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      Stethoscopes, vet school, hearing aids and me

      For Francesca, being a young veterinary student with hearing loss wasn’t always an easy experience. But she knew her hearing loss wouldn’t stop her from pursuing her dream: becoming a veterinarian. Now she shares her story to encourage others to seek advice if they’re struggling.

      By: Francesca Alsworth | 11 May 2018

      Hello! My name is Fran and I am just about to begin my final year at Vet School. My favourite animal is a chimpanzee, I love to run and cook, and I have mild hearing loss as a result of eustachian tube dysfunction, which was diagnosed 2 years ago. My hearing ability fluctuates - I find that it is worse in warmer weather.

      I have had hearing problems for as long as I can remember, but it was only when I was 18 that I was referred for my first hearing aid (it was glittery!), and it was at this point that I decided that I really wanted to reach a diagnosis and explore potential solutions for my hearing loss.

      It's been an interesting journey. The week after I got my first hearing aid, I moved to a new city to start University. Not only was I trying to make new friends and start a new degree, but it was also the first time in my life that I was solely in charge of sorting out my own health care. Moving to Bristol saw me begin an ongoing quest to find out the cause of my hearing loss and what options there might be available to me, aside from hearing aids.

      The main motivator for me, in almost every aspect of my life, has been my desire to be a vet. This profession is as much about communicating with other people as it is working with amazing animals, and I soon began to see how my hearing was affecting certain aspects of my training.

      Surgeons wearing masks when operating meant I couldn't see them talk, making it harder to lip read. I was having to communicate with a whole array of people in often noisy environments (having a conversation with cows mooing in the background is hard enough at the best of times!). Finally, I didn't quite understand how to use a stethoscope when my ear canal was already taken up with a hearing aid. For the times when I do wear my hearing aid (I only wear one in my left ear, for the moment), I have adapted a technique whereby I listen through one ear piece of the stethoscope whilst the other piece sits just behind my ear. This isn’t ideal but it works for now!

      My fluctuating hearing loss plus the stethoscope conundrum have really motivated me to seek options aside from the conventional ear-mould hearing aid that I was first given 4 years ago. 

      I am now 22, and my hearing loss quest is still ongoing. Last year I underwent an adenoidectomy in an attempt to improve my Eustachian tube dysfunction, which was unsuccessful. Due to the fluctuating nature of my problem, both of my ears are now in need of some amplification. Most recently I have been considered for a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) device, I am also going to try out some slim tube hearing aids. I’m excited to explore both of these options.

      I realise that I speak from quite a privileged position - due to my hearing loss being mild and conductive, I have been lucky to have had a range of options available to me. Although it has taken several years and many appointments, the NHS have been truly fantastic throughout, as has my vet school. The vet school kindly funded an electric stethoscope for me as well as providing extra support in exams if needed.

      With regards to stethoscopes, it has been encouraging to discover that there are options available for those with hearing loss. I use the electric Littman stethoscope, which allows you to alter the volume. For those with hearing aids or BAHA technology, you can get wireless/Bluetooth stethoscopes which transmit directly to your device through your phone or a streamer port. This technology amazes me!

      I hope that by talking about hearing loss as a student/veterinary professional, it will encourage others to seek advice if they are struggling, because there is a lot of technology and support available. It may take time and perseverance, there will be good days and bad, but ultimately I believe that you are totally capable of thriving despite your hearing loss.

      I definitely can!

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