Although some people never give it a thought, the science of hearing has always interested you. Two careers in that area -- otology and audiology -- appeal to you as well. Otologists may also be called neurotologists, ENT physicians or otolaryngologists. Although both otologists and audiologists may be called “doctor,” only otologists are medical doctors, and they perform very different functions in the care of patients with hearing problems.
An otolaryngologist is a specialist who takes care of both adults and children who have problems of the ear, nose, throat and neck. Otology is a subspecialty of this group that is primarily concerned with hearing and balance problems. Otologists might perform surgeries to remove tumors or other masses or to repair traumatic injuries of the temporal bones and skull base. They provide medical management for conditions such as ear infections, dizziness, hearing loss or ringing in the ears. They also treat problems that affect the balance system. Otologists must be licensed in all states; many are also board-certified.
Audiologists use technology and other strategies or procedures to treat patients who have hearing or balance problems. They may perform hearing tests or dispense and fit hearing aids when a patient has a hearing deficit that can be corrected by a hearing aid. They may also counsel patients on the use of lip reading or sign language when hearing aids are ineffective. They might also perform specialized testing for patients who have balance problems -- the ear is an important factor in maintaining balance. Audiologists must be licensed in all states and may be certified.
Otologists follow the usual course of schooling to become a doctor: four years of college and four more of medical school followed by at least three years of residency. Most otologists, however, spend at least five years in residency -- one year of general surgery and four more of training for their specialty. An otologist may also attend a fellowship -- an extended period of specialty training. Audiologists must have a doctoral degree, which requires at least eight years of college. The programs require supervised clinical practice as well as coursework in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, physics, genetics, normal and abnormal communication development, diagnosis and treatment and pharmacology.
Job Outlook and Salaries
Demand for audiologists is expected to increase between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Audiologist job growth will be more than double the average growth rate at 37 percent, while job growth for physicians and surgeons should be about 24 percent. The BLS does not specifically track otologists, but the specialty of otolaryngology has been one of the top 20 most requested specialties reported by national physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins since 2007. The American Medical Group Management Association reports otologists earned $377,430 in 2011. Audiologists earned an average of $71,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: What is an Otologist/Neurotologist?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Audiologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- American Medical Group Management Association: 2011 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey
- Merritt Hawkins: 2011 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.