Q&A with Gail Whitelaw, Ph.D., Audiologist and Director of the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic at The Ohio State University

Jul 15, 2020 | COVID-19, Human Resources

Audigy’s Deb Abel, Au.D., and Amyn Amlani, Ph.D., recently spent an afternoon discussing university student programs with Dr. Whitelaw during their Ask the Experts happy hour. Here are some highlights from this informative conversation:


How have the first three months of COVID-19 affected the university experience, especially for fourth-year students?

Zoom Fatigue
Interacting with almost everyone in your life over video chat can lead to exhaustion and stress. It’s become so common, in fact, that there’s now a term for it — Zoom fatigue, named for the video chat platform that’s risen in popularity during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Program students are definitely no exception.

Clinical Education
I am amazed at how creative folks have been during this unprecedented time. Practices have enjoyed being part of the education process, for example volunteering to provide cases and lectures. Clinical education is crucial, even if we find ourselves in uncharted territory. At OSU, we trudged ahead and, though quite the challenge, put together a class on pediatric patients.

I prefer to simulate the tough cases, but the students want “real” ones. We all need to get better, though, at doing simulated cases. What’s out there isn’t comprehensive or challenging enough. That’s where doing virtual clinic with patients is helpful, and some experienced students are really good at it. But new patients can be intimidated, and not all cases are appropriate for telepractice anyway.

Fourth Years

Students have found their fourth years have changed dramatically, and some have gone so far as to postpone it altogether. This highlights one of my pet peeves: A student pays a university for support, but when the slightest change or challenge arises, the university leaves the student in the lurch. There’s no offer of guidance or assistance in finding a fourth-year opportunity. Universities need to honor this process as the triad partnership it’s designed to be — student, placement, and university.

This is where the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education board can be of great help. The quality of clinical education cannot be compromised during this pandemic — it needs to be top notch, regardless of what’s happening in the world.


For fourth-year students that have lost their externship site, has it been difficult to backfill?

This year it hasn’t been that difficult. In fact, I’m amazed at the widespread pay-it-forward perspective. Everyone is striving to keep the profession strong and viable. Most preceptors are not taking things off the cuff — they’ve been very thoughtful about providing a safe but outstanding opportunity for their fourth-year students.

I’m more worried about students in the second and third years of their programs. I suspect there will be a lot of uncertainty around their placements in Spring 2021 and Spring 2022.


Have any May 2020 graduates had their job placement disrupted?

No, not yet. Though there has been a frustrating trend among fourth-year students with out-of-state placements — they’re being asked to move earlier and quarantine for two weeks. They’ve already made living arrangements, but now they’re having to negotiate with apartment complexes to change their lease date, for example.

A separate issue is that students aiming for a hyper-specific geographic area are having difficulties finding placement.


Without getting too specific, are you looking into new ideas for the Fall 2020/Spring 2021 curriculum?

We need to rethink what adult education should look like. I think it will shake out as a combination of face to face and hybrid.

I’ve been trying to ask new questions and devise new approaches. For example, many students are dealing with high levels of anxiety — how can we offer alternatives, such as assessments and clinical education online? I tried team Jeopardy with my students, and they loved it. It was a hoot, but they also learned a lot.

I believe a lot of universities will be looking closely at simulated and standard cases (and other types of clinical education options) to expand how students can be educated. Audiology is behind in this area. But I see positive changes as well in curriculum and didactic education, such as more comprehensive incorporation of tinnitus.


There are more than 74 programs right now. Shouldn’t we try to more closely align their programs, so we have fewer differences between institutions?

I think that’s critical, actually. Being a department chair is so amazingly difficult right now. It’s of paramount importance to make programs more consistent and resources more similar. But so many Au.D. programs are underfunded, and there are differences that make alignment complicated, for example, public vs. private or “in the belly” versus standalone.


Do you think because we’re no longer limited to physical location (virtual meetings), some clinical simulations can be virtual?

I think so. Unfortunately, some of the governing bodies are completely inflexible about innovation. We know how effective simulations are for other doctoring professions. Why haven’t audiology and speech pathology embraced it yet?

We as a profession have to be the ones to drive innovation. Universities need to be leaders, not followers. We cannot wait for ASHA, ADA, and AAA. It’s straightforward — here is what we know about simulated cases, and here is what we know needs to be tracked for quality outcomes.

But how do we start, and how do we capitalize on it? Perhaps an organization like CAPCSD (Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders) should take the lead. They’ve provided a lot of training and direction during the pandemic already.


To avoid duplication of services, couldn’t someone get the ball rolling and create resources that all programs could use? Where would you start?

CAPCSD has some great resources. Richard Gans at AIB has gathered a lot of good online vestibular resources. I think we’re further along than we realizesomeone just needs to gather all of it together.

One thing that I think will hasten this process is anticipated budget cuts. Open positions will be left unfilled, which presents an opportunity — help faculty teach more effectively and use our resources more effectively. Also, I would love to see more top-tier programs collaborate, not compete.