Neelam is due to turn two in another month's time. But unlike other two year olds, she is a special child. Born profoundly deaf in both ears, her shortcoming was detected by her parents when she was a six-month-old but they did not lose heart. They met a specialist, an audiologist who concluded, after several auditory tests, that the child's hearing could be fully restored with a cochlear implant.

An audiologist is a medical professional who diagnoses hearing problems and is responsible for the fitting of hearing aids. If this profession interests you, you must be a science student with either a Master's or a Doctoral degree from an accredited university. You will be required to complete a full-time internship and pass a national competency examination. "Because speech and hearing are so inter-related, the B.Sc. course covers both speech therapy and hearing impairment, while at the post graduation level, you can choose either of the two disciplines," informs Asha Agarwal, a Cochlear Implant Consultant with Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and RML Hospital, who also runs Asha Speech & Hearing Clinic.

Audiologists work in private practice offices, hospitals and medical centres, clinics, public and private schools, universities, rehabilitation or speech and hearing centres, health maintenance organisations and nursing homes. Audiologists work closely with government agencies, practising physicians and hearing aid manufacturers. Shivani Agarwal, who trained as an audologist is now working as a speech therapist at the All India Institute of Medical Studies (AIIMS). "Had I been in private practice, I would have dabbled in both the fields," she says, going on to add that, "Jobs in the government sector are fewer, but abroad in the US and Australia, audiologists are really in hot demand."

"The scope is much better in the West than in India, although it's improving here, as well," says Agarwal. "Because the career requires so much patience with children and elderly patients almost 90 per cent of the professionals in this field are women," she reveals. On an average, an audiologist can hope to earn anything between Rs.10,000-15,000 as a graduate and Rs.15,000 - 20,000 as a post graduate.

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