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Kaczmarski likes audiologys high tech high touch facets
Clinical audiologist Beckie Kaczmarski has owned and operated Kaczmarski Hearing Services for nearly two decades and has seen some remarkable business growth in the past several years.
She opened her first location on 44th Street in Wyoming in the mid-1990s. In fall 2008, she opened a second location in the Northpointe Bank Building at I-96 and East Beltline Avenue NE.
Three years ago, Kaczmarski moved from the 44th Street location and opened a new office in Metro Health Village in Wyoming the same day Metro Hospital opened. “That’s been another pivotal point of the practice — our move to the campus here. It’s been wonderful,” she said.
Besides the offices in Wyoming and northeast Grand Rapids, Kaczmarski Hearing Services also has locations in Walker and Kentwood. She opened those two satellite offices last December.
“So now we have each quadrant: southeast, southwest, northeast and northwest,” said Kaczmarski. And she may not be done with expansion plans. “Actually, we are looking toward Lowell. We think that’s a nice area, one that’s growing,” she said.
Kaczmarski credits two factors for her success over the years. “It’s hard to separate the personal from my career because that’s pretty much been my life. I started my doctoral degree the day after my son was born. That was pretty major for personal reasons,” she said of the birth of her third son, Maximus. “But career wise, what has launched my career and my practice has been the Lyric hearing instrument we have.”
The Lyric is produced by California’s InSound Medical Inc. It’s the world’s first hearing aid that resides in the hearing canal and can be worn continuously for up to four months. It doesn’t require battery changes, can be worn in the shower and uses the ear’s natural anatomy to funnel sound to the eardrum. Another important feature is that it’s invisible, which means the Lyric removes the social stigma that some people might feel about wearing a hearing instrument.
Popular Science Magazine named Lyric a winner of its 2009 Best of What’s New Award in the health category. Kaczmarski Hearing Services became the first audiology business to offer it in West Michigan last April.
“It’s a non-surgical insertion, but we have to do it at the office. You wear it for 24 hours at a time for up to two to four months. It releases people from so many of the humdrum traditional hearing aids issues,” said Kaczmarski.
One of those issues that Lyric wearers don’t have to contend with is removing it for strenuous activities like an exercise routine or when sleeping. “They can just leave it in, and it puts you back into the normal hearing world, hearing wise, as well as functioning in your life and not having to worry about it. It’s virtually invisible; you cannot see it. It sits four millimeters into the eardrum,” said Kaczmarski.
Kaczmarski earned her doctorate degree from A.T. Still University, which was founded in 1892 and claims to be the world’s oldest osteopathic institution. The school has campuses in Arizona and Missouri and offers a doctor of audiology program. “It’s a transitional degree. Our industry is a fairly young industry, and it’s growing and forever changing,” she said.
Kaczmarski earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in audiology from Central Michigan University. When she graduated from CMU, a master’s was required to practice, but now a doctor’s degree is required. “It’s much like a pharmacy degree. It’s been modeled after that. Now all professionals are required to have a doctorate. It’s a clinical doctorate,” she said.
She said she first became interested in the audiology field because it was new and she wanted to become involved in something that was progressive. She said the counseling aspect of the field and the technological promise the fledgling industry offered were key elements to choosing audiology. “High tech, high touch is what I like about it,” she said.
Kaczmarski said what she likes most about being an audiologist is having a unique skill level to help others and the personal contact she has with her clients. “A hearing aid is only as good as the person that fits it. You can have all the technology in the world but if you don’t have the knowhow and the hand-holding ability to educate somebody, a hearing aid is worthless,” she added.
When she got into the field in 1988, she did so without thinking that she would become a business owner. She began her career as a clinical audiologist at Comprehensive Audiologic Services in Grand Rapids. But as she developed her professional reputation, she started thinking about hanging out her shingle, which she did in 1994.
“Opportunities arose. My husband was instrumental in opening the practice and all the logistics of getting things open, and I ran with it once things were open.”
Kaczmarski has received a trio of American Speech-Language-Hearing Association continuing education awards, given in recognition of her ongoing study in her profession.
She also has remained active in professional organizations. She is a longtime member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the American Academy of Audiology, and the Michigan Academy of Audiology. She has been aligned with those associations for more than 15 years. She has been a member of the Better Business Bureau of West Michigan since 1994, the year she debuted her business, and the Michigan Retailers Association since 1998.
Kaczmarski was born in Detroit. Today, she lives in Walker with her husband, Carl, and their three sons, Maximus, Leo and Carl Jr., who range in age from 6 to 10 years old, with Maximus being the youngest.
“It’s easier, though,” said Kaczmarski with a laugh about having three sons. “They played with the same toys and have worn the same clothes.”
Carl, who is a New Jersey native, steps in occasionally to help Beckie with corporate matters. They met in 1986. He later moved to Michigan where they finished their degrees together. Carl and Beckie have been married for 21 years.
“We waited 12 years before we had our kids, and I was happy with that decision. I think I’m a better mom because of that, and now I have the flexibility to come and go,” she said.
As for her free time, Kaczmarski said she is so involved with her children and her business that she has relatively little of that. “It’s all about the kids. But I’m very good at taking my (business) hat off when I go home to be a mom, and then come here (her office) to work hard,” she said, adding that being a mother is extremely important to her.
“I like watching the children grow into real people, the growth and the challenge and the beauty of seeing them become themselves,” she said. “Luckily for me, all three are doing some of the same things. They all take tae kwon do … and they all play guitar.” Kaczmarski said she doesn’t do either. “No, I wish I had those talents,” she said.
In addition to seeing patients, Kaczmarski Hearing Services sells, services and repairs almost every make of hearing aid, and the firm specializes in difficult-to-fit hearing losses. Kaczmarski Hearing Services offers most digital hearing devices on the market in order to fit any lifestyle and budget. The company was the first in Grand Rapids to offer customers a 60-day trial period.
Kaczmarski Hearing Services also offers complete diagnostic hearing evaluations and video and electroystagmography tests for patients who experience dizziness.
Kaczmarski noted that roughly 28 million Americans have a hearing impairment. Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions in the country and affects people of all ages. Sometimes a loss of hearing is hard to detect, she said, because it happens so gradually that some might not notice they’re experiencing a loss.
At her company, Kaczmarski has four audiologists on staff, and two other employees who provide patient support. “I have a beautiful staff, and that’s what makes this place tick,” she said.
As for her immediate future, Kaczmarski said she wants to continue to grow her practice. For the longer term, she would like to see her boys eventually take over the business.
“Central Michigan University is one of the premier schools for audiology in the country. So I think it would be great to see them take the business someday. I’d like to grow my practice. I’d like to see it double in size in the next four or five years, even in this Michigan economy,” she said.
“The demographics for our population, as well as technology like Lyric, is a great recipe for growth. And we’re not so much seeing the senior population. We still are, but it’s really the tech-savvy baby boomer that we’re seeing right now. They’re a very, very big portion of our practice right now,” she said.
“And I think we’re seeing a more progressive patient, a more health-educated and more affluent baby boomer who really wants to know and understand the technology. For instance, we have wireless Bluetooth activity with most of our hearing aids now. Any audiologist who isn’t aware of how to use this technology is worthless for their patient.”