Your Story (March 2012)

Your Story

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 Kamal Elliot, Au.D.

I currently own a private practice, A&E Audiology and Hearing Aid Center in Lancaster, PA where, with the help of four audiologists and a technology specialist, we provide services to patients of all ages. We operate out of three locations in the Lancaster area. Last June, I also purchased a practice in Sun City Center, FL from a dispenser who was ready to retire after 40+ years. I have a full-time audiologist at that office and I also spend about one to two weeks a month there.

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

KE: I became an audiologist after earning my Master’s in Audiology from Northern Illinois University in 1994. I started my career working with children in a school setting and absolutely loved what I was doing. In 1996 my husband accepted a job in Atlanta, GA so we moved there and I began working at another school setting. I later joined the staff of a local hospital and began working part-time at a pediatric ENT office. When my family moved to Pennsylvania in 1999, I started working for 2 ENTs. Over the course of the next year, I started to lose my passion for audiology and began to feel frustrated that I was not able to provide my patients with the quality of services that I felt they deserved. I knew of several audiologists in private practice but had not considered that I had what it takes to start a practice myself.

In September 2000 I was actually considering leaving the profession and finding a new career. Then I attended the annual convention of the PA Academy of Audiology. While I was talking to a friend and audiologist, Dr. Robert Wolfe, he said to me, “Kamal, what do you think the Miracle Ear guy down the road from you has that you don’t have to be successful in running a hearing business?” That really lit a spark in me and compelled me to begin working on starting my practice. Three months later, I hung out my shingle and opened the doors to my very own private practice.

So I really feel I should thank Dr. Wolfe who motivated me to take those first steps; it has proved to be the best decision I have ever made for my career.

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

KE: Until I started my own practice, I didn’t fully appreciate how much I value professional autonomy and independence. I earned my Au.D. from the University of Florida in 2003 and this degree afforded me many opportunities that I don’t believe I would have otherwise had.

My education increased my professional knowledge which helped me to provide better patient care and improved my relationships with my patients as well as referring physicians. I was able to join the staff at local hospitals and also speak at grand rounds for physicians. A&E is now a state-of-the-art training facility for physician residents at a local hospital and we have had the opportunity to educate physicians about who we are and when to refer to audiology.

There are many audiologists out there wrestling with the decision to pursue an Au.D. I strongly encourage them to move forward and take the next step in their career. I have so much appreciated what the Au.D. has done for me and my practice and have not once regretted it.

AP: What has been your greatest lesson learned from your experiences as a business owner?

KE: Owning a business has taught me that employees are your greatest assets. Investing in your employees is the best way to create a productive and enriching work environment.

Every business owner feels challenged by the responsibility of managing employees, but overall I have been really fortunate to have a great team at A&E. Kim Kelly, Au.D. has been with me for over 8 years and 3 of my Au.D. students have joined our practice because they had an exceptional experience during their externship. Employees can make or break your business so I try to hire the cream of the crop and then invest in them to ensure that they develop professionally and serve our patients as well as they deserve.

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

KE: I worked in several environments; a school setting, hospitals, with pediatric and general ENTs and finally in private practice. With these experiences in mind, I would encourage new graduates to try out a variety of settings throughout your career. Although I have personally found private practice to be the most gratifying, I also learned something from each position that I have held over the years.

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

KE:,/b> Audiology is the perfect marriage between science, art and technology. I love that the field of audiology is ever evolving, and you are always learning new things. Audiologists are experts in improving communication and helping people connect to each other. To know that our work enhances patients’ lives through improved communication is extremely fulfilling.

AP: Tell us about your most memorable patient.

KE: I have a few that would fit this category. In particular a wonderful woman in her 90s whose first name was Catherine. She had the most positive, delightful attitude of anyone I have ever known and even though she was frail and had health issues, she always made me feel so special and important when she came to the office. She used to bring me notes with poems she wrote as well as nuggets of humor. Sadly, she passed away last year. But I will always smile when I think of her.

Another memorable patient was a little 8 week old infant. I recently had the pleasure of assisting one of my colleagues, Lynda Steelman, Au.D., as she was fitting him with his first set of hearing instruments. This little one was really fussy and just wouldn’t settle down. That is, until we turned on his hearing instruments. He opened his eyes and gave us the most precious, big smile ever. It was such a beautiful sight.

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

KE: I returned to University of Georgia to further my undergraduate education when my older son Andrew was only 9 months old. I had determined that I had an interest in communication sciences and disorders but hadn’t decided between speech and audiology. Patricia McCarthy, Ph.D. was a faculty member at the University of Georgia at the time and after taking my first audiology course with her, I was hooked. Dr. McCarthy is definitely the person who inspired me to become an audiologist and I am deeply grateful to her for this.

In my Master’s program, Jody Newman Ryan, Ph.D. was one of my professors and my thesis advisor. I owe her a great debt because she really brought out the best in me and demanded more than any other professor I have ever had.

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

KE: I love working out, reading and especially traveling. One thing in particular that I have really enjoyed is going on humanitarian mission trips where I am able to combine my two passions in life, audiology and travel. I have been to Mexico (2003), Brazil (2005) and India (2009) so far, and hope to have the opportunity to do more of these trips in the future. If anyone reading this has plans for such a trip, please let me know.

I also think it is really important to give back to the profession so I have done this through getting involved in the PA Academy of Audiology as well as the ADA more recently. As a profession we are facing some great challenges such as direct access, recent developments with hearing aids being offered online, and more and more insurances looking for ways to get around providing high quality products and services to consumers. If we don’t get involved and work on ways to address these challenges, we will not be in control of our future.

AP: What’s the last book you read?

KE: I just finished reading Inside the Magic Kingdom by Tom Connellan. It was recommended to me by audiologist and friend Paula Schwartz, Au.D. It was an interesting look at how the Disney corporation is successful at managing such a large number of customers each day and how they train their staff (referred to as “cast members”) to ensure that visitors are so satisfied that they keep coming back. In fact, almost 70% of Disney guests are return customers. It gave me some good food for thought since in our practices we know that our patients can be of great value, not only because hopefully they will purchase multiple sets of hearing instruments over several years, but also because they will refer their friends and family members to us. So we have to work with our staff on ensuring that their experience is so positive that we don’t lose them to competition in the future.

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

KE: Our goal is always to ensure that our patients are so satisfied with our services that they will want to refer their friends and family to us. Everything we do is centered around this goal. We aim to use best practices and have always focused on quality. I really believe that we cannot convince our patients to spend thousands of dollars on hearing instruments if our office looks outdated or worn, the chairs in the waiting room have stains on them and the computer monitor we are using looks like it dates back to the 1970s. So I am continually investing in new equipment and technology and continuing education for myself and my staff. We also employ an IT person who is there every day to ensure that our software is up to date and the hardware is functioning optimally.

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

KE: As mentioned I would like patients to be so pleased with the services we provide that they want to refer their friends and family to us. Without our patients we would not be in business.