About Marion Downs

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January 26, 1914 – November 13, 2014

Dr. Marion P. Downs was a Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado School of Medicine where she spent more than 35 years providing clinical services to benefit patients with hearing loss, devoting her professional life to the promotion of early identification of hearing loss in newborns, infants, and young children. During her outstanding career at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Marion Downs created, developed and evaluated techniques for testing hearing in children and for fitting them, some as young as a few weeks of age, with hearing aids. She was among the first to recognize the need for using hearing aids for babies with hearing loss as early as possible, to help nurture speech, language, and communication skills during their critical development years.

Dr. Downs pioneered the first national infant hearing screening program in 1963 in Denver, CO. Since that time, she relentlessly pursued making the identification and management of hearing loss in infants and children an important medical and educational consideration and public health issue. Her success in bringing the importance of early identification of hearing loss to light has ultimately resulted in a current widespread national program, which makes newborn hearing screening a functioning preventative program today in more than 40 states across the US and in numerous foreign countries.

Dr. Downs was an exemplary teacher who lectured extensively throughout the United States and in more than fifteen foreign countries. She has published nearly 100 articles and books on various aspects of audiology, including serving as co-author of Hearing in Children, a successful textbook updated through six editions between 1972 and 2013, and translated into several foreign languages. Hearing in Children was the cornerstone for thousands of audiologists-in-training to learn how to evaluate and manage children with hearing loss. Dr. Downs is recognized internationally for her work in pediatric audiology; her publications and lectures have brought worldwide attention to the importance of early intervention for hearing loss.  She almost single-handedly alerted the medical world to the speech and language development problems associated with childhood hearing loss. In order to ensure that pediatric hearing loss would remain a priority concern for all pediatric health care professionals, in 1969, Dr. Downs proposed that a national committee be established, composed of representatives from professional hearing healthcare organizations, to periodically review and evaluate, as well as recommend "best practices" approaches, to newborn hearing screening programs. As a direct result of her visionary thinking, a national Joint Committee on Infant Hearing was organized to provide multi-disciplinary leadership and guidance for 35 years in all areas of newborn and infant hearing issues.

Marion Downs has received an extensive array of awards recognizing her contributions throughout her career. Among her many honors are: the Outstanding Achievement Award from her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, and Gold Medal Recognition from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She is the recipient of three Honorary Doctorate Degrees: one from the University of Colorado, one from the University of Northern Colorado, and one from the University of Arizona School of Health Sciences. Dr. Downs has been awarded the Medal of the Ministry of Health of South Vietnam. She has been recognized with honors of nearly every professional hearing-related society including: the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Society, and the Colorado Academy of Audiology. She was a founder of the American Auditory Society and was invited to present the prestigious Carhart Memorial Lecture in 1980. She received an Outstanding Service Recognition Award from the American Medical Association for her work in teaching audiology in Vietnam. She was among the founders of the International Audiology Society, and has served on numerous committees, boards, and task forces on local, national and international projects. She served as the program chair for the International Audiology Congress on two occasions.

The Marion Downs Center is committed to continue developing and providing hearing, speech, and language services to our community, championed by Marion.