If your voice is your livelihood, at some point in your career your will find yourself in search of a voice doctor.
Maybe you are noticing a loss of vocal range. Your voice may be sounding more raspy. Perhaps your voice feels more tired after working it. It can be truly scary for a vocalist to feel that something so important to them is at risk.
When symptoms arise, how do you find a voice doctor? What are the criteria you should use to check that you are with the right person? How do you know who you can trust?
Many in the industry rely on word of mouth. This can be extremely helpful to narrow an otherwise large field of professionals. However, it is important to understand what you should be looking for. The more knowledgeable you are about voice care and vocal health, the more likely you are to choose the right person.
When analyzing a voice doctor, you should verify the following:
- Board Certified in Ear, Nose, and Throat
- is Fellowship trained in Laryngology (Voice Medicine)
- performs stroboscopy on all voice patients
- explains your voice problem to you in a way you can understand
- does not simply push medications, diagnose reflux, or give steroids or antibiotics every time you have a voice complaint
Each bullet point deserves to be explored and we’ll do this in future articles. For now, focus on the bold words. Call the doctors you are considering and verify that the above standard is being met.
Board certified: This is the minimum standard for an ENT. This simply means your doctor has passed the necessary exams to confirm their competency in Ear, Nose and Throat. It is very uncommon to find a doctor who is not at least board-certified but it is worth asking.
Laryngology: This is the term for a sub-speciality who has been selected for additional training in voice medicine after completing ENT training. Technically, only those who have done the additional training, called a fellowship, can be called a laryngologist. When verifying your doctor’s credentials, you may consider asking if they did a 1-2 year-long laryngology fellowship and where this was done.
Stroboscopy: This is a sophisticated, office-based exam that can be interpreted by a laryngologist for accurate diagnosis of a voice problem. There are four components: an endoscope (or “scope”) usually inserted into the mouth, a microphone, a strobe light source, and video recording and playback. A scope through the nose rarely includes stroboscope and should be avoided for diagnosis of voice issues.
The stroboscopy set up in a typical laryngologist’s office will look like this.
Explains: Your relationship with your doctor and your comfort with them will play a significant role in your successful treatment. If you don’t fully trust your physician, you are less likely to ask questions that help you understand your problem. You likely will not comply with the recommendations. This will greatly impact your outcomes.
Push medications: Voice medicine is not a one-size-fits-all specialty. Contrary to what may singers experience, reflux medications and other “universal” treatment plans rarely accurately represent what a voice user is facing. Be cautious if you are pushed out the door with a prescription and without understanding what is going on with your voice and why you have that medication.
The most important things you should look for are credentials and results.
Know what credentials matter (as listed above) and make sure the person you are seeing has them. When you’ve found someone who meets the minimum criteria of training, ask about results. The only way to know this is to talk to satisfied patients. Read their testimonials. Ask your voice professional to give you access to their clients or ask your artist friends who they see. Nothing is more valuable than a personal referral.
Finally never stick with someone just because they are “supposed to be good.” Go with your instincts; if you don’t feel you are with the right person, keep looking until you do.