Audiology and speech pathology are crucial to any ENT process, and specialisation opens up a plethora of opportunities.
For an ENT department to be complete, it should have audiologists and speech therapists, say ENT surgeons. With the Government launching its national prevention and control of deafness programme, there are plenty of career opportunities in these specialised fields for students. Students choose to set up their own clinic, freelance as audiologists or go abroad for jobs or higher studies. A graduate can start at Rs. 8,000 a month in government organisations. The salary in the private sector can go up to Rs. 12,000, says Ranjini Mohan, a III year B.Sc. Speech and Hearing student at the All-India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH) in Mysore, the pioneer in the field. AIISH offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. "After B.Sc., people usually set up private audiology clinics or work as speech therapists here. Lots of people go abroad as plenty of scholarships are available." "If I were to go back in time I would choose audiology and speech pathology," says well-known Chennai-based ENT surgeon, Mohan Kameshwaran. His institution, the Madras ENT Research Foundation (MERF), offers a four-year undergraduate course in Audiology and Speech pathology. The second batch of students will be inducted this year.Audiology is about evaluation and diagnosis of hearing loss, while speech pathology (or therapy) is about the study of management of voice, speech and language. ENT surgery cannot exist independently of these two, says Dr. Mohan, who performs cochlear implant surgeries. After surgery, a child requires a speech therapist to help learn language delivery. "The future for students is bright. To set up an audiology clinic you need Rs. 3 lakh to treat basic- level deafness," says R. Ananthan, an audiologist with the Chennai office of Phonak, a multinational company manufacturing `hearing systems'. "But 80 per cent of the students go abroad. Two thirds of them go to the U.S. and the rest to Europe or Australia. You can find only 20 per cent of the qualified students in India." His job is to train a dealer's network on fitting and choosing the right kind of hearing aids for the disabled person. Multinational companies look for qualified audiologists, who must have at least a B.Sc., but a postgraduate qualification fits the bill better, says Mr. Ananthan.Besides government hospitals, special schools and non-government organisations need skilled graduates. "A speech therapist will have to teach basic things like what a dog is and how it looks. We show the child the model of a dog and explain what noise it makes. We teach the child to communicate with parents, family and friends," says Ranjini. There is plenty of scope for her course, she says.Speech therapists are needed to treat people who lose their speech capability after suffering a stroke. Graduates can also work in district rehabilitation centres and with government projects such as screening children for deafness. The 34-year-old speech and hearing institute at Government General Hospital in Chennai and NIMHANS's Speech and Audiology department in Bangalore offer plenty of opportunities. A qualified audiologist can also identify those feigning hearing loss using tests that can be administered when the person is sleeping. This is often needed in medico-legal cases, says Dr. Mohan. Dr. Mohan's institute also offers a yearlong internship programme for B.Sc. students. The institute's course is affiliated to Tamil Nadu Open University and the State Government has stipulated the course fee structure. Students must have a love for humanity, commitment to help the patient, a sound knowledge of science and a desire to excel, sums up Dr. Mohan.