Audiology Students Bring Special Perspective to Patients

Callier Center audiology students

Clockwise from top left: Brenna Thomas, Audrey Taylor, Kristin Ransom and Nicole Deyoe said advocacy is a big part of what they want to bring as audiologists. They and fellow UT Dallas audiology student Sophie Assmann, who is completing her degree requirements with an externship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have experienced hearing loss.

Despite their varied backgrounds, UT Dallas students Sophie Assmann, Nicole Deyoe, Kristin Ransom, Audrey Taylor and Brenna Thomas have two things in common: They each experience hearing loss and, as future audiologists, they want to advocate for those with hearing loss. 

According to an article written by Drs. Samuel Atcherson and Carrie Spangler in Audiology Today, it is estimated that 3 to 5 percent of audiologists experience some form of hearing loss. But they make it clear that the hearing loss should not be an impediment for clinicians. 

“As audiologists with hearing loss, this ‘disability’ is viewed as one of the greatest ‘abilities’ for our profession and the patients we serve,” Atcherson and Spangler said in the article. 

Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz, assistant professor at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, agreed, saying that the five UT Dallas students bring a perspective that not every audiologist can offer. 

“They’ve gone through the same experiences, so they understand exactly what the patient is going through. Not just theoretically. They actually understand it firsthand, so they will be able to form a natural bond with their patients,” she said. 

Deyoe, a senior who expects to graduate soon with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology, was diagnosed with a moderate hearing loss in one ear when she was a child. 

Throughout much of her childhood, Deyoe visited a number of professionals who she says never made it clear to her or her parents how to best handle her hearing loss. But when she was a teen, one audiologist made a connection. 

“I was always worried about being seen as different, with my hearing aids,” Deyoe said. “But one audiologist told me, ‘Don’t worry about what anyone else says. If this helps you, forget what they say.’” Deyoe, who hopes to attend graduate school to receive her AuD degree, said the clinician also suggested that she consider becoming an audiologist. 

Callier Center

Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz (left), assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, discusses hearing aids with Brenna Thomas, a third-year graduate student who lost part of her hearing at age 11. Thomas did not wear a device until she joined the UT Dallas program in 2013. 

The students said that advocacy is a big part of what they want to bring as audiologists. 

“I’ll be able to relate to patients on things they struggle with,” said Ransom, a senior. “I really want to help them be able to make it day by day. I’ll be equipping my patients to not only take care of their hearing aids or cochlear implants, but also will be helping to meet their emotional needs and make sure they don’t get depressed or isolated. A lot of it is just equipping patients with strategies,” she said. 

Taylor, who wears hearing aids in both ears, is a first-year graduate student in the UT Dallas audiology program, which is based at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders and ranked third in the country by U.S. News & World Report

For two summers, she worked in the audiology department at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. There, she talked with a devastated couple whose son had just been diagnosed with a hearing loss. 

“I told them, ‘Yes, your son has hearing loss, but he still has his whole life ahead of him. There are some things he will do differently, but he still has such a bright future.’ I told them about the things my brother (who also experiences hearing loss) and I are able to do.  And then I got to see the hope come back into their eyes,” she said. 

“God’s given me a little bit of hearing loss, but it’s become a strength to talk with people about it and really connect with them.” 

They’ve gone through the same experiences, so they understand exactly what the patient is going through. Not just theoretically. They actually understand it firsthand, so they will be able to form a natural bond with their patients.

Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz,
assistant professor at the School
of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

For Thomas, a third-year graduate student, a medical issue caused hearing loss when she was 11 years old. At the time, no one suggested she should wear a hearing aid. She compensated by positioning her “good” ear toward teachers and friends when there were discussions. But when she joined the UT Dallas audiology program in 2013, professors said a hearing aid definitely would help her. Now she wears one all the time. 

“For me, it brings much more awareness and the ability to better locate sounds. I really like it. I almost think it’s an unfair advantage for me with patients. When patients say ‘I can hear my hair,’ I know what they’re talking about. Or if they don’t know how to describe what something sounds like or what it feels like, I can identify with that,” Thomas said. 

Assmann, a fourth-year graduate student, is completing her audiology degree requirements this semester with an externship in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She also didn’t realize she needed hearing aids until she entered grad school. 

“I always had been told that I had a mild loss that wasn’t really significant. A lot of the patients I see are like that, thinking they can hear well enough. But I tell them they have the exact same hearing loss that I have. They don’t realize how much they can’t hear,” Assmann said. 

The students don’t expect their hearing loss to interfere with their audiology work. 

“I don’t think being an audiologist will be a problem for me, as long as I place myself in the right position. I’ll just have to compensate a little bit more,” Deyoe said. 

Assmann said that testing a patient’s speech recognition, or understanding, can be somewhat difficult for her because she needs to listen closely for them to repeat words. 

“I have to be very, very ‘on’ when I do speech testing. I have to be focused and looking at their face,” she said. 

In addition to modifying speech testing techniques, the students also can use technology to help them, Warner-Czyz said. For instance, a modified stethoset amplifies sound, which allows a clinician with hearing loss to listen to another person’s hearing instrument. 

Another technological advancement is a wireless audio streamer, which can directly connect input from electronic devices to hearing aids via Bluetooth. She said a streamer is an excellent example of using technology to hear better, such as streaming input from a microphone worn by the patient directly to the clinician’s auditory devices to afford more accurate scoring of patient responses during speech testing. In addition, there are groups specifically focused on supporting audiologists who have hearing loss. 

Warner-Czyz said she expects the students to overcome any possible obstacles so that they can form strong, natural bonds with others who have experienced hearing loss. 

“Having a hearing loss provides a unique and special way that these students and future clinicians can connect with their patients,” she said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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