It passed the House by an unusually close vote, 37-30. Now a bill increasing the requirements for calling yourself an audiologist heads to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.
House Bill 34 would strike a section in Idaho Code where a master’s degree in audiology would be sufficient to practice audiology in Idaho. The Idaho Speech and Hearing Services Board, which regulates the licensure of audiologists in the state, would be tasked with enforcing any new provision passed by the Legislature.
The bill would also require that any audiologist within the state have a doctorate in the field of audiology from an accredited university recognized by the board.
According to the American Academy of Audiology website, an audiologist is trained in the “audiologic identification, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of individuals with impairment of auditory (hearing) and vestibular (balance) function, prevention of hearing loss …”
Rep. Brandon Hixon, R–Caldwell, was one of the 37 House members who supported bill. “The reason being because they (the board) basically are moving that program from a master’s degree to a Ph.D program in audiology.”
Hixon said he was very concerned about the people who are currently licensed with master’s degrees and how this legislation would impact them. “I had raised the concern as to what’s going to happen to the people who are already licensed in this area and have master’s degrees, and whether this was going to be retroactive.”
He says he was told that those who already have a master’s degree in audiology would be grandfathered in and that they would not need to re-apply to school for a doctorate or risk their licenses. He said that if the board did not grandfather those with master’s degrees, he would have voted against the bill.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R–Rigby, who voted against the legislation, said she thinks that a potential change in the requirements from a master’s degree to a Ph.D is a big deal.
“Particularly since we’re one of the lowest states with access to doctors and specialists of any kind and we’re such a rural state, very rural.”
Wood added that the cost of doctorate program cannot be discounted as well. “I can’t imagine why a doctor would want to come back here, once they got their doctorate, and I’m going to guess the only place they would want to come would be Boise, maybe Coeur d’Alene.” But, “why would they go into a rural area to serve? They won’t.”
She sees this legislation as limiting access to doctors in rural areas, and that the master’s program helps fill a gap in the need for specialists. She is also concerned as to why the universities in Idaho are not offering master’s degrees in audiology. “I can’t imagine why the universities would not offer the master’s program and help us with our need for more medical providers.”
Wood is convinced a master’s degree is sufficient to provide a professional level of service to the state as well as provide in-state professionals. Says Wood: “I think the master’s (program) would allow more people to access a university program offered in our state and those people would be more inclined, I would think, to stay in our state and provide the services to the people.”