To Listen as Well as You Hear
“Having a business is like inviting strangers into your home,” Drs. Kristen Duncan and Danette Nulph, owners of Duncan-Nulph Hearing Associates, said. Yet, “experience is an amazing teacher. When we look back to the first few years of running a business, we cannot believe that we are where we are today.”
Duncan, a central Pennsylvania native, and Nulph, who grew up north of Pittsburgh, will be celebrating their 13th year of Duncan-Nulph Hearing Associates this coming summer.
“When I started college, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field,” Nulph said. “I knew I wanted to be in a therapy position.”
Initially, she planned to study occupational therapy and began classes at the University of Pittsburgh. While there, she took a sign language class, and that changed everything.
“I learned about deafness, its impact on the individual, and its culture. I was hooked,” she said. “I researched deafness and found audiology. It was the perfect fit for me.”
While she was a University of Pittsburgh student studying physical therapy, Duncan had a similar experience where a sign language class changed the trajectory of her career. She had begun to realize that physical therapy wasn’t for her and had also discovered she was required to take a foreign language class, something she wasn’t too happy about.
“I realized I could take American Sign Language to fulfill that requirement,” she said. “I did, and I loved it. I ended up getting a minor in ASL and changed my major to communication disorders and subsequently went onto Bloomsburg University for my master’s in audiology.”
Although they both attended the University of Pittsburgh, Duncan and Nulph didn’t know each other prior to opening their practice together.
“We had previously worked in an ENT office together and opened our practice mainly to give ourselves needed flexibility with our children,” Nulph said. “We believe that family comes first, even for our staff.”
Duncan and Nulph also share a passion for audiology and are very committed to their patients.
“We have patients who have been seeing us for well over 20 years,” Duncan said.
Not only have they built excellent relationships with their patients, but they have also been able to mentor other audiologists to go out on their own.
“The experience we have gained through our successes and failures has helped several colleagues have the faith that if we could do it, anyone could,” Duncan said.
Duncan and Nulph agreed that audiology has traditionally been a female-dominated field, so being women in their chosen field hasn’t really impacted them one way or another, the doctors said.
But they also point out that “there is certainly a psychological side to hearing loss, and a great audiologist needs to be a good empathizer and listener, regardless of gender.”
At Duncan-Nulph, patient issues can range anywhere from hearing loss to tinnitus to earwax.
“We fit hearing instruments and take ear-mold impressions for ear molds, swim plugs, hearing protection, and other custom-made devices for the ear,” Nulph said.
They also troubleshoot and adjust hearing aids based on customer feedback. Follow-up care is very important as well, and they have found that those who take advantage of that service experience the most success.
“We see a wide variety of age groups ranging from 3 to over 100 — our oldest patient currently is 103,” Duncan said.
A favorite part of the work for Duncan is seeing a new patient who is “ready to improve their hearing and is excited about moving forward,” she said. “There is nothing more satisfying than improving someone’s quality of life. We know that being connected to our environment is a critical component for successful aging. Being able to hear is paramount to this, and we take our job very seriously.”
For Nulph, it’s the interaction with her patients and the opportunity to use “my knowledge and the technology available to help them” that really makes her work worthwhile.
“Patients come to our office with a very specific need … hearing loss affects so many aspects of a person’s life, and each person has their own unique experience,” Nulph said. “I take great pride in helping these patients.”
Duncan-Nulph Hearing Associates was a dream the doctors had that became a successful reality, but they know they can’t do it on their own.
“Trust of employees and of each other is incredibly important,” Nulph said. “Our employees share our vision and understand that we are nothing without teamwork and impeccable customer service.”
Two years ago, Duncan and Nulph brought a third audiologist, Dr. Michelle Tewell, into the practice to help handle their growing patient load.
“She is an amazing asset to us, and we are incredibly proud of the professional and personal growth that we have seen in our entire staff over the years,” Duncan said.
Being involved in their local communities is important to both doctors, and they annually close their offices so that their entire staff can attend and assist with the Special Olympics events held at Messiah College every spring.
Duncan-Nulph also supports the Upper Allen Buddy Ball team, started by a friend of Duncan’s about six years ago.
“It is a baseball team for special-needs children, and they were looking for a sponsor,” she said. “Since then, not only have we sponsored the team, but my family has also been part of the coaching staff, and I can honestly say it is my favorite hour of the week!”
A big reason that Duncan-Nulph has been so successful is their belief in the importance of surrounding themselves with people who are experts in their respective fields and then listening to the advice those folks have shared.
It’s something they’ve learned since opening their business 13 years ago, and it’s a lesson that has served them well.
It has given them the chance to “focus our energy where we have passion and expertise: direct patient care,” Duncan said. “We have grown both professionally and personally over the years and have remained good friends throughout it all.”
They admit that neither of them could even imagine doing what they do without having each other to lean on.
“We talk everything out,” Nulph said. “We work together to make decisions that will be both beneficial to us personally and to our business.”
They’ve also learned to appreciate each other’s strengths and acknowledge each other’s weaknesses. And even though they’ve kicked around the idea of expanding the practice to a second location, it hasn’t happened yet.
“Honestly, it comes down to the fact that we genuinely like working together under the same roof,” Duncan affirmed.