“No individual’s hearing loss is the same as another’s. You have to see how the patient adapts. There’s an art to figuring out what a patient needs," says audiologist Marie Vetter. (June 6, 2014)

By Marcella Kreiter

As a pre-med student at the University of North Dakota, audiologist Marie Vetter was flipping through a course catalog when she came across the section on Communication Sciences and Disorders.

She spotted an introductory course on speech pathology and audiology that interested her. Vetter ended up so attracted to the field that she decided to switch career paths and go after an Au.D. instead of an M.D.

Vetter, who has a doctorate in audiology from Ohio State University and practices at Chicago Hearing Services, said her grandfathers both suffered hearing loss from the noise levels involved in farming and hunting. She also had a cousin who was born profoundly deaf.

"I've always been interested in sign language," she recalled.

Audiology especially sparked her interest because it "blends art and science," Vetter said. "The science to it is learning theories and how to do different tests. But there's an art, too.

"No individual's hearing loss is the same as another's. You have to see how the patient adapts. There's an art to figuring out what a patient needs. You have to engage in psycho-social counseling, figuring out how to get them to accept hearing loss. And you have to adapt theory into helping the actual patient, (making) it applicable."

After graduating from North Dakota in 2005, Vetter entered the four-year audiology clinical doctoral program at Ohio State, which included a year of clinical practice. She's been in private practice for five years. Like all audiologists in Illinois, Vetter is also required to complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years.

"I love audiology," she said. "The main thing about audiology is that one day is never the same as another because patients bring a dynamic to the profession."

Grappling with hearing loss "can very stressful for the patient," Vetter said. "Sometimes people don't even realize they have hearing loss. There's emotional stress. But with treatment, the reward outweighs the stress (involved)."

Vetter, who treats patients in her office and at independent living facilities like Brookdale Lakeshore, Brookdale Kenwood and Three Crowns Park in Evanston, recalled the case of a 4-year-old girl she treated at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The child needed hearing aids in both ears, and at first was a very difficult patient.

"After building (her) trust, she did really well with hearing aids," Vetter said. "I wanted to adopt her and take her home."

Despite a growing need for audiologists as the baby boom generation ages, Vetter said the field is not widely known. Specialties include geriatrics, pediatrics, hearing loss prevention, dizziness and cochlear implants.

"In private practice, we work a lot with older people," she said. "They have a sense of wisdom. I can learn from them." For one patient, "visiting me was an outing -- her socializing," Vetter recalled. "All of her friends had died. She'd show me pictures of her grandchildren. She was very gracious and thankful for what we did. She showed her appreciation for it."

The gratitude of patients is the best part of her job, Vetter said.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimates that 314 of every 1,000 people over age 65 and as many as 50 percent of people 75 or older have hearing loss. The association also says communication disorders are among the most common of disabilities.

Dianne Meyer, who chairs the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences at Rush University in Chicago, said hearing problems can have a serious impact at both ends of a person's lifespan.

"A young infant is at a disadvantage to develop normal speech and language if (the child) can't hear properly," Meyer said. "Hearing loss should be detected early. In Illinois, we now have universal newborn screening. All infants are screened (for hearing problems) before discharge from the hospital."

When a child is hearing-impaired, learning can be affected, and later in life, when an adult begins to lose his/her hearing, job performance and family relations can be affected.