Natalie McKee, Au.D., was an unhappy physical therapy major in college when a conversation with her mentor changed her course of study -- and ultimately her hearing health.
“My mentor was the dean of the college and after telling him I wasn’t happy with my field of study, he suggested I take his Introduction to Audiology class,” she explained. “I recognized a lot in the class because growing up I had a lot of experience with audiologists and hearing tests. I thought the profession was a good mix of diagnostician and caregiver.”
Although Dr. McKee had hearing loss in one ear, she didn’t wear a hearing aid. That changed once she switched her college major to audiology. “Going through the audiology classes made my hearing loss more front and center. I struggled when I was trying to evaluate other’s communication abilities,” she said, “and realized it was important for me to do something about it.”
As a result, Dr. McKee was fit for her first hearing aid when she was 20 years old. “If I hadn’t chosen this profession, I don’t know if I’d have been as quick to do something about it because I still had one good ear. Now that I have a hearing aid, I understand how much better it can make things and I don’t want to be without it.”
That perspective is one of the characteristics that distinguish Bloomington Normal Audiology from other hearing clinics. Other audiologists in the practice -- Danica Billingsly, Au.D., Stacy Chalmers, Au.D., and Arica Rock, Au.D. -- can also directly relate to the patients they serve.
“We all have hearing health connections that make us unique,” Dr. McKee said. “Arica has an uncle who just received a cochlear implant, Danica has tinnitus, and Stacy’s child has had chronic ear infections since birth. Hearing loss is so prevalent.”
Deana Roberts (billing and insurance), Kate Burcham (office manager) and Cathy Groves (receptionist) complete the Bloomington Normal Audiology team, which has locations in both Bloomington and Pontiac. Their philosophy on patient care is simple. “Our purpose is to allow people to always hear the most important sounds of their lives,” Dr. McKee said. “Everyone’s important sounds are different. We try to remember that we are trying to help someone – not give them a cookie-cutter answer for their hearing health needs.”
The doctors are strong advocates for hearing health – especially preventative care. “Everybody gets their eyes and teeth checked, but they forget about their ears,” Dr. McKee said. “People don’t think of the prevention part of it very often. No matter how good hearing aids are, nothing is as good as what God gave you.”
Part of their outreach includes a relationship with a local sportsmen’s club and youth shooting group where they periodically talk about proper use of hearing protection and distribute free ear plugs. They are also involved with the local Farm Bureaus where they talk about hearing protection on the farm.
Dr. McKee said her favorite part of being a hearing health professional is helping people hear – especially those who are struggling with their hearing loss. “A lot of times hearing loss happens gradually. Then we fit them with hearing aids and it all comes back – it’s so great!”
Dr. McKee recalls the story of one younger woman who had been struggling with her hearing loss for awhile and cried when she turned her hearing aids on. When she hit another hurdle at work – participating in weekly phone conferences – she brought her computer in and was fit with a streamer with wi-fi connectivity.
“It was another one of those over whelming ‘oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-believe-how-well-this-works’ moments", Dr. McKee said. “When you’re able to evolve with the patient, you leave work happy that you showed up that day.”