Hearing Loss — Role Models in Medicine

Circa 2005

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Almost every child at some point picks up a toy medical kit and aspires to become a nurse, physician, veterinarian, dentist or other health professional. A child who has a hearing loss, however, is unlikely to be encouraged to use a stethoscope or blood pressure cuff. For these children who have been less-than-motivated to pursue careers in health care, exposure to professionals with hearing loss can provide important inspiration. The Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss proves by example that all people have the ability to pursue their dreams, regardless of their level of hearing.

The Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss (AMPHL) is a nonprofit organization formed in 2000 by health care professionals who recognized the profound need to address issues surrounding people with hearing loss in health care occupations. AMPHL reaches out to professionals with health care degrees, such as physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses, physician assistants, technicians, audiologists and clinical psychologists, as well as students in these respective fields, providing resources and mentorship not found through other agencies. The association supplies information, promotes advocacy and creates a network for individuals with hearing loss interested in or working in those occupations.

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In the last 10 years, an increasing number of individuals with hearing loss, whether congenital or acquired, have entered health care careers. These professionals and clinicians-in-training have become meticulous in their work and provide the utmost attention to their patients. For example, nurses who cannot hear alarms develop systems to monitor their patients more closely and more frequently. Physicians and veterinarians who read lips or use sign language use memory techniques to compensate for the inability to simultaneously write in charts or type on the computer and listen to the patient during an interview. Nevertheless, there is still a need to educate instructors and other health care professionals about the many ways various practitioners successfully compensate for hearing loss.

When pursuing health care careers, students with hearing loss face unique challenges. They need access to assistive technologies both to obtain and assimilate the tremendous amount of information required of medical professionals, and to allow them to provide good patient care. AMPHL has become an important resource for professional and graduate schools in providing successful accommodations, including real-time captioning, sign language interpreters and assistive listening devices.

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One of the most frequent misconceptions is that people who have hearing loss cannot use stethoscopes. Although stethoscopes were designed for people who can hear, this obstacle has been overcome easily with help from stethoscope companies. AMPHL has been the backbone in this important change, and as a result there are several amplified stethoscopes on the market. Special earmolds sit over an in-the-canal hearing aid or plug into a behind-the-ear hearing aid. A health professional with very profound hearing loss can connect an electronic stethoscope to a personalized digital assistant (PDA), where a visual display software will convert the heart sounds to a visual graph of the sound waves called a phonocardiogram.

Another challenge for practitioners with hearing loss is the operating room; lipreading is impossible when everyone’s mouth is covered with a surgical mask. Necessity is still the mother of invention, and several ingenious individuals have designed adaptive solutions for their specific institutions. One example for allowing medical students who are deaf to understand surgeries is to set up the operating room with a transcriptionist, a computer that connects to an overhead projector, and a screen; the transcriptionist types what is being said by key players, and the text is projected onto the screen, visible to the student without obstructing other medical staff. Additionally, AMPHL is working with an outside company to design see-through surgical masks to be used throughout the country.

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Several AMPHL committees aid in the dissemination of material and help maintain the network. The advocacy committee is proactive with public policy and political issues affecting health care professionals with hearing loss, providing a public voice to effect change. The secondary school/outreach committee strives to ensure children who have hearing loss become aware of the number of successful health care professionals who are hard of hearing, providing much-needed role models who can continue to guide them through training. AMPHL facilitates outreach to motivate students with hearing loss who dream of careers in health care professions. The most important resource AMPHL provides, however, is a list of dedicated professionals who are willing to share their personal stories and advice with others, addressing dilemmas from what is the best stethoscope to purchase? to should I disclose my hearing loss on my application? and how should I handle a panel interview?

Providing answers to these questions and many more, AMPHL hosts an annual conference as a part of its outreach program. The conference includes presentations about a variety of topics relevant to students and professionals with and without hearing loss, a stethoscope and assistive listening device display, and an opportunity for attendees to network and provide valuable input regarding AMPHL’s future projects and goals.

by Leah Algier, MD

For conference information, visit

www.amphl.org

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