Some Aspects of My Life in Audiology - James Jerger
Amit Gosalia has asked me to say a few words about how I came to be an audiologist. I wish that I could say it was the result of a course of rational and systematic analysis, but in fact it was a matter of pure chance. In 1945 I graduated from High School and enrolled in the Radio Broadcasting program of the School of Speech at Northwestern University. My studies were interrupted, however, by a two-year stint in the US Army. When I returned to the campus in 1949 I resumed my studies in the radio program. Unfortunately this was about the time that commercial television was just getting started in the USA. I feared that this boded ill for the future of radio broadcasting as we knew it then, and began to look around for possible alternatives. It happened that the School of Speech offered a monthly lecture provided by the head of each program in the School. I noted on the bulletin board in Annie Mae Swift Hall that the next lecture in the series would be presented by Dr. Harold Westlake (of Hughson & Westlake fame) then head of the program in speech pathology and audiology. During my freshman year I had studiously avoided these talks, but now my curiosity was triggered and I decided to take it in. What I heard sounded interesting so I enrolled in the beginning course in speech path. I continued into higher level courses, eventually carrying out clinical therapy sessions with actual patients, but with little success. My stuttering cases failed to improve and my slushy sibilanters just got worse. I was about to give up on the whole thing, but saw that there was also a series of courses in audiology within the same program. The entry level course was taught by Helmer Myklebust and it turned my life around. “Myke” was an unusually talented teacher, clinician, and scholar. His advanced course on language opened my mind to entirely new horizons. I enjoyed further courses and mentoring from Drs. John Gaeth and Raymond Carhart, but it was Myklebust who brought me into the field. Eighty years later I am still as enthusiastic about our profession as I was after that first course in 1949.
Well, that it is how I got into the field, but what kept me going was the interaction with so many wonderful colleagues and students. At Northwestern Tom Tillman was a dear friend. We often played golf in early morning rounds on Evanston’s municipal course. It is rumored that we were responsible for the concept of the double mulligan, but that was never confirmed. Another student and good friend was John Peterson who went on to a high-level post at the University of Wisconsin. John had married into a fairly wealthy family and once got his father-in-law to let Tom, John, and me join him for a round of golf at his exclusive private club in a Chicago suburb. We were three poor graduate students who ordinarily transported our clubs on two-wheeled carts that we pulled behind us as we traversed the course. As we unloaded these carts from the trunk of our car, John’s father-in-law said “Oh you won’t need those carts, fellows. We will all have caddies”. That sounded pretty good to me, but Tom blurted out “Our carts will be fine sir. We won’t need caddies”. John’s father-in-law stared at Tom quizzically, then asked “No caddies? But who would rake the traps?” That was my first direct confirmation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that the rich are indeed different from us.
In 1961 I moved on to Washington, D.C, for a two year stint at the VA outpatient clinic located on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, and at Gallaudet college (now Gallaudet University). At the VA I formed a triumvirate with Laszlo Stein and Stan Zerlin. We didn’t get much research done, but our two-hour lunches at various restaurants along Wisconsin Avenue were legendary.
In 1962 I moved to Houston to head research at the Houston Speech and Hearing Center. It was here that I met the woman who became my wife and cherished colleague for the next 54 years, Susan Wood Jerger. Joined by good friend Charles Speaks we pursued research for 6 years, before moving to the Baylor College of Medicine. Chuck then moved to the University of Minnesota and a distinguished career in the speech and hearing sciences.
The team of Jerger & Jerger spent the next 29 years at Baylor. We set up a clinical testing service at the Methodist Hospital, developed a Ph.D. training program, initiated a meeting in Houston from which arose the American Academy of Audiology, and initiated the first Au.D. training program. Memorable students and colleagues were Deborah Hayes, who founded the famed pediatric program at the Denver Children’s Hospital, Henry Lew, who heads the audiology program at the University of Hawaii, and KIWI William Keith, who went on to become New Zealand’s premier audiologist. Brad Stach, who never let me win at Racket Ball, was key in the early development of the AAA. He now heads the audiology program at the Henry Ford Hospital. Jay Hall III came to work for us at the Methodist Hospital as a speech pathologist but was soon converted. His subsequent work on auditory evoked potentials is legendary. Bob Fifer came to us from the Air Force and did let me win at Racket Ball a few times. He now heads the program at the famed Mailman Center for Child Development of the University of Miami and remains a close friend. Graduate student John Allen also came to us from the Air Force. He is now with Crew Health and Safety, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA HQ in Washington, DC.
All of us who participated in the Baylor program owed a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Bobby Alford, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology & Communicative Sciences whose solid and unswerving support of our work over almost three decades made all of this possible.
In 1997 Susan and I moved to Richardson, Texas to take up posts at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences of the University of Texas at Dallas, she to an endowed professorship, me into semi-retirement as Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence. Here I was privileged to mentor two life-long colleagues and friends, Ralf Greenwald, now teaching Neuroscience at Central Washington University, and Jeffrey Martin, who heads a clinical audiology program at The Callier Center of UTD.
In 2014 Susan and I retired from UTD and moved to Lake Oswego, Oregon, to be near family. I try to keep writing but am running out of ideas that others might find interesting. Any suggestions will be gratefully received (email@example.com).
I am often asked, by students and young graduates, what is my view of the future of audiology. There have certainly been a few challenges along the way, but we have weathered all the storms; the future of the profession is bright. I have always counseled that this profession would thrive and grow, and I have generally been right. We took one giant step forward with the founding of the American Academy of Audiology, and gathered further impetus from the initiation of the first Au.D. training program. Just now there are certainly a few issues on the horizon with which some colleagues have serious concerns. In my view we will overcome them and succeed to the extent that we can accept the inevitability of change and learn to adapt to its implications.
The one thing that really bothers me, as most of you already know, is that there are too many Au.D. training programs. Ideally we should have no more than 10, but there are now over 70 and counting. This inevitably dilutes the overall quality of our Au.D. graduates. If you must have something to worry about, this would be a good place to start.
Or, if that depresses you too much, order a copy of “Binaural Interference: A Guide for Audiologists”, by Myself and Carol Silverman, which is now available from Plural Publishing. I guarantee that it will brighten your day.
Finally, be assured, fellow audiologist, that I will always be in your corner.
James Jerger, Ph.D
Emeritus Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence
The School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences
The University of Texas at Dallas