Audiology student combats hearing loss for musicians


SUMMARY: Audiology student, Leanne Browning, unites her passion for music with her love of science.

Leanne Browning

By Alyse Lehrke, Strategic Leadership doctoral student at James Madison Univeristy

Third year Audiology student, Leanne Browning, started her journey into the science of sound as a musician. She combined her passion for science and her passion for music with her keen observation that many drummers suffer from hearing loss. As a drummer herself, she wanted to know what she could do about it. After earning her undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, she entered JMU’s clinical audiology doctoral program to blend her knowledge of sound with her desire to help people with hearing loss.

When Leanne began exploring audiology programs, she knew she wanted one with small class sizes so she could really get to know her classmates and professors. With just five students in her cohort, JMU was the right fit. She’s had the opportunity to “work alongside professors” in meaningful ways. Plus, she loves the mountains and the friendly people that make Harrisonburg a great place to live. 

JMU offered the right combination of research and clinical practice to prepare her to be a knowledgeable and highly trained audiologist. Although she was not originally interested in research, preferring the clinical work instead, her studies are giving her a solid foundation and new appreciation for the role of research in clinical practice. Her dissertation project explores cochlear implants, providing data that can be used to inform the clinical decisions audiologists make.

Leanne is embracing the value of research in her field by presenting her work at conferences. She described a recent conference where she “felt like the least experienced person there” but recognized the importance of doing things that are a little scary. It may be intimidating to present research to a room of experts, but she’s found that “most of the time people are very supportive” and she’s met many great scholars and practitioners in her field.

In addition to attending conferences, Leanne recently shared her work by participating in JMU’s Three Minute Thesis competition. After winning second place for her dissertation titled Audiologist’s Preferences in Programming Cochlear Implants: A Preliminary Report, she was invited to represent JMU at the regional competition for the Council of Southern Graduate Schools. The competition offered a chance to synthesize her research for a general audience, helping her share her passion with people outside her field. Plus, she said it was fun to meet other students involved in research.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her time at JMU is the opportunity to learn firsthand from audiologists in the field, helping people with hearing loss even as a student. She explained, “For most people in the helping professions, it’s being able to see how you’ve already made an impact on people’s lives even before you graduate and become an independent clinician.” She’s had the opportunity to work with diverse populations from veterans at the VA clinic in Martinsburg, West Virginia to working with children at a children’s hospital. She discovered that she enjoys working with adults and children, and she wants to continue serving patients from various populations.

Her advice to other graduate students is this: “Do more than the bare minimum.” From clinical experiences to conferences and competitions, Leanne has invested extra time to take advantage of every opportunity available to her. “I’m really glad I’ve been able to fully commit myself to audiology and learning in these years,” she reflected. For now, this means her drum set has taken a backseat to her studies, but she imagines a future filled with the perfect fusion of her love for music and her career as an audiologist.

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Published: Monday, April 16, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020

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