Pediatric Advisory Board turns 25!

Dr. Anne Marie Tharpe, one of the original members of the Board, shares how this group came about and how they’ve partnered to improve hearing healthcare provision for children.

It is hard to believe that this Board has been around for 25 years! How did this diverse group of people from across the globe come together? Good question! 

Let’s go back to 1998 when Phonak held the first Sound Foundation Through Early Amplification Conference in Chicago.  That conference was one of only a few at that time that focused exclusively on children with hearing loss.

It was mind blowing! We didn’t have to search through a long program looking for a few sessions with a pediatric focus. Attendees were so energized by the conference, that an idea was born. Ora Buerkli, the first audiologist to work at Phonak, and Richard Seewald, world-renowned pediatric audiologist and researcher, began to chat about how to keep that energy from the conference going.

Importantly, they recognized the value of having people from the hearing technology industry in the same room with hearing healthcare professionals who worked daily with children with hearing loss.

Finding the right people

Initially, their thought was to bring people together who could generate ideas about needed pediatric research in the field. This research activity would, in turn, fuel the next and future Sound Foundation Through Early Amplification Conferences.

At annual meetings, Phonak representatives and the Board would discuss and develop research ideas together and some of those ideas resulted in funded projects. The original Board comprised numerous audiologists, hearing scientists, and speech-language pathologists in addition to the Phonak representatives.

In addition to Richard and Ora, original Board members included John Bamford, Judy Gravel, Melody Harrison, Bob Nozza, Jack Roush, Pat Stelmachowicz, and me. We were a small but highly motivated group. It was so invigorating to gather with these thought leaders and create ways to answer the questions most of us had been asking ourselves about how to improve outcomes for children with hearing loss.

Adding the ‘secret ingredient’

 Over time, we began to realize that some key voices were not being heard. That is, it’s not all about what research can tell us but also about what those in the trenches of the clinical world can tell us about their personal experiences working with children with hearing loss. And, of course, it became obvious that hearing from parents of these children was also an important ‘secret ingredient’ to our success and a parent was added to the Board.

That’s when we began to see a transition within the Board from a research-only focus, to broader, more inclusive discussions. In other words, in addition to considering issues like how to optimize frequency lowering in hearing aids for children, we broadened the discussion to include the nuts and bolts of technology fittings such as ‘why can’t hearing aids do this?’ and ‘wouldn’t it be great if volume control covers were easier for parents to handle?’.

These questions enriched our discussions with the Phonak Research and Development, Science and Technology, and Product Management teams. We were shrinking the divide between industry and the end-users!

Notable accomplishments

I am proud of the many accomplishments of this Board over the last quarter century.

Perhaps our most visible work is in developing the program and participating in the outstanding Sound Foundations Conferences that always draw a large international audience. We try to maintain a balance between providing content for new hearing healthcare providers who might not have a lot of experience yet and challenging accomplished clinicians and hearing scientists who are seeking to hear about the new frontiers in childhood hearing loss.

Another accomplishment includes writing informative Pediatric Focus articles designed to support clinical audiologists with best practices when working with children. These articles are available free online and address practical topics such as directional microphone use in pediatric hearing aid fittings, and hearing aid prescription and fine-tuning for pediatric hearing aid fittings. Our entire Board is committed to ‘spreading the word’ about best pediatric practices and these articles provide an additional avenue for that communication.

Finally, I’d like to mention the 2017 conference we organized on unilateral hearing loss in children. This has been a long-standing topic of interest (and often confusion!) in pediatrics whether the hearing loss has limited usable hearing unilaterally (LUHU) or is considered aidable. Questions abound – is the loss aidable? Which technology should be selected and why? At what age should technology be introduced to a child and family?

We brought together experts from around the world, including a panel of parents of children with unilateral hearing loss, to share research and ideas about these and many other questions.

Immediately following the conference, a small international group of stakeholders, including a parent, researchers, and clinicians, developed a clinical practice parameter1 that provided specific recommendations for the identification and management of children with unilateral hearing loss. Following that publication, our parent representative from the Board summarized that practice parameter into a Parent Guide for Understanding Best Practice Recommendations for Children with Unilateral Hearing Loss.2

As you can likely tell from this brief summary of our accomplishments, the touchstone of our work is sharing up-to-date knowledge on managing childhood hearing loss with hearing healthcare professionals, researchers, and families across the globe.

And the next 25 years?

Although members of the Board have changed over time, our international group remains dedicated to the concept of industry, hearing care professionals, and families partnering to improve hearing health care provision to young children and adolescents. It is exciting to think what the next 25 years will bring!

For more information and a list of current members of the Board, please visit the Phonak website- Pediatric Advisory Board.


  1. Bagatto M, DesGeorges J, King A, Kitterick P, Laurnagaray D, Lewis D, Roush P, Sladen DP, Tharpe AM (2019). “Consensus Practice Parameter: Audiological Assessment and Management of Unilateral Hearing Loss in Children”. International Journal of Audiology, doi: 10.1080/14992027.2019.1654620.
  2. DesGeorge, J (2020). Phonak Parent Guide: Guide for understanding best practice recommendations for children with unilateral hearing loss. Retrieved from Parents best practice for children with UHL ( accessed December 2023.

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