Over the course of my professional career, I have met some very interesting and cool audiologists. Early on, when I was a “newbie”, I had a tendency to only talk “audiology shop” with whomever I could because I wanted to either learn about something specific I could apply with my patients and/or work environment. The connections I made with my early network were essentially all Audiology, all the time. As I settled into my career, interactions with colleagues obviously still involved audiology-related stuff but I started learning more and more about who my audiology colleagues were as people outside of the confines of the industry. By learning more about my colleagues as people, it actually helped me even learn more about who they really are as audiologist.
A few years back when I was in my last year as serving on the American Academy of Audiology Foundation Board, I had the chance to meet Karen Jacobs, AuD, President and owner of AVA Hearing Center (Grand Rapids, MI) a newly inducted Foundation Board Member with a lot of spunk. While our introductory common thread revolved around Foundation business, I got to know my fellow audiology colleague as a person. Born in Renselear, IN and raised all over the Midwest, Karen originally envisioned becoming an entomologist although she also had a scholarship offer to study theater. Based on a vocation test she took in high school, she enrolled at Central Michigan University to pursue her degree in Speech-Language Pathology. The decision to pursue a career in Audiology, to establish her own private practice, and to give back to the profession is best outlined in the following interview I recently conducted with her.
AU: Tell me a little bit about your work life and your outside-of-work life
Karen: I am the owner of AVA Hearing Center, a private practice established in 1998 and located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Currently, I work full-time and employ one full time Audiology Technician, one full-time receptionist, one part-time audiologist, and one part-time receptionist.
Outside of work, I am en empty nester; my daughter got married in July and started her 4th AuD year in Ohio. My son graduated with a degree in zoology and works at a nature center. My husband and I golf whenever we get a chance. I have a beast of a dog who loves to walk for miles and miles so I log about 15 miles a week with him on our daily walks. We live on a private lake so many evenings we will go out fishing. At night we sit out in our hot tub and watch the shooting stars and talk over our day. It is a quiet routine but a very enjoyable and relaxing routine.
AU: When and why did you decide to pursue the audiology career path?
Karen: Because I knew from day one I was going to major in Speech-Language pathology, I always took 18-24 credits a semester and finished all my course work by the end of my junior year. During my senior year at CMU, I was able to maintain a pretty heavy clinical schedule with some grad students. After a semester of articulation and fluency clinic, I really wondered if I was cut out to be a Speech-Language Pathologist. I ended up taking a course in acoustic, fell in love with the science and the audiology equipment, and I was immediately hooked.
AU: When did you realize you wanted to move forward with establishing your own private practice?
Karen: I had gone as far in my audiology job as I was ever going to go and was left unfulfilled. A very successful private practitioner and friend of mine would always challenge me by asking me “What more are you going to do in your current job?” She often encouraged me to use my talent in a way that allowed me to control my destiny. My husband was equally supportive and actually expressed concern that I wasn’t being challenged enough in my current job. He knew that if I wasn’t challenged, I would get bored and would be miserable. My husband went so far as to tell me that we should take our savings and bet on me being successful in staring a private practice. It was this support and encouragement allowed me to make the decision to move out of my comfort zone and to establish my private practice in 1988.
AU: What have you come to realize has been the biggest misconception about owning your own private practice?
Karen: I thought I would have more control of my time. While I have been able to arrange my work schedule in order to get to my kids to their sporting events, something I never could have done with my previous job, you never leave your office mentally. You are always working on something. You are always responsible for something or figuring out new ways to do things better.
AU: Having been in private practivefor 6 years, what is the biggest piece of advice you can offer to anyone considering or just starting their own private practice?
Karen: I would recommend to anyone currently in or considering private practice to take a good hard look at your skill set in terms of what you do well as well as assessing what it is you like to do and then envision your ideal daily activities. Use those skills you have and be prepared to hire out for those that you don’t have. For example, for many years I tried to save a buck by doing my own accounting and marketing. I hated both of these aspects of my job. I was afraid to spend the money to hire help because it came out of my profits. What I found was that the financial loss to pay for contracted services was nothing because it freed me up to do the things where my talents shined and this increased my business tenfold. It also allowed me to do more of the things that I like to do. This made my daily practice life much more satisfying and enjoyable.
AU: I heard that you established a scholarship for AuD students related to private practice. Can you tell me a little bit about when this was established, what this scholarship is all about, who can apply and how to apply?
Karen: Yes! This is the first year of the Audiology Private Practice Scholarship. I have spoken with many students over the years, inquiring as to what they would like to do once they graduate. Very few expressed a desire to start their own private practice. When I asked students if they would consider opening their own practice, it seemed that many were worried that they could never afford to do so or that they wouldn’t know how to run a practice. This scholarship was created to help bring awareness of a private practice as a career option specifically to 3rd year AuD students. It essentially is an essay contest with the first scholarship scheduled to be awarded in September 2014 to one the student submitting the best essay on establishing a private practice. Right now, this scholarship is available to 3rd year students at Central Michigan University (CMS) although I am hopeful other colleagues will follow suite and start a similar scholarship program through their own alma maters.
AU: What does the future hold for those considering opening up their own private practice?
Karen: I do think that the future is bright for private practice. Private practice offers a great life style (especially for women with families) because it gives schedule flexibility, control over one’s own destiny and financial benefits. Right now there is a lot of concern about the Costco and Sams Club hearing aid sales but I think we can learn from the path other companies have had with these mega stores. Focusing on the local and personal aspects of the private practice will attract patients that don’t want the McDonalds of hearing aids. People want to feel special. They want good service and top-notch care. They are not going to get that in a warehouse store.
For more information on the Audiology Private Practice Scholarship, contact Dr. Karen Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org.