Hearing instrument specialists: What do they do?


Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing

You haven’t been hearing well lately and decide it’s time to have your hearing checked. Whom do you call? Among the qualified hearing care professionals in your area are some with an HIS designation. What does that mean and how is it different from an audiologist? Let’s take a look:

What does a hearing instrument specialist (HIS) do?

A hearing instrument specialist is a state-licensed hearing care professional who has been trained to evaluate common types of hearing loss in adults, and to dispense hearing aids. Every state licenses hearing instrument specialists, and in some states, they are also known as hearing aid dispensers, hearing aid dealers or hearing instrument dealers. Hearing instrument specialists typically use the initials HIS after their name, or in some cases, HAD or other initials depending on their state.

People with a hearing instrument specialist license can:

  • administer and interpret hearing tests, such as immittance screening, pure tone screening and otoacoustic screening, as well as air or bone conduction and speech audiometry 
  • select, fit, program, dispense and maintain hearing aids
  • take ear impressions
  • design, prepare and modify ear molds
  • repair non-functional or damaged hearing aids
  • in some states, hearing instrument specialists may remove earwax

Every state requires that individuals be licensed to perform these tasks.

Is a hearing instrument specialist right for me?

As in any profession, there are variations in the skill level, experience and expertise of hearing instrument specialists. If you’re an adult with common age-related hearing loss or noise-induced mild to severe hearing loss that cannot be corrected medically, a hearing instrument specialist may be the right professional to help you hear better with hearing aids.

If you have special needs, your hearing loss is more complex, or you could benefit from the additional education someone with a doctorate has, a licensed audiologist may be the best choice for you.

What is the difference between a hearing instrument specialist and an audiologist?

Education and scope of service are the two major differences between the two types of hearing care professionals. While hearing instrument specialists are trained to administer hearing evaluations to fit hearing aids, audiologists are trained to perform full diagnostic evaluations of the auditory system from the outer ear to the brain. Audiologists often work closely with otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors) to diagnose and treat complex hearing problems.

To become an audiologist in the United States today, a person must earn a Doctorate in Audiology (AuD), and become licensed by the state they are practicing in. (Previously a masters degree in audiology was required and those audiologists with that degree who were practicing before the requirement changed may be grandfathered to continue practicing.) Audiologists are authorized to work with infants, children, adults, the elderly and patients with special needs.

More: What is an audiologist?

Educational requirements of hearing instrument specialists

Hearing instrument specialists’ educational requirements are less than audiologists’ requirements and vary by state. Every state establishes their own set of requirements, but at a minimum, hearing instrument specialists must have a high school diploma and complete a rigorous training program. Most of these training programs combine classroom or distance learning with a requisite number of hours of hands-on experience supervised by licensed hearing care professionals and can take up to two years. The required program of study for hearing instrument specialists includes anatomy of the ear, acoustics, assessment and testing of hearing, hearing aid selection and fitting, hearing aid technology, counseling and other topics.

The licensure process

When hearing instrument specialist candidates have successfully completed the training program designated by their state, they must pass an exam to become licensed. The testing combines both written and practical examinations judged by a board of examiners. After they pass the examination process, hearing instrument specialist candidates must then apply for licensure from their state. That process includes a background check.

To maintain their required professional licensure and stay current with developing changes in the hearing care industry, hearing instrument specialists are required to complete a minimum number of semi-annual continuing education hours.

Board certification

After a hearing instrument specialist has been licensed and practicing for at least two years, they become eligible to apply for board certification in hearing instrument sciences. The board certification process includes passing a psychometric exam developed by the National Board for Certification in Hearing Instrument Sciences Exam Committee. Hearing instrument specialists who are board certified use the NBC-HIS designation after their names.

Where do hearing instrument specialists typically work?

Hearing instrument specialists often work for hearing clinics, healthcare organizations, such as hospitals and ENT practices, or hearing aid manufacturers. They may also own their own hearing care practices.

Where to go for help

If you need a hearing healthcare professional, don’t delay. Many clinics employ both hearing instrument specialists and audiologists working together as a team. Our online directory can help you find a qualified hearing care provider near you.


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