When the profession of audiology began some 50 years ago, it existed solely to serve those with hearing loss. It was exceedingly rare to see an audiologist wearing hearing aids, remembers Mark Ross, one of the pioneering audiologists who entered the field after acquiring hearing loss while serving in the Army.
Today, it is not all that unusual to encounter audiologists with hearing loss who use cochlear implants and hearing aids. A maturing profession, the support of laws promoting education and accessibility for people with disabilities, and a growing array of hearing and assistive technology have paved the way for an increasing number of people with hearing loss to enter the profession. As one example of their growing numbers, an informal group of hard of hearing audiologists that began with a handful of students now counts among its members 70 audiologists and audiologists-to-be.
As you read the profiles below, you'll find individuals who have blazed the trail for people with hearing loss to enter the profession or who will be among the next generation of audiologists. Each vignette reflects the challenges and rewards of working and living with hearing loss as part of a profession that is now more inclusive.
The Dual Perspective
Sandy Mintz began her audiology career providing diagnostic and rehabilitative services to patients of all ages at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. She then spent most of her 20-year career at Arizona State University, where she provided clinical audiology services to patients and taught diagnostic audiology and aural rehabilitation to undergraduate and graduate audiology and speech-language pathology students. After obtaining her cochlear implant in 2004, she joined Advanced Bionics to serve as the consumer services supervisor in the Bionic Ear Association. In this role, she develops and implements educational and support programs for cochlear implant candidates, recipients, and family members throughout North America.
In 1980, my mother asked an audiologist, "Can my daughter function successfully as an audiologist if she has hearing loss?" The reply my mother received was, "No." Luckily this didn't faze either of us, and she supported my interest in an audiology career.
Audiology was still a relatively young profession, and few audiologists with the same condition experienced by the patients were entering the field. Drive and determination, technological advancements, increased sensitivity from others, and the ability to find solutions around obstacles proved that people with hearing loss can be audiologists.
I feel fortunate to experience the technological wonder of a cochlear implant from this dual perspective-working with cochlear implant recipients and families as an audiologist while experiencing dramatic hearing improvements first-hand as a cochlear implant recipient.
I have bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss of unknown etiology. First detected as a very mild loss at age 6, my hearing fluctuated daily, progressing to moderate in my teen years, severe in my 20s, and profound by my mid-30s. The experience of improved hearing with my first hearing aid as a high school senior, and the scholastic and social impact of its subsequent loss, led me on a career path where I could make an impact.
I spent most of my 20-year audiology career working directly with patients in a clinic, while also contributing as a clinical faculty member in a university speech and hearing program. My cochlear implant journey led me on a new career path in 2004, developing programs and services for families and professionals involved with cochlear implants. My audiology, engineering, and business colleagues routinely tap my experiences and expertise, and I enjoy offering this dual perspective to potentially aid future product development.
In my clinical career, I relied on power hearing aids and assistive technology-multiple-microphone FM system configurations at faculty meetings; TTY relay and operator-assisted phone calls (with the operator being anyone who happened to be walking past my office when the phone rang); an FM system and written responses for scoring word recognition tests (although I could speechread the responses incredibly well); and other people or hearing aid test boxes to conduct hearing aid listening checks (there are now good amplified listening tube options and patch cables for coupling to hearing aids and cochlear implants).
The primary advancements that have helped me most are developments in cochlear implant technology. I can now effectively use a voice telephone, hear in noise, and enjoy music! Being able to share my personal experiences and professional expertise as a CI audiologist is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
I thrive as an audiologist despite and because of my hearing loss. It has made me particularly passionate about my mission in life and my profession. My patients recognize this and feel assured with a professional who knows what they are experiencing and what they are feeling. There is no denying the natural bond that is created when individuals faced with challenging circumstances can align with someone who is traveling on the same journey. I find myself at home with these individuals and their families-a special connection that is as important to me as it is to them.
From Pessimism to Optimism
Samuel R. Atcherson
After graduating from the University of Memphis with a PhD in audiology and speech-language pathology, Samuel R. Atcherson is now assistant professor at the University of South Dakota. He supervises student clinicians and teaches audiology and American Sign Language courses. Atcherson's research focuses on auditory evoked potentials to complex acoustic signals and contralateral suppression of otoacoustic emissions.
I grew intimately familiar with audiologists from the time I was 3 years old. In 1978, I was diagnosed with a mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss, validating a babysitter's hunch that I wasn't hearing well. From preschool to college, my hearing became progressively worse, and audiologists kept me connected with the world of sound through hearing aids.
Even though I was closely involved with audiology, I was clueless about what I wanted to do with my life. My hearing loss made me less than optimistic about taking on a challenging career. So I started out as a pre-medical technology major because I knew I wanted to be in the health care profession. In separate visits with audiologists Richard Wright and Kimm Carr, I was encouraged to consider audiology as a career. I was skeptical, but decided to pursue it after a little coaxing. They said that I would be a positive role model to patients and a source of hope and inspiration to families of children with hearing loss.
I did well in my graduate studies at the University of Georgia, and I learned a lot about myself and the impact of hearing loss on my life. Although I was an audiology student, I was a hearing-impaired person first, with all of the usual sequelae of individuals with profound hearing loss. To satisfy my clinical supervisors, I enrolled in speech treatment to learn how to produce spondee words correctly and to give clear instructions for audiologic tests. I even had to use my FM system during clinic. At first it was embarrassing-but it made me a better audiologist. Towards the completion of my degree, I felt like I could conquer anything. But during my externship, I sustained what was to me a sudden loss of hearing, followed by bouts of dizziness and nausea. My hearing subsequently returned to its previous levels, but my ability to understand speech was dramatically affected. It was my ability to speechread well that kept me sane. However, worried about being unable to practice independently upon graduation, I made a decision to pursue a research doctorate at the University of Memphis. "I was meant to be an audiologist," I told myself, "and teaching is probably the best way to remain in the field."
A year into the PhD program, my hearing dropped again, causing me to struggle in classes. After discussing options with my family and my mentors, I received a cochlear implant in 2001. After several hard months of audiologic rehabilitation and experiencing marked improvement, my mentor and I agreed that clinical practice was once again a real possibility. By then, my love for learning, research, and teaching had already grown and I became interested in finding an academic position that would also allow me to continue clinical practice, even if on a part-time basis.
Today, I am living a life that I once thought only people with normal hearing were capable of. I work closely with clients, teach students, present at conferences, and make contributions to science and humanity. Outside of work, I am vice president for the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses and the Web master for the South Dakota Speech-Language-Hearing Association. But I know that I wouldn't be where I am today without the emotional support of my family and the faith of my academic and clinical mentors. I thank the fields of audiology, speech-language pathology, and otolaryngology for allowing me the opportunity to give back.
A Reflection on Sound and Its Impact on Life
Ally Sisler graduated with a BS in speech-language pathology and audiology from Miami University (OH) in 2003. She is a candidate for a clinical doctorate in audiology from Vanderbilt University (May 2007), where she is a clinical extern at The Mama Lere Hearing School and the Department of Audiology at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.
Born three months prematurely, I grew up with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss in both ears and wore hearing aids. Thanks to all the support and encouragement from family and friends, as well as endless hard work and a never-ending determination, I never missed a beat for the first 23 years of my life. But I began to notice my hearing start to deteriorate in both ears following a head injury sustained in an automobile accident in June 2004. As the result of an unknown anomaly—enlarged vestibular aqueducts—in both of my inner ears, cerebrospinal fluid began to leak, progressively causing complete hearing loss in both ears over a period of about a year. I say "unknown" because I had no idea that these little ducts were not typical in size for the first 23 years of my life! The problem was identified with a few scans of my head and many hearing tests. So after a year of trying, fitting, and exchanging an array of behind-the-ear hearing aids, I came to terms with reality. Having grown up surrounded by sound as part of the hearing community, I refused to lose sight of the many dreams and aspirations of succeeding as a doctor of audiology, for which the sense of hearing and the ability to use oral communication are imperative.
To accomplish my dream of becoming an audiologist, I decided to undergo surgery in October 2005 to receive a cochlear implant in my right ear. "CI Sony" was activated on Nov. 3, 2005, and from that moment forward, my journey out of silence has been nothing short of a miracle. To suddenly face my fear of silence, only to be blessed with such an amazing opportunity to return to a world filled with sound, has literally given me my life back. A few months after the activation of my right ear, the hearing aid in my left ear became useless and I was forced to make what was possibly the hardest decision of my young life. After much discussion with my family, surgeon, audiologist, and with my own heart, I decided that bilateral cochlear implantation would help me continue to improve my quality of life. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Since bilateral cochlear implants would bring sound to both of my ears again, I decided at that moment to let fate take over and my heart lead the way.
June 28, 2006, my new bionic left ear, "CI Sydney," was born. Activation of "CI Sydney" took place on July 11, 2006, and since then my ears are officially back "on the air." My story, "Journey of HOPE," can be found at http://allysisler.blogsource.com/. The following is an excerpt.
"No matter what your day is like or how crazy life may get, take the time to stop and listen to all that nature has to share. It's the 'little' things in life that you end up missing most, the sound of loved ones calling and the waves that hit the coast."
My cochlear implants have lifted my life out of silence, bringing the sounds of life back into my world. In conjunction with a personal FM system, my new ears have provided me with the confidence I needed to step back into my role as a student in training. I am now able to hear and understand a patient's response to the many word and sentence tests administered during an audiologic evaluation. I'm able to take part in group discussions, and I've also discovered a passion and desire to work with other cochlear implant recipients, candidates, and families.