Resilience 101: A Letter About Living Your Mission and Values
Kim E. Fishman, MA
It isn’t easy. Our parents have told us this a number of times. We tell our kids, life isn’t easy. Although they don’t know anything about working in the field of audiology.
Helping people is why so many of us clinicians come into this field. And what is not to like about changing people’s lives in such a short amount of time? My path to where I am today has not been direct, and most definitely has not been easy. I am sure many of you have experienced a variety of events along your path in this career. Here is my story.
Since I graduated, every step along the way has been a search for the truth. From figuring out how many channels in a cochlear implant are needed for best outcomes to what are the best hearing features for people.
For the last 10 years, my focus has been on accessibility and affordability. I want people to help themselves hear better and get access to the information we, as hearing health care providers, can share with others. It is our mission. Protect your hearing, get in the loop, get some kind of assistance, don’t go crazy with your tinnitus; we can help! We love to help. This is why we went to school, learned and trained in this field.
In 2018, I thought I came up with the perfect solution. So I created a space where people could walk on in to “shop” in a retail space that shows everything our industry can showcase. I worked with an architect who created custom shelves that ultimately displayed hearing protection, accessories, cleaning supplies, treatment ideas for tinnitus, PSAPs, and yes, even over-the-counter hearing aids. They were beautiful pieces and I was able to fill the shelves with product. As you know we were missing—and still are missing—the over-the-counter hearing aids. Additionally, we had three sets of shelves for hearing aids and those shelves were given to those who helped sponsor or paid “slotting fees”. The patients knew the shelves were sponsored. Just like how Walmart works, although I don’t think Walmart shares transparency like we did.
It was a brilliant idea (if I must say so myself). But it didn’t really work because, as you may know, our industry doesn’t work that way.
The space created had a large beautiful custom table with a built in power supply like an apple store and high top chairs. This enabled us to host events. Our people came for an experience. They came for coffee, treats, lunch, and joined an event. We had many a fun event. Lots of great conversations. We even had one of my patients (the walking Atmosphere) come and play drums and tell poems. It was beautiful. They got to experience a loop, watch TV with a TV streamer piece of their brand, and even demo a hearing aid of their choice! What is not to like.
Now, my practice had previously been in St. Louis Park (SLP), MN a very close suburb to the city. My sister and others warned me that when I moved it wasn’t going to work for such-and-such a reason. Did I listen? Nope. I was sure this was the solution. Move from St. Louis Park to Minneapolis, into the city, in Uptown, and create accessibility to people who are not all wealthy. It seemed ideal. Not that everyone in SLP is wealthy. Minneapolis is much more populated with a huge diversity of people. Our new space was off a bus line, in a very young and hip area.
I loved going to work in the morning. Visiting with people, perfect acoustics for hearing in the clinic, with drop ceilings in the store. Music from the Sonos speakers played daily. The people that came in loved it (other than the parking, which was another issue I won’t get into here). We were near great authentic food including a famous donut store next door! Lots of small businesses. At first all was great, besides gaining weight.
People who lived in the city flocked to our new location. Our population was so diverse, young with more musicians than I have ever seen. True, we had some scary moments of drunken people walking in looking for food (yes, we gave them food), but mostly, we were helping people that summer. Then came the brutal winter of 2019. It was so cold and snowy no one came out. I was starting to get scared. (My bookkeeper warned me that I was spending or had spent too much money.) In March, people started coming back in and the schedules were full again. I thought I might just make it.
Then Covid-19 happened. The schedule was wiped out – just like that.
What happened, what do I do, I thought? The products were unbundled and my fees were probably not enough. Maybe I had too much staff. But we had to have them for our walk-ins. Maybe the costs of goods were still too high. Too much stock. My build-out was definitely too expensive. What do I know about business? I am an audiologist! Did I have any classes or training on running a business? NOPE.
My landlords were horrible. One even shot his wife in domestic abuse. The other was bilking me for CAM fees that were never used. Sewer bugs started showing up from a sewer issue downstairs, in our stock area, that was never addressed in the buildout. Mice were in our space from a hole that was never repaired because the sound booth blocked it. No rodents in the lease, but the landlord said, “what do you expect in an old building?”.
I realized I had made a BIG mistake. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. There were not enough unique amplification products at this point. I was too early out of the gate. And I had no money to market the new concept. I had too much debt. My plans of creating a store that I was going to tell all of you about and how to make it work, failed.
Long story short, I chose bankruptcy as I saw no other way out so that I could continue to help people. Thank goodness I had no real money, boats, big houses, etc. Just debt and more debt and school debt (which, by the way, a bankruptcy does not remove).
After talking to some of my peers and the attorneys, I risked starting up a new clinic back in the suburbs. I found an adorable small space in a historic house; only female owned small business owners are here with me. I moved during the beginning of COVID-19. Those were scary times.
My patients came back to me and I even had new patients come during the beginning of COVID, where we worked outside in the nice sunshine that summer. Many of my SLP patients came back. Some told me they were happy I moved back as they were not going to follow me to the city.
We still create fun events, outside now, although we are doing more inside now, too, without masks. I love helping people. We mostly get people from referrals of our patients. I don’t market my clinic right now.
Affordability and accessibility is still my top priority. I am pooling my resources to our online store. My goal is to reach those rural areas, keep costs low for the consumer, while offering the best of the best hearing technology. I don’t have deep pockets and I don’t have credit. I have kids going to college soon. I'm always looking for vendors and partners that will align with my values. Feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in becoming part of this movement.
It isn’t easy, but yes, it is fun and it is my passion. I do love my people. Helping is what drives me every day.
Stay well and keep the faith in your own mission and values. ■
Kim E. Fishman, MA, is a licensed audiologist with experience helping people achieve healthy hearing. She specializes in the evaluation and non-medical treatment of hearing loss and has extensive training in hearing evaluation and rehabilitative audiology including hearing instrument dispensing and patient-centered counseling.