Healthy Hearing conversation | Mary Sue Harrison
Dr. Mary Sue Harrison may have taken a traditional route to her career in audiology, but her practice in Katy, Texas is anything but conventional. From sharing office space with her husband, a dentist, to regularly rubbing elbows with mega-celebrities like Dave Matthews and the members of U2, Dr. Harrison has parlayed a score on a high school interest test into a fulfilling, multifaceted career in the world of hearing.
“Back in the 70s when I graduated from high school, I took an interest inventory,” she explains. “The only science job listed for girls at that time was speech and hearing science. My father had hearing loss and got hearing aids when he was in his 40s. I could see first hand how it affected communication and relationships.”
A full-service practice
When Dr. Harrison first began practicing, audiologists weren’t allowed to dispense hearing aids. While they could work for a doctor and do diagnostic testing, they were required to send hearing aid prescriptions to a dispenser where patients would make their purchase. Interning with an ENT helped her realize it was the problem solving part of audiology she liked best; however, waiting around to see if his patients needed diagnostics on demand was frustrating. That’s when she decided to start her own practice.
Today’s Hearing is a full-service hearing center with three audiologists and services including hearing aids, assistive listening devices, custom earmolds and in-ear monitors for both famous and aspiring musicians. In addition to specializing in hearing loss treatment, they also focus on hearing conservation. One staff member is fluent in sign language, and the office manager is a licensed hearing aid specialist.
“Being in private practice allowed me to spend time with my kiddos,” she said.“I had two young children and wanted to be able to take off when I needed to and work when I was at work. I could do my books, shipping and receiving, or send insurance claim forms on Sunday afternoon or after the kids went to bed. I could be there for them when they came home from school and drive them where they needed to go.”
Something for everyone
Besides the scheduling flexibility, being in business for herself also allowed Dr. Harrison to offer more than one brand of hearing aid to her patients. “You don’t have a choice about having a hearing loss, but you do have a choice of what you do about it,” she said. “Lifestyles and budgets are different, but there’s something out there for everybody.”
Newer technology gives hearing aids the versatility patients need and desire, including those that fit discreetly in the ear and connect to smartphones, televisions and other electronic devices. “The quality of sound and of the device is incredible compared to the old analog amplifiers with volume controls,” she said. “You can almost get any kind of loudness without feedback.”
While there are many challenging aspects to owning a business, one of her favorite aspects is having the ability to affect positive change in her patients' lives. “There are a lot of warm fuzzies with this job,” she said. It’s so emotional and rewarding. When they come out of the booth and I put hearing aids on them, their face changes. Their eyes widen, their facial muscles relax and they sit back in the chair. They’re not struggling to be part of the environment, it becomes natural. When they come back for a follow up, they say 'Oh, my gosh, why did I wait so long?'”
Dr. Harrison and her husband work with the mentally handicapped in town, providing hearing evaluations and hearing devices as well as dental services. Additionally, Today’s Hearing staff visits “as many retirement homes and assisted living facilities” as they can. “A lot of my patients I’ve had for 30 years are no longer driving,” she said. “We try to see lots of people on a monthly basis to change batteries and clean hearing aids. We do a lot of health fairs and stuff, of course, but maintaining the care of people who have been your patients for a long, long time when they become less able to come see you is important.”
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