Audiology in the Family Like father, like son? Indeed, children may follow in a parent’s footsteps. Consider such political dynasties as the Kennedys, Bushes, and Cuomos, or theatrical families like the Douglases and Barrymores-or audiology’s Robinettes. Martin Robinette Sr., a clinician at the Mayo Clinic, and Martin Robinette Jr., a military audiologist serving in ... Features
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Features  |   December 01, 2005
Audiology in the Family
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.×
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Hearing Disorders / Features
Features   |   December 01, 2005
Audiology in the Family
The ASHA Leader, December 2005, Vol. 10, 14-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.10172005.14
The ASHA Leader, December 2005, Vol. 10, 14-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.10172005.14
Like father, like son? Indeed, children may follow in a parent’s footsteps. Consider such political dynasties as the Kennedys, Bushes, and Cuomos, or theatrical families like the Douglases and Barrymores-or audiology’s Robinettes. Martin Robinette Sr., a clinician at the Mayo Clinic, and Martin Robinette Jr., a military audiologist serving in Seoul, Korea, answered some questions for The ASHA Leader about their profession.
What do you see as some of the challenges in the profession today?
The major challenge to the audiology profession is to increase its research base, said Martin Robinette Sr. “Research leads the field forward and opens new avenues for audiologists to increase and improve their service to the hearing impaired.” Much quality research is going on, he said.
“For example, Nina Kraus has researched measuring evoked potentials from speech sounds as biological markers for language-based learning problems leading to early identification and treatment. Other exciting areas include hearing aid and cochlear implant technology and applications including pediatric fittings and the growing areas of identification and typing of genetic hearing loss and hair cell regeneration,” he said. Robinette Sr. also referred to vestibular research and applications and his area of interest in differential diagnosis, including otoacoustic emissions.
Martin (Marty) Robinette Jr. cited “survivability” as the main challenge to the profession. “With the move toward a doctoral degree and the increasing interest in audiology technicians, will the demand for audiologists remain?” he asked. “We really need to prove that what we offer, not only as audiologists but also as doctoral level audiologists, is needed and beneficial.” He called for balance, noting that if the cost of audiology education is too high and the salaries are too low, the best and brightest people may not be attracted to the profession.
What do you think about the projected increase of people with hearing problems, such as the baby boomers?
Robinette Sr., said he is very interested in new research on hair cell regeneration to better serve the older population. As the need for audiologists grows, he believes that educational institutions will respond. He cited the dramatic growth in training of pediatric audiologists to address universal newborn hearing screening and cochlear implant programs for children.
“I have confidence from past experience that educational programs will respond and a new student pool will be recruited. As audiologists we need to always be positive and reflect our love of our profession,” Robinette said.
“Well, for many audiologists the baby boomers will be their retirement,” joked the younger Robinette. On a serious note, he said the projected increase of people with hearing loss represents a two-fold problem: preventing hearing loss and treating hearing loss.
The problem with treating hearing loss is that many people believe a cure exists for everything. They think that all they have to do is take a pill or use a device, he said. “We all know the reality of that logic. As good as hearing aids are now or will become, nothing can replace normal undamaged hearing.”
Attitudes toward hearing protection must change, he said, adding that many people feel that using hearing protection is a sign of weakness. “I remember bowing to peer pressure as a young soldier. When my sergeant didn’t wear his earplugs, neither did I. My sergeant, who was forced into medical retirement, now has severe hearing loss in both ears.”
Despite its history, audiology is still not a well-known profession. What are its drawbacks and benefits?
The elder Robinette was blunt: “For some, the drawback is that audiologists are not medical doctors and making big bucks. To them I say, go to medical school. If one measures success by income, that person may not be happy in our profession.”
On the positive side, an audiologist provides services to people and finds a variety of outlets for professional expression, he said. “I have been fortunate to have had experience in research, teaching, and administration as a university professor for 16 years. Then, changing course, I have been a clinician and researcher with the Mayo Clinic for the past 19 years,” Robinette said. “I find great challenges in each area of responsibility. More importantly, there are wonderful caring professional colleagues and students to work with, adding fulfillment as we strive to serve patients.”
Robinette Jr. said the first priority for the profession is to get the message out to the public that most hearing loss is preventable. “I often have retirees comment that they wish they had worn their hearing protection. My struggle comes in instilling that attitude into the young and mid-career soldier.”
Educating the young may be the key, he said, pointing to an Air Force program on noise and hearing protection for elementary school children. “Many of the children go home and ask their parents if they wear hearing protection,” Robinette Jr. said.
He stressed the need for audiologists to step out of the comfort zone inherent in clinics or labs and get involved with the community. “We should take a good look and see where we can make an impact. It may be at the local race track, the gun club, or simply with the guy mowing the grass at the park, but we need to be engaged with our community to make a difference. This will not only help educate people on hearing loss and how to prevent it, but will also let people know that we are here to help and what type of help is available,” he said.
When did you first become interested in audiology?
Robinette Sr. was a zoology major in college when he became interested in audiology. To help pay for college, he took a job as a house parent for teenage boys at the state residential school for the deaf. He lived on campus with the boys, helping them prepare for classes and working with them on after-school activities such as scouting.
“I learned to love the boys and had a desire to help them. While there, I was recruited by one of the teachers to change majors to ‘teacher of the deaf,’” he said. While in that program, he met the best student in class, Helen, who became his wife. After he obtained a BA degree, the state school offered him a job teaching high-school science. However, he decided to pursue audiology, eventually earning a PhD.
“I don’t think I ever said that I wanted to grow up and become an audiologist,” said Robinette Jr., who first studied computer science. While in college, he decided he wanted a job with more human interaction. “Audiology seemed to allow me to have that while still dabbling with computers and electronic equipment,” he said. He signed up for some classes and then told his father. “He laughed and told me there was no money in audiology but that I would probably enjoy it. I have enjoyed it very much.”
It would seem that sharing career choices would add another layer to family gatherings. Do you “talk shop”?
“I never encouraged any of our five children to consider audiology as a profession. We often visit about issues in the field, but I have made it a point not to try to influence his decisions about an AuD or PhD or any area of audiology he may wish to pursue,” Robinette Sr., said. “What I do know is that he is brighter than his dad, and consequently will do fine.”
Robinette Jr. said the two do talk shop but mostly at conferences. “I always find it interesting when he talks about seminal research articles that have changed the way we practice. I keep telling him that he should write a book that highlights those articles and the early audiologists who had such a profound influence on how we practice today.”
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December 2005
Volume 10, Issue 17