Pictured above: Mary Chatelain, Au.D., Pinnacle Hearing, Little Rock and Camden

Mary Chatelain has many responsibilities as wife and mother of three, but she also has a fourth baby — Pinnacle Hearing in Little Rock.


“It’s almost like having a child,” she said. “It’s always on the back of your mind. It’s something that I don’t just get to clock out and leave and not ever worry about.”


Born and raised in Arkansas, Chatelain earned her Doctor of Audiology in 2007. She attended Louisiana Tech University before spending her fourth year and an additional year in Florida, then returned to her home state.


She said she chose audiology because it is a fairly new profession compared to other medical fields, such as dentistry and chiropractic.


“Audiology came about after World War II, when we had all the servicemen coming back with noise-induced hearing loss,” she said. “To me, it was really neat to see a profession that was fairly new, and I knew that we had a large baby boomer population that would be hitting that demographic of hearing loss, and I thought it was a really neat career to get in on and make an impact.”


After returning to Arkansas, she worked five years at a retail company based in New Jersey.


“At first, I really loved it because they really gave me a lot of autonomy, and I was able to go out and do different health fairs, and really, it was a lot of grassroots marketing,” she said. “As time went on, it really became apparent that they were owned by a manufacturer, and it really became more about the numbers and hearing aids and less about patient care, so I just felt like I was kind of practicing in a way that didn’t really honor myself and didn’t really honor the patient, and I wanted to get back to really providing the best patient care.”


She opened Pinnacle Hearing in 2013. The practice employs seven staff members between its locations in Little Rock and Camden.


“When I first started the business, the focus was on hearing aids and educating the customer on hearing aids and less on focusing on the full scope of audiology,” she said. “Now, what I love is we are seen more in the medical profession as [the field that] is responsible for hearing care.”


Learning about patients’ day-to-day lives is key to determining whether they need hearing aids, counseling or outside referrals, she added. While some patients can use over-the-counter aids, others require medical-grade ones, and still others benefit from features like Bluetooth or fall detection.


“No two people are alike, and not everybody needs a top-of-the-line hearing aid that has all the bells and whistles, but not everybody can use an over-the-counter product,” she said. “Learning about that and being able to provide the appropriate treatment and counseling and see each patient, learning about them and not just putting them in a category and making assumptions, that’s how I do things with my patients.”


Those looking to start their own practices must understand that mistakes are inevitable, mentors are essential and negative feedback is a fact of life, she said, adding that the endeavor is well worth it.


“If you truly have that desire planted in your heart, run with it because you can make the community such a better place,” she said.


She added that owning her own practice allows her to implement changes and provides flexibility and freedom when it comes to scheduling, choosing which manufacturers to work with and training staff.


“It’s not just if they do their job, but are they enjoying it? Are they breathing life into patients?” she said. “You can really create a culture that honors others and that gives people pride in what they’re doing. I love that aspect of it.”


In addition to her responsibilities at Pinnacle Hearing, Chatelain was recently appointed by Gov. Sarah Sanders to the Arkansas Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.


“That is something that I’m really excited about, being able to lead in our profession, to lead my colleagues and to keep audiology at the forefront and educate the community about who they should see when there’s a hearing issue,” Chatelain said.


Humility, patience and self-control are crucial to leadership, she said, cautioning entrepreneurs to focus on matters at hand.


“It’s easy to wake up and have 20 different new ideas, and you can’t run off with all those ideas,” she said. “There’s a time for dreaming and talking about vision, but you also have to not lose sight of what you’ve got to do today.”


Joy is another essential component of leadership, she added.


“It takes having joy because you’re going to have to have that inner happiness that’s not dependent on circumstances,” she said. “There’s always going to be things that aren’t perfect, but keeping that joy inside of you and not losing that is also important to leadership.”


Going forward, Chatelain said, she hopes to continue expanding her services, find ways to provide appropriate hearing aids to those with low incomes, and increase access to telehealth in rural communities.


“There is a real shortage in audiologists, and in our rural areas, these people don’t always have adequate access to health care, and we’re making a difference in Camden with that,” she said, adding that telemedicine allows patients in northwest Arkansas and Jonesboro to attend follow-up appointments and have their hearing aids adjusted remotely.


That is important due to the mounting evidence that hearing loss not only impedes a person’s ability to work and socialize, but contributes to falls and early-onset dementia, she said.


“When I first started Pinnacle, if someone had hearing loss, our focus was, ‘OK, let’s get an assistive device or let’s get them aided so they don’t miss out on communicating with their loved ones,” she said. “Now, through research, we know that it’s more than that.”


There are also personal stories about the impact of hearing loss. Chatelain recalled one patient who is in her 90s and had both a visual impairment and hearing loss.


“Her family was concerned because she had been having so much difficulty hearing,” Chatelain said. “Well, what we learned after we did her hearing test is her hearing has gotten worse, and the hearing aids she was wearing were medical grade, but they weren’t giving her the amount of amplification she needed for her hearing loss,” Chatelain said. “We got the new ones in her ears, and she sat there for a while. She was just listening, and then she said, ‘You know, I feel like a human being again,’ and that is why I do what I do.”


Chatelain not only sees patients but mentors students as a preceptor for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. She is currently training a resident who works for Chatelain full time and will graduate in May.


“It definitely, at times, can make things a little bit slower when you’re training people,” Chatelain said, “but it’s also really cool to be able to give back to the profession, and the things I’ve learned, the things that I think are important, the way I practice, that’s something that doesn’t end with me.”


Women in leadership roles can enhance professions throughout the medical industry, she said, adding that some women might feel hesitant to take on additional responsibilities because of family obligations.


“They don’t want to take away from their family, but the way I look at it is you can’t afford not to,” she said. “We need women to step up with their ideas. We need their creativity, and we need them to be willing to take chances, and when they see that there’s a need in their community, when they see some type of diagnostic test not being performed or some type of treatment that isn’t being performed and there’s a need for it, that they have the courage to make that happen.”


About 80 percent of audiologists are women, she said, adding that she has faced some challenges as a female entrepreneur — challenges she has come to see as advantages.


“As a mom, as a wife, your mind is never singularly focused on one thing, and I think that, as a business owner, it really can’t ever be singularly focused on one thing,” she said. “You have to be able to pivot quickly, look at different things in your environment, make changes, and so just being a woman and being able to multitask and look at things differently, I think that has definitely been an advantage.


“It’s hard sometimes when your schedule might not be as flexible to pick up the children or make it to every event, but again, I think that’s just made me stronger as a mom and, also, stronger as a professional because I’ve learned how to manage my time, and I’ve also learned that it is OK to miss things here and there. You can’t be 100 percent for every single thing in your life.”


She added that she feels vindicated because of something one of her children recently told her.


“My oldest daughter recently shared with me just how much she admires me, and that brings me so much joy and warmth that I’ve modeled for her a strong work ethic,” Chatelain said. “Sometimes you don’t realize that your kids are watching, and the things I might have remembered that I failed at when she was in elementary school or junior high or high school, that thing I felt like I missed, she doesn’t remember any of that. She is seeing the times that I’ve had to work, the times that I’ve missed things, she watched that, and now that is something that is ingrained in her character.”