In California, to be certified as an audiologist - basically someone who tests hearing and fits people with hearing aids - a candidate has to have a bachelor's degree in communication disorders, complete an accredited masters program, and then work under a licensed audiologist for 36 weeks.
Given those rigorous requirements, it's not surprising that California has a huge shortage of audiologists - and it could get worse. The private professional organization that accredits college audiology courses has mandated that by 2012 new audiologists will have to have a doctorate degree. That's two years and tens of thousands of dollars more in post graduate work just to test people's hearing.
The potential impact on the public is huge. An estimated 28 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, but there are only some 15,000 audiologist practicing nationally now. If future audiologists have to have doctorates, there will be even fewer.
Before going along with this dubious mandate, state legislators must ask hard questions, beginning with: What is the problem? Is a doctorate really necessary to test hearing? Is a master's degree even necessary? And finally, why should a private organization be dictating state certification policies?
Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.