Differences Between Audiologists and Hearing Instrument Specialists

April 12, 2023
Dr. Kathy McGowan
Written by
Dr. Kathy McGowan
Soundly Staff
Reviewed by
Soundly Staff

Dr. Kathy McGowan is an audiologist with Beltone where she educates customers and professionals on topics related to hearing health.  

Hearing instrument specialist vs audiologist

If you suspect you may have hearing loss or want to get a baseline of where your current hearing health stands, you need to schedule a hearing test with a hearing health professional such as an Audiologist or Hearing Care Practitioner as only a professional can properly detect hearing loss and provide the appropriate next steps.

However, you may be asking what’s the difference between an Audiologist and a Hearing Care Practitioner and why should you see one versus the other? While each of these professions focuses on hearing and the ears, they each have their own specialty. Below you will find a reference guide to give you a better understanding of who does what and who you might want to speak with next.   

Overview of Audiologist scope and training

Audiologists are health care professionals who have received university training to evaluate and serve those with hearing loss and treat a wide range of hearing issues. After their university training is completed, they then go on to become Doctors of Audiology (AuD) after passing a national exam and state licensure. An Audiologist uses their extensive training to perform a variety of tests to assess hearing function and health as well as dispense hearing aids. 

Services Audiologists may provide include:

  • Comprehensive Hearing tests
  • Prescribing & fitting hearing aids
  • Hearing aid adjustments & repairs
  • Counseling & educating patients
  • Earwax removal
  • Ear impressions
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy
  • Balance disorder treatment
  • Examine more in-depth inner ear and inner workings of the ear and brain
  • Electrophysiological testing for infants and children
  • Testing of the middle-ear function
  • Cochlear implant rehabilitation
  • Evaluate for ear infections and diseases (they can’t perform surgery or prescribe medications, but can provide physician referrals)
  • Site of Lesion Testing for Retrocochlear Hearing Loss
  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder Evaluations
  • Aural Rehabilitation

Education and training required for Audiologists:

Most Audiology programs start at the bachelor level and go straight through to the doctorate if accepted into the program. 

During their fourth year, they are required to have a year of experience before receiving their license to practice on their own. Since 2012 the minimum education required to become an Audiologist is a doctorate, however, there are some practicing Audiologists who started prior to then with just a Master of Science or Arts in Audiology. After completing their education and training, Audiologists are required to pass a national certification exam and obtain a state license which varies state by state.   

There are other certifications Audiologists can receive, but are not required, such as a Certification of Clinical Competence (CCC-A) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) which needs to be maintained on an annual basis and helps Audiologists get licensed easier in other states. To receive a CCC-A certification, you must attend an accredited university for Audiology and achieve a certain level on the national test and meet your fourth-year professional experience requirement which is all taken into consideration for being granted a CCC-A. This certificate is required if the Audiologist will be supervising other students.

Audiologists have the option to receive additional certifications from the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) including ones for balance testing, testing children, or cochlear implant rehabilitation. These certifications are not required to practice but can be an extra service the Audiologist may provide to patients.  

Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are required for Audiologists to renew their license and the number of units varies by state but is typically 10 CEUs per year.

Overview of Hearing Care Practitioner scope and training

Hearing Care Practitioners (HCPs) as they’re commonly known, but often also referred to as Hearing Instrument Specialists or Hearing Aid Specialists, are licensed and trained to help those with hearing loss by performing hearing tests and dispensing hearing aids. In preparation for their licensing exam, they must complete a certain amount of education and training which varies by state. 

Services Hearing Care Practitioners may provide include:

  • Hearing tests/screenings
  • Prescribing & fitting hearing aids
  • Ear impressions
  • Hearing aid adjustments & repairs
  • Counseling & educating patients
  • Earwax removal (varies by state)
  • Tinnitus therapy (varies by practitioner)  
  • Referring patients to physicians if something doesn’t look right

Education and training required for Hearing Care Practitioners:

The licensing requirements for Hearing Care Practitioners vary by state as some states require the HCP to have at least a two or four-year degree in some form of communication disorder while other states do not require any degree. However, the states that don’t require a degree do require the HCP to take an international licensing exam through the International Hearing Society (IHS) which is close to the equivalent of a two-year degree.

Prior to receiving their license, most states require HCPs to be mentored or shadowed by another licensed HCP or Audiologist for a minimum amount of time such as six months to a year depending on the state. Some states may also require additional coursework and/or the international licensing exam. All states require a practical exam where the HCP must demonstrate their knowledge in each area of the field during a live in-person test. They also must pass a written exam which differs by state. 

Like Audiologists, HCPs are required to complete a certain amount of Continuing Education Units per year to renew their license with the unit amount varying by state. Most states have gone to a two-year renewal license program with most requiring 10 CEUs a year.

Depending on the state, CEUs can be completed online or in person. Some hearing aid brands, such as Beltone, offer CEUs to Audiologists and HCPs within their network by hosting various educational training sessions throughout the year on the latest in hearing care practices and technology.  

As an additional note, the U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Hearing Aid Specialist as a best job for 2023 as they predict an overall increase of 8.3 million jobs over the next 10 years due to the rising demand for elder care in the growing 65-and-older population. This is good news as it will help to increase access to hearing health care, especially in areas where it might not be easily accessible.

When should you see an Audiologist vs HCP?

Now that you have the information on who does what, how do you decide who to schedule a hearing test with? If you or your dependent are under the age of 18, you will need to see an Audiologist as Hearing Care Practitioners are only licensed to serve those 18 and over.

The main purpose of an HCP is to test your hearing health and dispense the proper hearing aids for your type of hearing loss and provide counseling on your new devices. If you suspect you have more serious issues with your hearing beyond standard hearing loss, then you should see an Audiologist as they have more training and are able to treat more severe issues.   

If you’re ready to start your journey to better hearing, you can schedule a free hearing screening at most hearing centers including Beltone which has a mix of Audiologists and Hearing Care Practitioners among its nationwide locations.

No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
–The Soundly team

Frequently asked questions

No items found.