AudiologyNOW! 2011: Dusty's Wrap
I have been told in the past that attending Audiology NOW! is motivating to the point where it can spur you right out of burnout and back into overachiever mode, even in the dog days leading up to finals. Those sources were correct. The conference was everything I expected it to be in terms of learning, networking and entertainment. I made the trek in my 150,000-plus-mile car, along with a college buddy of mine, Jeff. The road trip was uneventful, for which I am grateful. We got a late start to the day and didn't leave until early afternoon. I connected the iPod to the stereo and set it shuffle. For whatever reason, it decided that we needed to hear Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus at least once per state. The brother of an old friend of mine kindly agreed to take us in for the week, as I mentioned in my previous blog. Aaron is a lawyer in Chicago and has a nice condo to match the prestige of his job.
Chicago is a wonderful city, because the street signs actually get you to where you want to go, something only an Arkansan could fully appreciate. The following day after arrival, I used my GPS to drive 7 miles to McCormick Place and was immediately blown away by how large of an event this truly was. I was not quite overwhelmed, but quickly needed to find out where the Hilton in Chicago was located to attend the first event scheduled on my itinerary. Luckily for me, I accidently waltzed into the shuttle bus area.
That event was the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) first-time attendees meeting. Coincidently, the first two students I met were classmates in my program-very exciting to see them in such unfamiliar territory. Shortly after, Mr. Chris Cox, head of the Social Networking Committee (of which I am a member) introduced himself. We went into the meeting of nearly 200 students, which is an incredible turnout judging from the lack of student involvement in prior years. We were privileged enough to sit at the same table as SAA Vice President-Elect Stuart Tomlin, who provided us with excellent tips on how to boost local activity in our local chapter. Board members Bradley Hess and Sam Gustafson presented us with a rundown on how to successfully navigate the conference before immediately leading into the Mix & Mingle event. At this point, I met some of the members from audiology forums, as well as running into our own professor and instructor, Dr. Sam Atcherson. We celebrated audiology through a 1920s-themed social event sponsored by Phonak, and went on our separate ways.
The next day marked the first of my learning ventures, both audiology wise and as a navigator. It began when I decided that the parking lot at McCormick Place was much too costly and elected to take the subway after Jeff had learned how it worked from his trip to Wrigley Field the prior day. I arrived at the station in Clyborne at roughly 9 a.m. and took the subway to Cermak and Chinatown. This stopping point was roughly a mile away from the convention center and slightly terrifying for a country boy. I managed to make it in time for the general assembly. After the morning motivation on behalf of speaker, Jody Urquhart, I figured out the food court system for lunch and met a Indiana University PhD student named Mack Hagood. He was conducting research and was particularly interested in how tinnitus sufferers used social networking avenues to deal with their condition. (I wish you the best in your endeavor, Mack.)
From there, it was on to my first student hands-on lab. This was a very useful lab led by Unitron representatives Peter Steinman and Phil Waldstreiche. Despite the fact that it was labeled as a student hands-on lab, I quickly noticed that I was quite possibly the only student attendee. They instructed on the four walls of private practice and gave real-world examples on how practitioners should budget and where pitfalls lie. I also got a firsthand glimpse of software designed specifically for private practice. Considering the limited amount of curriculum that AuD students receive on practice management, I was particularly grateful for this experience.
From there, I attended the SAA Q&A sessions, where representatives from local chapters across the country pitched their idesa for improving participation rates and raising funds for local endeavors. I very much enjoyed this session, as we have had our own difficulties motivating local members to participate. Let's face it, unless you are elected to a position in your local chapter, participating in events provides little benefit for your resume. Considering the sheer amount of external obligations, it is easy for students to blow these events off. Afterwards, it was on to the SAA Business Meeting, which represented my volunteer slot. My work was relatively short and well worth the resulting free registration for the conference in its entirety. My only job was to monitor a sign-in/sign-out sheet in order for students to be reimbursed for attending. The only down point to this meeting was a student holding a large plate with a hot dog and a boatload of mustard that seemed destined to make contact with my neatly ironed button-up shirt. (It did.) The keynote speaker at this event was audiology "big wig" and James Jerger protégé, Brad Stach. He spoke on the growth of audiology relative to where it was only a few years ago. Dr. Stach encouraged us to view the field as its own profession and to advocate to those we know in much the same manner. He had views that made incredible sense from a practical standpoint, but you don't hear too often. As a male, it is not uncommon to feel that you are a misfit at times, and this presentation did much to remedy that.
That evening, I, along with friends, attended the Oticon party at the Excalibur Nightclub. I will not go into too much detail about the subsequent events related to the open bar, but it should be noted that Collective Soul provided a live performance. I have had feelings of guilt for being a hypocrite by exposing my ears to such loud noises, but free Collective Soul! I met the members of the Social Networking Committee and returned home to prepare for the next day at the conference.
This was by far my favorite day. I elected against the subway and decided to fork out the $19 to park at McCormick once again. I had the honor and privilege of meeting my friends at ADVANCE for Hearing Practice Management: Judi Biederman, Chris McCann and Kevin Miller. At the risk of sounding too fluffy, these were the three kindest people I have met in a long time. They allowed me to come by the booth and meet with companies such as Hansaton and Unitron during their sales and marketing campaigns on the show room. For them to allow a student to accompany them on these meetings is nothing short of awesome. I enjoyed soaking in their wisdom and making connections that I hope will last for years to come. After we had done our rounds on the show floor, I hustled to the bottom floor to attend a seminar on intraoperative cranial nerve monitoring. At this point, I began to realize how broadly audiologists could truly branch out. How cool would it be to be apart of a cochlear implant surgical team?
After walking several laps through the showroom and attending another module on private practice, I decided it was time to return to our temporary home in Lincoln Park. Along with my friends, I saw the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and attended the ReSound party at the prestigious Chicago Theatre. From there, we let Aaron introduce us to the nightlife in Chicago, and I shall not go much more into detail on that!
Overall, I was incredibly pleased with my experience at Audiology NOW! and would strongly recommend it to any student. Next year, I plan to put more emphasis on the learning modules and hands-on labs, now that I am more familiar on how to navigate the vast setup. I was disappointed that I did not attend any vestibular related sessions, but the learning opportunities were definitely satisfying. For anyone who loves audiology, this is one of the better weeks of the year. For anyone who hates Billy Ray Cyrus, I suggest you never ride with me, as the song reared its ugly head several times on the way home as well.