Meet Kristen Weinbaum, Au.D.
Position/Practice: Audiologist and Owner of Precision Hearing
Years in Practice: 10
-Doctor of Audiology, University of South Florida
-B.A., Communicative Disorders, University of Central Florida
Four years ago, you started an annual hearing aid giveaway program called the Gift of Hearing. Where did that idea come from?
This December marks the five-year anniversary of when I started my practice. Starting a practice feels like a big risk. You do all this work and put all this money into it, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. My first year was actually pretty good, better than I expected it to be. You know how you do a one-year birthday party for your kids, but it’s really to celebrate the parents? “We did it! We kept the baby alive!” I had the same feeling as I was approaching my one-year anniversary. I was feeling blessed and thankful, and I wanted to do something to give back. The practice where I did my fourth-year externship had a hearing aid giveaway, so that’s where the idea came from.
How does the Gift of Hearing Program work?
I have a PR person who helps me get the word out to local media that we’re giving away one pair of hearing aids. We invite people to share their stories with us via email, mailing them in or submitting them at giftofhearing.net by a specific date. They can nominate themselves or someone in their lives. Candidates need to meet three criteria: Hearing need, financial need and impact on quality of life. I have a panel of three judges, including my regional manager from Fuel, Jeremy Weaver, who has been a judge all four years of the contest. They make their recommendations, and if there’s a dispute or they all pick different people, then I reserve the final say. The hearing aid manufacturers have been generous in supporting the contest. Often a few manufacturers agree to donate, so I’ll bring the winner in and decide the technology based on their hearing loss.
I have seen video of some of your previous winners being fit, and it’s very touching. It seems like a really rewarding program. Can you speak to some of the benefits you get from it?
It is really rewarding! Some of the stories we hear about are so heart-wrenching, and it’s really satisfying to be able to help. I feel a special connection with the patients who have been fit through the program. Today, I saw my winner from three years ago, Joe, who is a garbage truck driver in the city, and it was really cool to see him again. I also get good publicity from it. My PR person makes sure that the initial announcement is in several local publications and on the news, and then we’ll often get a news crew out here to film when we fit the hearing aids. I can’t say for sure how it has impacted my patient base, but I have had some patients mention the program. I know of two patients who specifically mentioned that they chose to drive here from a further than usual distance to purchase their hearing aids because they had heard about the contest and wanted to support us because of it.
Do you have any advice for other practices that may be looking to start up something similar?
It is a lot of work! It’s great media coverage, but it does take time. I would definitely recommend having an experienced PR person who can be persistent and help get you in front of the media. Another tip: When you call the winner to tell them they are a finalist, wait to tell them they’ve won until they come to their first appointment. It’s happened twice that I call the winner and leave a message, and they never call me back. People have sometimes asked me if I get a lot of candidates without hearing loss. That hasn’t been an issue, but I do sometimes get candidates who have other resources for hearing care that they’re not aware of. For example, hearing loss may be impacting someone in their job, in which case I’ll connect them with vocational rehab. I want to reserve the Gift of Hearing program for the people who can benefit the most.