating, I worked in a hearing aid dealer’s office for four months and then an ENT office for an additional ten months. I quickly realized I was not cut out to be an employee. As a result, I ended up co-founding Premium Hearing Solutions in August 1999.

AP: Tell us a little about your professional journey and how you ended up in private practice.

JW: I went to Central Michigan University to study sports medicine, but once I got there, I quickly had second thoughts about my career path. Since I did not want to drift without a goal, I took a career exploration class. The results of a personality test put speech pathology at the top of the career recommendations. Speech pathology sounded interesting – I remember thinking “I can play with kids and get paid for it.” I spent the next three years studying a profession I secretly knew was not the right choice, but was afraid to admit it out loud. Luckily, an audiology graduate student saw I was going through the same thing she had gone through and suggested I go talk to Dr. Gerry Church about Audiology. I did. He suggested I take “Introduction to Audiology”, and it was love at first class. The pieces finally fit and I knew I was finally heading down the right path for my future.

As luck would have it, I was accepted into CMU’s first Au.D. residential graduate program. Ironically, I never envisioned myself as a private practice owner while in graduate school. Luckily, my 4th year clinical residency year was completed at South Shore Hearing Center in South Weymouth, MA. Dr. David Citron’s practice was well rounded and gave me experiences in varied diagnostic procedures and amplification. This experience was exactly what I needed, and my confidence grew as a professional. My eyes were opened to private practice and the rewards that came with it. I also found I preferred hearing aid work over any other in the audiology profession.

While working at an ENT office, I was lucky to meet another audiologist, Aaron Gale. The two of us quickly began to brainstorm about how we could create a private practice that would be both fulfilling and financially rewarding. We found the perfect location, borrowed money from our parents, bought everything used and opened our new office in Clawson Michigan in August 1999. Success soon followed, along with years of stress, lost sleep, and no work-life balance! Aaron sold his portion of the business to me and I became the sole owner of Premium Hearing Solutions in 2005.

AP: Can you speak to your ideas on professional autonomy and what it means to you in your current position?

JW: Until After 13 years of private practice, my beliefs on professional autonomy have changed dramatically. In the beginning I was fire and brimstone about the field of audiology – I believed only audiology professionals – Doctor of Audiology professionals, at that - should diagnose and treat hearing disorders. Unfortunately, the fight for professional autonomy has not advanced much in the last 13 years, and I believe the more important fight now is motivating the hard-of-hearing person to seek help. And once they seek it – to actually pursue it. I personally think we spend too much time fighting amongst ourselves and are often forgetting what we went into this profession for: the hard-of-hearing person.

AP: If you could advise a new graduate deciding on a professional setting, what advice would you give them?

JW: The private practice climate has changed a lot over the last few years, and in addition to our current state of economy, it is more challenging than when I first started. I would advise any new graduate to learn as much as they can about the hearing aid industry and marketplace, talk with as many private practice owners as possible, learn about the tax laws for small businesses in the state they want to live in, and seriously soul search before taking the plunge into private practice. Although it has tremendous rewards, running a successful practice also requires much personal sacrifice.

AP: What do you like best about being an audiologist?

JW: Like most of my peers in this profession, I get a personal high from helping people hear better than they did before. Personally, I love working with the older adult, and enjoy educating the families in my care about the hearing issues at hand and how to best deal with them. But as I become more seasoned in this profession, I am finding I am challenged and invigorated by the business end of the profession - how to keep the phone ringing, how to increase sales closure rates, how to motivate employees to succeed in their jobs – than direct patient care. Bottom line: the more we succeed in business, the more people we help.

AP: Tell us about your most memorable patient.

JW: Honestly, at this moment I have a hard time zeroing in on one individual story. I have lost count of the numerous people who have touched my life. Professional or not, many of my patients and their families become friends. When my husband had knee surgery, and I was recovering from separated ribs as a result of bronchitis, one of my patients came to our house and mowed our lawn. I have been to three separate 100th birthday celebrations. I was invited to my patient’s daughter’s wedding, and was treated as one of the family when attending the day before henna party for the bride. I have been to more funerals than I’d like to remember. Of course, improving the lives of those with hearing loss is our primary focus; however, a natural bi-product of truly caring for those you serve is touching each other as humans, not just professional and patient.

AP: Was there any one person in your life that was influential in your career choice/path?

JW: There have been a few. My father is a business owner, and I owe my strong sense of work ethic and need to succeed to his role modeling. Both of my parents have always preached that you are in charge of your own destiny and anything can be achieved through hard work and dedication. I heard “Nothing is handed to you so go out and make it happen” in various forms throughout my life. As for audiology, Linda Seestedt-Standford who ran the student audiology clinics at CMU, further instilled the importance of excellence in everything you set out to do. Then there are my peers; I am very lucky to live in an area where the private practice owners support one another and do not feel threatened by each other. The most shining example of this is Dr. Marina Kade. Marina started her private practice a few years before mine, and she has always been my go-to person for any issue, both large and small. She freely offers direction, friendship and advice. There has been many a day that I could not have gotten through without Marina!

AP: When you are not busy seeing patients or running your business, what are some things you like to do in your spare time?

JW: What spare time??? I am married to my best friend Matt, whom I met while in school at CMU. We have a wonderful, yet head-strong, 9 year-old daughter Alison. Helping with the household chores and parenting Alison eats up most of my free time. But if there is any left, I try to see my siblings, parents and grandmother as much as possible. I have always been dog-crazy, and especially enjoy my hour long walks at 5:00 with my two rescued dogs, Brandy and Teddy.

AP: What’s the last book you read?

JW: I am currently reading Good to Great by Jim Collins.

AP: What’s one thing you want other audiologists to know about your practice or how you take care of your patients?

JW: The biggest thing we have learned over the last few years is how to motivate people to improve their hearing. The most important factor is having them attend with their spouse or adult children. We REQUIRE the spouse or other important family member to come with the patient for all hearing evaluations. We prefer the person postpone their appointment with us if their significant other cannot attend. Some find this practice too “sales-like,” but we totally embrace the belief that we have failed the person in front of us if hearing aids are necessary and we don’t successfully motivate them to purchase them.

AP: What do you want patients to remember about your practice after they leave an appointment?

JW: Since most people take an average of seven years to get the hearing help they deserve, I want everyone who comes to PHS to feel relieved that they are finally taking the first steps towards improved hearing. I want our professional confidence to be easily noticed. Then they will be certain they have chosen the right office to lead them down the path of better hearing. Sure, I want them to think “what nice people.” But more importantly, I want them to be thankful that we are an office that takes our jobs seriously, that pushes them to face their denial about their hearing challenges, and helps them achieve their fullest potential.