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Interview with Victor Bray, Ph.D., and Giri Sundar, Ph.D., Salus University Osborne College of Audiology

Victor Bray, PhD

February 13, 2012
Topic: Advanced Studies Program in Cochlear Implants - Two Scholarships Just Announced
CAROLYN SMAKA: Today I'm speaking with Dr. Victor Bray and Dr. Giri Sundar of the Salus University Osborne College of Audiology. Thanks for joining me today. Can you tell me about your background and your roles at the university?

VICTOR BRAY: I'm the Dean of the Osborne College of Audiology, which is one of four colleges at Salus University. Our mission at the College is to educate future audiologists, practicing audiologists, and other hearing health care providers in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of hearing and balance disorders. As far as I know we are the only college of audiology in the country. I've been here two and a half years.



Prior to coming here I spent 15 years in the hearing aid industry, working in research and new product development. During the latter part of my career in industry I was on the executive staff of a hearing aid manufacturer serving as Chief Audiology Officer. Moving from industry to academia has been a wonderful experience so far.

GIRI SUNDAR: I have been a clinical audiologist and had a private practice in New Jersey for over 25 years. I have a Ph.D. from The City University of New York (CUNY). In 2006, I sold my practice to work for Starkey International in India as Director of Business Development on a three-year contract.

A challenging and enjoyable part of my responsibility was training audiology and sales staff for Starkey in India. After I returned to the US, I joined Salus University in August of 2010 to re-activate the distance education program and I am now the coordinator of distance education for Osborne College of Audiology. My particular interest is in being a consumer of research and this quest has served me well in my clinical work as well as at Starkey and my current position here at Salus.

The first project at Salus was to develop the Advanced Studies in Cochlear Implants certificate program. We had originally envisioned creating a single online course in Cochlear Implants but after looking at the body of literature and advances in science and technology specifically in the field of cochlear implants, we realized this needed to be a larger program. With the help of the faculty, we developed a six-course offering, and it has been one of the most unique and rewarding projects I have ever initiated.

BRAY: Like Giri, I also started my career in audiology working clinically. We're both coming from a background that is a very pragmatic in terms of educating from real-world perspectives and current clinical practices. We know what it is like as clinicians to seek great training programs, and now we've got the chance to create them. We see that online education and distance education are tremendously powerful tools that allow us to extend classroom training far beyond the footprint of our campus here in Pennsylvania.

SMAKA: Audiologists are very familiar with the Osborne College of Audiology but they may not be familiar with the Advanced Studies program. How did the Advanced Studies program come about?

BRAY: We know that our professional academies are working towards areas of specialization and certification, so we started off by looking at how we could help that general movement. The initial course we planned would have only served as a refresher course for someone who wanted to obtain information about cochlear implants, or serve as a review of the type of information that would be covered in an Au.D. Curriculum. It would have been a survey course, without going into depth.

When Dr. Sundar began talking with potential faculty members for the course, they were looking for a chance to go in-depth on important topics in cochlear implants. At a convention or conference, their presentations are typically only 1 or 2 hours long. Even at a workshop, at best they may only have 6 or 8 hours to cover a topic. The Advanced Studies program enables them an opportunity to extensively cover their area of expertise.

We decided to create a program with a breadth and depth of material that you wouldn't get any other way unless you are a professional working in a cochlear-implant program or at a research facility. That is where we realized that we could make a unique contribution to support the profession towards its goal of specializations.

SUNDAR: Before developing this program, we looked at the existing educational opportunities that were available to professionals in cochlear implants. We knew that many of the manufacturers were offering their own training programs but the goal of our program was to offer a comprehensive theoretical overview of basic science, clinical science, rehabilitation issues and professional concerns in cochlear implants, independent of specific product or manufacturer. Our objective was to create a platform where clinicians can gain the necessary knowledge and skill set to develop their own analytical and clinical skills in the field of Cochlear Implants. We had several discussions with our faculty who have contributed significantly to the body of current knowledge in Cochlear Implants, and based on their input we constructed the curriculum and syllabus. Our intent is to provide advanced graduate didactic training for those with a particular interest in Cochlear Implants so that they have a foundation upon which to layer product-specific and brand-specific information from manufacturer training, which is also very important.
Our entire educational program here is based upon the idea that there are general scientific principles in audiology: biomedical science, the clinical science principles for diagnostics, principles of rehabilitation and understanding of professional issues that are critical for modern day delivery of audiology services. All of our programs are based upon this foundation.

While Advanced Studies in Cochlear Implants is the first topic in our academic and professional graduate certificate program, variety of programs are being developed in other areas of audiology.

SMAKA: Victor, you mentioned to me in an earlier conversation about how audiology doesn't have any type of certificate programs like this, whereas other health care science professions do.

BRAY: To the best of our knowledge, we're not aware of any "graduate certificate programs" in audiology. Our professional associations have realized the need for this, and both the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and the American Speech Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) are working on specialty certification exams so that audiologists can obtain recognition in their specialty area. AAA already has board certification opportunities in both cochlear implants and pediatrics.

There is a worldwide shortage of audiologists who are skilled in cochlear implants, but the products are here, the market is here, and the patients are here. The surgeons are trained and conducting cochlear implant surgeries, but there is a shortage of audiologists to perform the associated services with a high level of competence. We are trying to fulfill this need from an educational and occupational standpoint. We believe having this Advanced Studies certificate not only increases the audiologist's knowledge and professionalism, but their marketability as well.

SMAKA: Giri, in addition to audiologists who are currently practicing in cochlear implant programs, who may benefit from the Advanced Studies program?

SUNDAR: This program can be beneficial to not only clinical audiologists, but also to faculty that teach Cochlear Implants in other Universities, ENT physicians, Speech language Pathologists and educators of the Hearing-impaired and deaf children. In developing this program and looking to recruit faculty, I spoke with various faculty from different universities. Some of those currently teaching cochlear implants in audiology programs indicated an interest in the concept of a program such as the one we have developed.

BRAY: There are 72 audiology training institutions, and very few of them have integrated cochlear implant centers. There are faculty who are teaching cochlear implants, quite often as an assignment, but there may be limited expertise behind their knowledge base. This Advanced Studies course is 40 weeks in duration and offers 10 semester credits. The entire program can be taken by a faculty member who is teaching cochlear implants but is not working directly with either the product or patients. They can then take this new knowledge and distill it down to an updated three-credit course for their AuD program with the latest information. Each course begins with a brand-new literature review, which is a great benefit in and of itself for faculty.

SUNDAR: There have been and continues to be significant changes in the field of cochlear implants. We are preparing our students to ask the right questions so that they can become better consumers of advancing research and technology. Our advantage is in having a faculty who will bring the latest information to their students, keeping them abreast of these advances.

BRAY: We're excited to offer this program. We had one of our own faculty complete the pilot study program this year, and she is now reestablishing the cochlear implant program in our on-campus Ear Institute. Based on this experience there's even more good news. For the next Advanced Studies in Cochlear Implants program that begins in May of 2012, we will offer a scholarship to a faculty member who teaches a cochlear implant course at an AuD training institution that does not have a cochlear implant center.

SMAKA: That is wonderful news. It is also very impressive that your faculty now has the expertise to establish a cochlear implant program based on the program.

BRAY: Thank you. We are certainly pleased by the results. In addition to audiologists working in a cochlear implant program, we've already mentioned that faculty members of audiology programs who teach cochlear implants will benefit from our program. Other potential candidates for this program are 4th year audiology students who want to specialize in cochlear implants. For this reason, we are offering a second scholarship, this one to an AuD student who has an externship at a cochlear implant center. Because the Advanced Studies program is online and asynchronous, students can access the classes during evenings and on weekends while they complete their externship.

These two scholarships are part of our general support of the academic community to help educate and train cochlear implant audiologists on a worldwide basis.

SMAKA: We've been talking about the program overview in general, but what about some of the details of the program from enrollment to future sessions?

BRAY: The first program started in May of 2011 and will finish in March of 2012. As we mentioned, the program is about 40 calendar weeks, consisting of six courses, each about six weeks long with a few weeks for breaks. We had 10 students start the pilot study, which is the program that we're finishing right now, and there will be 7 who complete it. According to our students and faculty, the initial program is a great success.

The next program will begin in mid-May of 2012, and run through March of 2013. All of our faculty from the pilot study are returning. We will limit the enrollment to 20 students, which is double the size of our pilot study program. We are opening up the application process now for May 2012 cohort.

SMAKA: What is the general flow of what you cover in the entire course?

BRAY: The Advanced Studies in Cochlear Implants program follows the educational process that we use for all of our courses at the Osborne College of Audiology (see Figure 1). It serves as a reminder to us in curriculum planning to have a foundation in the biomedical sciences, use input from evidence-based practice whenever possible, that the AuD is a clinical (not research) degree, that diagnostics precede rehabilitation (and that audiology scope of practice includes both), that diagnostics and rehabilitation are a combination of both interpersonal actions and technological applications, and that we always need to finish with the big picture of professional issues and public health with regard to hearing and balance care. If you look at the six-course sequence in the Advanced Studies in Cochlear Implant certificate program, you can see how the course information flows in accordance to this guidance schematic.



Figure 1. Framework for curriculum planning at the Osborne College of Audiology.

SMAKA: We were very happy to have Dr. Bob Harrison, who is on the faculty of the Advanced Studies program, recently present a seminar on AudiologyOnline.

SUNDAR: Yes, Dr. Harrison is a neuroscientist and Director of Research at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and a professor at the University of Toronto. His AudiologyOnline seminar provided a great overview of the function of the auditory system with specific reference to cochlear implants. His expertise is in auditory neural plasticity, and he also talked about candidacy issues with regard to neural plasticity, the basic mechanics of auditory physiology and auditory detection and transduction at the level of the cochlea and at the level of the neural pathways. In a way, the course provides attendees with a glimpse into the kind of information and world class faculty they have the opportunity to access through this Advanced Studies program.

SMAKA: We're excited about the new Advanced Studies program and the unique opportunity it provides professionals to become experts in cochlear implants. We look forward to speaking with you again to hear how it is going, and about other Advanced Studies programs that may be available in the future through the Osborne College of Audiology.

Thanks so much for talking with me today.

SUNDAR: It's our pleasure. We're excited to have had the opportunity to talk with you about the program.

BRAY: Thanks, Carolyn. We look forward to talking with you again soon.

 
 

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