“The audiologist has to listen to the patient speaking; with my hearing impairment that isn’t always the easiest thing for me to do. I will actually ask the patient to wear an assistive listening device.”
Personal experience with hearing loss inspired Jacob Blaschko-Iveland ’19 and Monika Sharma ’18 to pursue careers in audiology.
“I’ve known I wanted to be an audiologist for a very long time,” said doctor of audiology student Jacob Blaschko-Iveland ’19. When his third-grade teacher attended his high school graduation, she brought his time capsule, which included an assignment where Blaschko-Iveland had written that he wanted to be an audiologist when he grew up.
When Blaschko-Iveland was 3 years old, he was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. Many of his family members have similar hearing impairments. “I grew up with a hearing loss,” Blaschko-Iveland explained. “I interacted with doctors growing up. I know what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I wish could have been different for me.”
Sharma’s episode with hearing loss was brief, yet impactful. She was living in India at the time and was completing a bachelor of arts degree in Hindustani classical music. A persistent ear infection led her to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, who referred her to an audiologist. “They found I had a minor hearing loss,” Sharma said. “At the time, it terrified me.”
These experiences have impacted how Blaschko-Iveland and Sharma interact with their patients.
“Even though I don’t have any hearing loss right now, I have the memory of having hearing loss,” Sharma said. “It shapes my experiences with patients. I remember to be thorough. I remember what they are experiencing and I can put myself in their shoes.”
Blaschko-Iveland emphasized that an individual’s hearing is only one facet of their life and it cannot be isolated or compartmentalized. By working collaboratively with the patient, an audiologist can develop a plan to address the hearing loss that best suits the patient’s lifestyle.
“I want to be able to treat the patient as best I can, really meet them at their level and understand the situation they are in,” he said.
He uses his own hearing impairment to connect with his patients in a tangible way. Audiologists administer several tests to establish the nature and extent of the patient’s hearing loss. In one type of test, patients are prompted to say a specific set of words.
“The audiologist has to listen to the patient speaking. With my hearing impairment, that isn’t always the easiest thing for me to do,” he said. “I will actually ask the patient to wear an assistive listening device. The fact that I have them wear it can help me later on when I counsel them.”
He finds that introducing them to an assistive listening device in this way helps to normalize a device that patients can find intimidating and are often hesitant to use for themselves.
Both students see the need for more widespread understanding of the importance of regular hearing tests. “I wish people knew that getting your hearing tested is just as important as an eye exam or a teeth cleaning,” Blaschko-Iveland said.
For many people, visiting the optometrist or dentist once or twice a year is routine. He hopes that by raising awareness about the vital importance of regular hearing tests, they also will become a habit. “Even if you have normal hearing, you should get those tests done,” he said.
Establishing a baseline is important Blaschko-Iveland explained. Without a baseline, an audiologist is unable to know the degree to which they have improved the individual’s hearing compared to what it was before they experienced hearing loss.
“A lot of people have normal hearing at low pitches,” he said. Clarity of sound comes from the soft pitches, as well as the high pitches. “Hearing loss is not just when you can’t hear someone, it is when you can’t understand them.”
From her interactions with patients in the clinic, Sharma has been struck by the number of individuals who waited years before seeking the help of an audiologist. “I was honestly surprised by how long people waited before addressing their hearing needs,” she said. “It is never too early to get your hearing checked.”
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold