Kelly King has a deep respect for both sound and silence.
“Most people don’t stop to think about how important their hearing is to them and how we use it even in our quietest moments,” King said. “Our ears are never turned off.”
King, however, spends a lot of time thinking about hearing. In fact, the alumna was so fascinated by the way sound is processed through the ear and brain that she received three separate degrees from the UMD Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP): a bachelor’s in hearing and speech in 2002; a clinical audiology AuD in 2008 and a clinical audiology PhD in 2011.
“I’m definitely a Terp for life,” she said.
Currently, King works as both a research audiologist and a program officer at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In her role as a research audiologist, King sees patients from all over the globe at the world’s largest biomedical research hospital. Meanwhile, as a program officer, she oversees grants aimed at understanding hearing and hearing loss, as well as various treatments for communication disorders including hearing aids and cochlear implants. This dual appointment allows King to combine her passion for treating patients with her desire to conduct research that advances the field.
“To be able to serve as both a clinician and a researcher is one of the best parts of the job,” King says. “I’m able to view the field both from the ground and from 30,000 feet to identify where the gaps are in the science and think about how to address those.”
King is particularly excited to be spearheading an initiative to improve the affordability and accessibility of hearing health care. Legislation passed last year will pave the way for over-the-counter hearings aids in the next few years—what King calls “a game-changer in the field.”
“Close to 30 million Americans have hearing loss, but only one in four of those people has actually tried hearing aids,” King said. “A principal barrier is cost, but we should start to see much more affordable options, which is very exciting.”
Although work and family keep her plenty busy, King makes time to teach both a graduate and undergraduate course for HESP as a way to stay connected and give back to the department. To her students—and all Terps preparing to face the future—she stresses that graduation and a degree are just a starting point, rather than a finish line.
“The reality that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot is that many of the things we’re teaching students now will be antiquated at some point in the future,” King said. “Of course, we haven’t taught them everything they need to know. Our job, as educators, has been helping them learn how to learn. We all have to be life-long learners. It’s the only way to thrive these days.”