Who is an occupational or professional voice user?
Anyone whose voice is essential to their job can be considered an occupational or professional voice user. We are all accustomed to thinking of singers, actors, actresses, and broadcast personalities as professional voice users. Indeed, special or unique qualities of the voice are often the essential feature of their careers.
But what about other occupational voice users? Teachers, clergy, salespeople, courtroom attorneys, telemarketers, and receptionists, are just some of the people for whom spoken communication is an essential part of what they do. Even in the era of e-mail and the internet, we can’t really imagine an effective classroom, pulpit, or courtroom without voice. What about a physician conveying sensitive or complex information to a patient or colleague, or a business executive conducting a meeting? Once you pause to consider it, you realize that voice is crucial to many professions.
Why is this important?
Voice is something that is often taken for granted. Many people, including many occupational voice users, don’t pay attention to their voice until they develop a significant problem with it. These voice problems then have an adverse effect upon their ability to do their job.
Consider, for example, a school teacher. Arguably, this is the most vocally demanding profession. Teachers are using their voices constantly, often in noisy rooms with poor acoustics. One study showed that elementary and high school teachers reported voice problems at a rate nearly three times that of a randomly selected group of individuals who worked in a variety of other occupations. In another study, about 20% of teachers, but only 4% of non-teachers, had missed work due to their voice. It is thus very clear from the medical literature that high voice demands in the workplace can have health consequences for the individual, and productivity consequences for the employer. Research is ongoing into strategies to enhance the vocal health of individuals in professions with high voice demands.
What can be done about these issues?
Awareness is the key. Awareness, first of all, about voice-related occupations. A person may not even know that they are in such a profession until a voice problem brings the issue to the forefront. Secondly, awareness that high voice demand occupations do place you at greater risk for developing vocal difficulties, and that you have to listen to your own voice in order to recognize when you are developing problems. Do not accept hoarseness as part of the job. Finally, be aware that proper evaluation and treatment can take care of almost all voice-related problems, and preventative measures can set you up to succeed at even the most demanding voice-related occupation.