Your Story (March 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 is pleased to facilitate the sharing of member experiences through “Your Story.”

When one thinks of famous husband and wife duos, Hillary & Bill Clinton might come to mind. If you’re less politically inclined, you might think of Fred & Wilma or Homer & Marge Simpson. If country music is your thing, you can’t get George Jones and Tammy Wynette out of your mind. If research is your passion, you’re likely very fond of the work of Marie & Pierre Currie. You don’t have to appreciate cartoons, country music or radioactive isotopes to value the work of our featured couple. Drs. Ross and Jen Cushing are one dynamic duo that really know how to turn the volume up to 11. In just a few short years they have established a successful practice in the Washington DC area. Learn more about them and their practices.

AP: Describe your practice and professional background. RC: I graduated in 2005 with my Au.D. from the University at Buffalo. Jen graduated in 2004 with her Au.D. We both worked in multiple settings before going into business for ourselves including working for a group private practice.

JC: We began our practice in 2007 by transitioning with a retiring audiologist. Since then, we transitioned with 2 other retiring audiology practices and opened one clinic from scratch. We now have 4 clinics on the Maryland-side of the Metro DC area as well as a contract with the state prison system and a retirement community. At first, we kept the name of the previous practice for about a year with each transition, but each clinic location is now under our umbrella company: A&A Hearing Group, LLC. We have clinics in Chevy Chase, Frederick, Montgomery Village, and Rockville. Each is staffed by their own patient care coordinator and an audiologist..

AP: Tell us a little about your journey and how you ended up in private practice. RC: My dad is a chiropractor and a naturopath. He was and is my role model as an autonomous clinician in his private practice. To me, there was no other option than to be in private practice for myself. It feels natural because I am used to it.

JC: I have always wanted to be a private practitioner, no matter the profession because I knew that it would give me the flexibility to be a professional and raise a family.

AP: Can you speak to your ideas on professional autonomy and what it means to you in your current position? RC: Autonomy is having the freedom to be a service-centered leader in my company, in my profession, and for the people who are served by my company and my profession. Autonomy means having the responsibility to try to do the right thing all the time. I don’t always succeed, but I always sincerely try. This may mean going with the flow or going against the grain, but ultimately it comes down to focusing on service and standing up for the people and the things I believe in.

AP: For audiologists in private practice, what do you see as the biggest challenge? RC: 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.

JC: There are several common challenges for all audiologists: direct access, public stigma of hearing aids, insurance reimbursement, etc. I believe that those issues are on the national level and will be worked out over time. But as an owner, a big daily challenge is developing systems for running the company and managing employees. Business systems are typically learned after trial and error, developed after several years, or in some instances results in the failure of a company. Business management is not standard in all audiology programs, yet I believe that the profession needs more private practices with solid business systems to become more autonomous.

AP: What has been your greatest lesson learned from your experiences as a business owner? RC: My greatest lesson so far is that the people in my life and in my business are the people who shape my life and my business. When I have the chance to hire or work with someone, I want that person to be positive, smart, creative and have energy. I want them to bring something meaningful to the table. It’s not about how much I have to pay them, it’s about hiring someone who is awesome and that I am proud to have in my life and on my team.

AP: What do you like the most about being in practice for yourself? RC: I like turning ideas into action. I like to give our employees good jobs and good working environments. I like giving patients my promise to always do what is in their best interest, even if it doesn’t make me any money.

JC: I agree that ownership is rewarding when you see ideas becoming reality and happy, autonomous staff members. But in the long run, I like knowing that if our office is successful, we are rewarded financially. I have been employed in a hospital setting, private ENT setting, and private audiology setting. All settings have given me the satisfaction of being a great audiologist, but only as an owner will I also make the income to support our lifestyle, our children’s college education, and future income needs.

AP: If you could advise a new graduate deciding on a professional setting, what advice would you give them? RC: My advice for new graduates is to learn the ropes of private practice by joining a group practice after graduation and work your way into a partnership position over time or start your own practice after you’ve gotten your feet wet.

JC: If there is interest in private practice, go for it! Join an audiology practice that fits your professional beliefs and meets your professional goals. It may turn into a great exit strategy or become a wonderful learning experience.

AP: What do you like best about being an audiologist? RC: Ross: I like that the hearing aid technology I work with is always improving. It keeps it interesting. I also like that I have the opportunity, on a personal level, to work on how I interact with my patients to create a better patient experience. It makes me feel good.

JC: It sounds cliché, but I like the effect I have on patients when they can hear again. We provide a bridge for patients that have lost one of their senses that connected them to life.

AP: What do you find the most challenging about being an audiologist in private practice? JC: As an owner, the “work switch” is never off. We are always on the clock by thinking of new ideas for the practice, managing current projects, making sure bills and employees are getting paid, etc. We multi task work and fun by creating vacation time around conventions - so thank you to the audiology organizations for hosting your conventions in nice, warm places!

AP: Tell us about your most memorable patient. RC: I had a patient who is a psychologist and he told me that the most important thing to him in his practice is building long term relationships with his clients. He told me that it makes his work meaningful. This almost instantly changed my view of him and all my future patients. Something clicked and I realized that this is what makes my work meaningful as well. For some reason, I didn’t recognize the significance of this before he said it. He made me a better audiologist and a better person. …If only I could remember his name. (just kidding).

JC: My pediatric patients always have the biggest impact on me. When I can help a child of any age improve their hearing ability, it renews my satisfaction of choosing audiology as a career choice.

AP: Was there any one person in your life that was influential in your career choice/path? RC: Yes. My dad for showing me what private practice was about. My wife for convincing me to go to the University of Buffalo (she was my tour guide). Dr. Jim McDonald and Dr. Steve Seipp for showing me how they mastered their craft as private practice audiologists.

AP: What do you like to do in your spare time? RC: I like to have tea parties with my daughter and hang my son upside down by his ankles. I plan to become a certified SCUBA ber over the next few months with hopes to volunteer at the Baltimore aquarium… I also try to play a little piano, even though I kinda suck at it.

JC: For fun, the kids and I visit with their great grandmother once a week. We also have play dates so the kids can play with their friends and the mommies can chit-chat. When the kids are asleep, I try to catch up on non-work related magazines, play Boggle/Scrabble/some game with Ross, and archive our family photos into albums.