"So what do you do?" I paused and thought of several different responses that were possible. I responded with a smile and three simple words, "I change lives."
Over the course of our careers, we are asked many times why we do what we do—sometimes we even ask ourselves that question. While there is a myriad of answers, some individuals have a personal experience with audiology that brought them to this profession. More and more students are entering the profession with hearing loss, and are excited for what the future has in store.
Help Those Students with Hearing Loss
Comply with their documented accommodations.
- Wear remote microphone technology.
- Take notes.
- Use CART services.
Practice good communication strategies.
- Get their attention first by saying their name or tapping them on the shoulder.
- Have conversations face-to-face with good lighting.
- Reduce background noise as much as possible.
Create a comfortable environment for the student so that clear communication can occur.
- Ask how you can help them grow in their clinical skills.
- Offer time to talk about things that they need help understanding.
- Ask them how they learn best (i.e., some might learn better by visual examples or by practicing).
- Follow through with your conversations.
Read through resources that are available.
Provide them with the information of networking opportunities and support groups.
- Students with Hearing Loss Task Force
- Audiologists with Hearing Loss
- Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss (AMPHL)
These students have sat on the other side of the soundbooth as patients. The idea of crossing over to the clinician role to help serve others is a dream they are one step closer to achieving. As a student with hearing loss, my biggest desire for audiology as a whole is to help find our voice. We have learned self-efficacy as patients; however, there are different barriers to clear as we find our footing in the professional world.
Students with hearing loss sometimes face a unique set of challenges foreign to their normal hearing peers. For example, one student recalled,
"As a first-year, all my classmates were excited to open the listening scopes we received after completing our earmold impression lab. I put mine in and then it dawned on me that the input signal would never go through my hearing aid. The lab instructor was stumped on what to do for me for listening checks."
Other examples of clinical issues to tackle include accurately scoring speech recognition testing and developing communication strategies to better hear our patients and preceptors. We also must learn how to inform preceptors, professors, and peers about our hearing loss. Requesting reasonable accommodations through our university or department can often be a challenging and stressful web of bureaucracy.
Last year, the inaugural Students with Hearing Loss Meeting was held at AAA 2018 in Nashville. There were 46 students in attendance from 24 different universities across the country. While hearing loss was a common bond between students, the beauty of the group was the diversity of shared perspectives and experiences. Students ranged from undergraduates interested in pursuing audiology to current AuD students, externs, and PhD candidates. Their stories—highs and lows—resonated with each other and created a platform for education and encouragement. When asked about the meeting, one student said, "It was an eye-opening experience to get perspectives of peers and to feel supported."
Following AAA 2018, the Student Academy of Audiology moved the Students with Hearing Loss group from within the Chapter and Member Relations Committee and created the Students with Hearing Loss Task Force. It is co-led by Audrey Taylor, a fourth-year student from the University of Texas at Dallas, and Amanda Demas, a first-year student at Washington University in St. Louis. Members of the task force have either a unilateral or bilateral loss. Some use hearing aids, cochlear implants, or are bimodal. Audiology is a small field, with an even smaller population of students and audiologists with hearing loss. Consequently, the mission of this group was to create a unique audiology home for students with hearing loss where they can network, grow, and form connections they would not otherwise have at their individual programs.
When asked about how hearing loss has shaped their journey in becoming an audiologist, one third-year AuD student said,
"My hearing loss has made me a better clinician because of the empathy and understanding I have for my patients. From the family who just found out their child is deaf to the adult with balance issues, I strive to listen to each of their stories and experiences while providing them hope that they can get through whatever obstacle they face.
My hearing loss has also been a positive experience in the classroom, as my professors and classmates inquire for my point of view about various topics of audiology. I've learned to advocate for myself both in the classroom and clinic, hoping to teach my patients and future audiology co-workers the value of advocacy and accommodations for the hearing loss population."
A current fourth-year AuD student also said,
"It has been very exciting being able to use my unique experiences with both a hearing aid and a cochlear implant to the benefit of my patients and their families. I've been able to change the mind of a middle-aged patient who thinks they are not old enough for hearing aids from a "no way," to scheduling a fitting.
I've also been able to take a four-year-old from refusing to put her hearing aids on to wearing them out the door with a smile (with maybe a few extra stickers in tow as well), knowing it's okay to have a hearing loss because their audiologist has one too. While I've been born with a hearing loss, I am fortunate to take what gifts I've been given and use it for the benefit of my patients."
At the end of the day, our most important legacy is the one that we leave behind. It is words of encouragement, patience for teaching, and compassionate empathy in helping future generations of audiologists embrace their "why moments"—all so they can change the lives of the patients that they encounter.