Pen Bay Speech and Hearing | Hearing Center Interview
Gary Friedman, MS, FAAA, first thought about working in hearing healthcare when the ringing in his ears after a rock concert coincided with his search for a college major. But it was his work with deaf and hearing-impaired children that helped him realize he'd made the right decision.
"I found my love for the field at the Central Institute of the Deaf, Washington University, St. Louis," he said. "I got to work with deaf and hearing-impaired children and fell in love."
Today, Friedman is an audiologist for Pen Bay Speech and Hearing, a department of Pen Bay Healthcare, a not-for-profit hospital whose mission is to serve the community. The hearing healthcare professional said his patient care philosophy was instilled in him early in his 38-year career by a college professor.
"When I was in graduate school, Margo Walker Skinner, my mentor and life-long friend, spoke beautifully to students about the privilege and responsibility of working with patients," he said. "We all took that as gospel. I've been able to not burn out because of that principle."
Friedman said the best part of being a hearing healthcare practitioner is getting to know his patients as people, helping them hear better and giving them realistic expectations for making their life better. "Pressing buttons and doing an audiogram is just grunt work," he said. "At this point in my career, the best part is getting to know these folks as people, not just as patients. Besides," he joked, "I can usually relate. My hair is the same color as most of them."
That's one of the reasons Friedman believes the most challenging part of his job is attempting to explain why insurance doesn't pay for hearing aids. Fortunately, the hospital's mission is to be a reasonably priced alternative for patients who can't afford the out-of-pocket expense of hearing aids. "The way we price our hearing aids turns out to be half of what is quoted other places," he said. "Our community needs a lower price alternative and that's what we're here for."
In addition to providing lower prices for hearing devices, hospital staff conduct in-service training with public school nurses who are responsible for conducting hearing screenings. Additionally, Friedman writes monthly articles for local newspapers and speaks publicly about hearing loss upon request.
Friedman believes receiver-in-the ear technology is the most significant change in hearing technology since he joined the field. "When they first came out with the technology, I put one in and almost forgot it was there," he said. "To me, that is great help. Now we can look at patients and let them know their hearing aids will be comfortable. The technology isn't of any use if the patients won't wear the hearing aids."
"The best, most rewarding part is for a patient to walk in and say 'I love my hearing aids.' I used to never hear that and now I hear it often," he said. "It's very gratifying."