Q. What is the first step to coming into the Air Force?
A. Contact a Health Professions Recruiter, one who specializes in helping people who have attained their health professions degree come into the service. A local recruiter should be able to supply you with the name and phone number of the regional Health Professions Recruiter. You’ll be asked to fill out paperwork, supply transcripts, letters of reference, submit a short essay on why you are interested in the Air Force, take a physical. You’ll have an interview over the phone with a senior audiologist in the Air Force, then your paperwork meets a board that will pick the best applicants to fill the projected openings.
Q. I’ve heard the training is pretty hard, that I’m stuck on base for weeks and have to do push-ups, is that true?
A. Well, not exactly. The training for new medical officers is called Commissioned Officer Training (COT), and lasts approximately 4 weeks. At the leader’s discretion, you may be restricted to base for the first two weeks, and must wear your uniform every place you go. The training is mostly classroom in nature, going over history of the Air Force, our customs and traditions. You’ll also learn to march, salute, how to wear your uniform and requirements for personal grooming. There is some running required, you must be able to run 1.5 miles in a given amount of time for your age/gender. The Air Force is phasing in push-ups and sit-ups, so you will likely be doing those, as well, again number determined by age/gender.
Q. What does an audiologist do in the Air Force?
A. Essentially everything that an audiologist does out of the Air Force, and more! We have positions that involve infant hearing screening, fitting programmable and digital hearing aids, tests of balance function, aural rehabilitation, hearing conservation, research, counseling, providing lectures to residents in pediatrics, ENT, family practice, etc. We see patients of all ages, not just the active duty member…we take care of the whole family. There is also a much greater emphasis on hearing conservation/industrial audiology and hearing loss prevention than you will find in any civilian job.
Q. Where would I live? How often do I move?
A. Currently we have positions from Washington, D.C to north of San Francisco, CA. Many positions are in Texas, two in Florida, three in Ohio, one each in Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, about 30 in all. We also work in Italy, Germany, and England. A typical assignment is three years, and some people move no more often than every four or five years – but plan on three.
Q. What is the time obligation if I do come in?
A. You’ll enter the Air Force as a 1LT, and have a three year obligation to serve. During that time you’ll likely be selected for Captain, and near end of the second year, can opt to stay in the Air Force longer, or walk away at your three-year point.
Q. Does the AF provide continuing education? Can I get an AuD or PhD?
A. Yes, the AF actively supports continuing education for its healthcare providers, and most people are fully-funded to attend one course per year, with some people going to more than one each year, depending on the needs of their clinic, and the local budget. It is possible to be selected for formal full-time training to attain a Ph.D. At present, to obtain an AuD, the money would have to come from personal funds or through a “GI Bill” if elected at time of entry into service, and you would use distance learning to obtain that degree.
Q. Do I have to live on base? Will the Air Force find me a house, and help me sell it when I leave?
A. Family housing is available if you are married and/or have children, though often there is a wait for an available house. Each Air Force base has a housing office which can advise you about the wait times, and often has houses listed for rent or sale in the local area. If you are single, as a general rule, there is no on-base living facility, you must look for an apartment or house off base. If single and living overseas, however, there is housing available on base for officers. There is no financial help available to sell a house when an officer receives orders to move, you would hire a realtor or sell it yourself.
Q. How can I get a raise? Do I get bonus or pro-pay? A. Our pay scale is set by Congress and considers two factors, your rank and your time in service. Every two years we get a “longevity” raise, and when we get promoted to the next higher rank, we receive that raise as well. Recently, the Air Force did approve certification pay, and audiologists are eligible for that once you are fully board certified; this pay also goes up with longevity.
Q. Be honest, tell me some negative aspects of joining the Air Force.
A. Since it is the military, you can be sent someplace you might not ordinarily want to live, making it difficult for a spouse to find a job, or taking you far from parents, siblings and grandparents. The duties of being an Air Force officer often take time from your audiology duties, so time may be spent on exercises, drills, mandatory formations or appointments for health processing. Frequent moves can be hard on children and spouses, as well as furniture and finances! Entering any branch of the service requires you to give up certain freedoms: being able to live where you desire, move when you want to, take the jobs you are most interested in. The needs of the Air Force drive where and when you change jobs, and that is difficult for some people to reconcile. For some, the lifestyle is not a good match. However, the majority of audiologists entering the Air Force remain on active duty for a full career.
Q. Then what are some positive aspects of joining the Air Force? Why should I apply?
A. The opportunity to see a varied caseload, to have responsibility for your own clinic including budgeting and ordering decisions, to obtain valuable training in all aspects of audiology, to travel and/or live around the world, to meet and know leaders in our profession, the opportunity for advanced formal training (Ph.D. or AuD), and to have the opportunity to support our military efforts around the world. Medical and dental care is free for you and your family, on-base shopping at grocery and retail stores costs less than in town, and part of your pay is non-taxable, giving you more dollars at the end of the month than a comparable civilian job.