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October 5, 2002

Students learn by experience

From: The Springfield News-Leader, MO - Oct 5, 2002

New SMS program in audiology has public impact

By Steve Koehler News-Leader

Whether it's fitting a 58-year-old man with a digital hearing aid or helping a 3Ï-year-old born with severe hearing loss, the audiology department at Southwest Missouri State University has been an important local health resource.

Recently, it also has become a national draw for students wanting to earn a doctorate degree and health providers looking to hire the hearing specialists.

This fall, seven students began their doctorate work in audiology at SMS. It 's the first time SMS has offered a free-standing professional doctorate.

SMS has offered a master's degree in audiology for some time, but advances in audiology practices, such as cochlear implants and newborn testing, made it necessary for audiologists to have more than a master's degree.

So SMS sought and received the OK from state officials to offer the first such doctorate in the state.

"The American Speech Language Hearing Association truly believes it is not possible (for a student) to get all the information presented, synthesized and to be an adequately trained practitioner with two years of training," said Neil DiSarno, head of the communication sciences and disorders department and director of the doctorate program.

The program will consist of three years of course work and practical experience including a one-year clinical practice at a health center in the Midwest including St. Louis, Kansas City and Memphis. The SMS master's program required a 16-week clinical practice.

The first class will graduate in 2006.

Michael Murphy, 24, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., hopes to be among them.

He came to SMS after looking at other schools. The doctoral program convinced him to come to the university.

"It's why I chose SMS. I will be a better-prepared audiologist with more course work," he said.

SMS President John Keiser said the doctorate program was a natural for SMS since 19 percent of the school's students are in graduate studies.

In addition, Keiser said, SMS "is in an area that is close to major medical centers and fits well into the professional health center."

"It's very natural for it to be here," he said. "The department is very strong."

The audiology department already operates a clinic that logs 17,000 patient visits a year. Most patients pay for the services through their health insurance. The school has scholarships available for some work.

The clinic includes a speech and hearing clinic, and a day care for hearing-impaired children. Teachers learn techniques to use in schools for the deaf.

Patients can spend up to 1Ï hours in a session with student and teacher.

That's by design. It gives students a chance to learn.

Crystal Jones of Springfield, one of the first students in the doctorate program, likes the time she can be with patients.

"There has to be time; otherwise it would be a blur if I only had 15 minutes for the patient," she said.

Jones was fine-tuning a new digital hearing aid for Steve Moncher, 58, Thursday morning.

Moncher, who teaches at SMS, said the programmable hearing aid is the kind of technology he was looking for.

"I wear it almost all the time. It's a lot of fun here," he said smiling at Jones and the teachers in the room. "They schedule extra time to teach students."

Infant hearing care is another area of audiology the program concentrates on.

Less than a year ago, fewer than 40 percent of Missouri infants were being screened for hearing loss, and state health officials have mandated universal newborn screening. That means more audiologists will be needed.

"If we find the problem earlier, the sooner we can treat them and fit them with hearing aids," DiSarno said.

Jake Pinkston was one of those children found to have a bilateral hearing loss when he was born.

The 3Ï-year-old was at the SMS preschool for hearing-impaired children where he was working with his teacher, Nancy Engler. He comes four days a week.

Jake wears two expensive hearing aids, and Engler has been teaching him listening skills so he won't depend completely on reading lips and using sign language.

Engler hides her mouth and hums a tone. If Jake hears it, he gets to put a piece of a puzzle in place.

His eyes widen as he hears the sound.

"Yeah," Engler tells him as she claps.

Whitney Pinkston, Jake's mother, has noticed an improvement in her son since he started at the clinic earlier this year.

"Jake just loves it. (Engler) is really wonderful. They talk about everything. They even have him chew carrots to strengthen the muscles around his mouth to help him form words," she said.

"He's saying a couple of hundred words now. This place is amazing."

Copyright © 2002, The Springfield News-Leader, Gannett company.