A Unique Pathway from Speech-Language Pathology to Audiology

Gabe Bargen’s ASHA certification in both fields has given her a broader perspective on supporting patients, families and the next generation of audiologists

Gabe Bargen didn’t take the most conventional path to audiology, but she wouldn’t change a thing. Looking back, her rural Nebraska upbringing, desire to help people, and dual ASHA certification brought her exactly where she needed to be. 

Even though Gabe didn’t know anything about either field until college, she found her calling in speech-language pathology — or so she initially thought. During her last semester, and needing a few more credits, she took an audiology course.

“Once I was introduced to audiology, I knew that was the path I wanted to go down,” Gabe said. “I loved the instant gratification that patients receive and the ability to see the problem and then address it right away.”

At the time, she had already committed to a speech-language pathology graduate program at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, which didn’t offer audiology. She decided to complete her master’s in speech-language pathology, and then do her clinical fellowship year in Clay Center, Kansas. Following the CFY, she was accepted at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) where she then pursued a master’s degree and PhD in audiology. While finishing her PhD, Gabe began working as a pediatric audiologist in the KUMC audiology clinic. She became ASHA-certified — twice — earning her CCCs as both a speech-language pathologist and audiologist.

“Getting my CCCs indicated that I had earned the skills to ‘do it on my own,’ and proved to myself and others that I had figured it out and met the requirements to be certified,” Gabe said. “I attempt to educate my students on the importance of the national accreditation and of continuing education to be able to practice at the top of your profession.”

At Idaho State University for the past 13 years, Gabe now holds various roles, including Associate Professor of Audiology, the Executive Director for the Idaho State University Health Science Center, and the first Program Director for the Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Sciences Program at Idaho. Her CCCs instilled in her a sense of confidence and motivation that she hopes to pass on to her students.

Despite her unique path to audiology, Gabe is grateful for the experience gained during her time as a speech-language pathologist.

“The knowledge I gained from my training and time working in the trenches as a speech-language pathologist helps me on a daily basis working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and their families,” she noted. “It reminds me to keep in focus that these kiddos are more than just a pair of ears.”

Supporting the Human Behind the Ears

Throughout her career, Gabe’s research has focused on newborn hearing screening, infant diagnostic testing and improving early intervention services, especially in rural areas. Since her patients are so young, she often supports the parents as well as the child. When a family brought in their seven-month-old for testing, their frustration clearly suggested they still hadn’t received the help they needed despite visiting several clinics.

Upon testing the child, Gabe found no response — meaning the baby had significant hearing loss — and she shared this with the parents. “The mother told me it was because her child was deaf, but no one believed her,” Gabe recounted. “I told her I believed her.”

Gabe views her role as an audiologist as something that goes beyond the science to reach the human-to-human connection of helping patients, and their parents, overcome challenges and know that they’re not alone.

Expanding Access to Hearing Care Worldwide

Growing up in Nebraska and working in Idaho, Gabe has seen first-hand how a lack of access to care in rural settings affects children and families. Her work aligns with this year’s World Hearing Day (March 3) theme: expanding access to hearing and ear care for all people. Though services have improved over the years, Gabe says there’s still a long way to go. 

She encourages audiologists and speech-language pathologists to keep up with their research and certifications and share information about best-practices that work well in their clinics. “We have to rely on each other because when we know better, we do better,” she said. When Gabe and her colleagues maintain their CCCs and practice at the top of their profession, it directly helps their patients.

From speech-language pathology to audiology, Gabe’s unique perspective, diverse experience and her CCCs help her inspire the next generation of audiologists to “see the human behind the ears” and ensure that their patients — and families — from all backgrounds feel supported and can thrive.