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Deaf Doctors Taking Care of Deaf Patients...

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burton117

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From the newsroom of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester,
New York, Wednesday, December 15, 2004 .....

The actual article online...

Echoes of caring in 6 deaf doctors

Greg Livadas, Staff Writer

In Rochester, home to one of the largest deaf populations in the country, it's not surprising to find a doctor who also happens to be deaf working here. What might be surprising is that Rochester has become home to six deaf doctors, including four physicians, a veterinarian and a dentist. All were deaf as children, and all know sign language.

"Here, people don't stare because you are different," said Dr. Michael McKee, who moved to Rochester in July to work as a family medicine physician with Lifetime Health. He estimates a third of his patients are deaf.

While no statistics exist on the number of deaf medical doctors in the country, those here say their clan is in the dozens but probably fewer than 100.

Cliff Andrews, 55, of Brighton recently visited McKee for an examination. Andrews, who is deaf, sat at a table directly across from McKee and answered his questions. Both patient and doctor used sign language to communicate. Before coming to Lifetime Health, Andrews used to visit hearing doctors and communicated by writing back and forth.

"I understand this better," Andrews said in sign language.

Local deaf doctors specialize in their fields of choice. Each has also made adjustments to make sure he or she can work as well as hearing peers can. McKee last year got a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted device he received in his right ear that enables him to hear well enough to use a traditional telephone. It also allows him to plug an amplified stethoscope into a processor he wears on his belt to hear his patient's lungs and heartbeat. The processor sends the sound to his implant and allows him
to hear the heartbeat without putting anything else to his ears.

Dr. Kim Dodge, a veterinarian, relies on a device that visually displays a heart rhythm on a handheld screen.

And Dr. Angela Earhart, an obstetrician and gynecologist resident at Strong Memorial Hospital, has an interpreter at her side. In the operating room, the interpreter puts on a mask with a clear face so Earhart can better read lips.

The Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses was formed in 2000 as more medical students and professionals realized they had common concerns that could better be addressed collectively. Should a medical profession even be considered if you are deaf? When should a prospective medical school or employer be told you are deaf?

"We have unique barriers from other professionals," McKee said.

Solutions to problems are offered on the association's Web site: "All of us want to be judged on our merits. ... You can do anything you want to do. Never let anyone else tell you that you cannot do something because of your hearing loss. You should be the one to decide what your limitations are, if any."

McKee spent a month working at Lifetime's Marion B. Folsom Health Center in Brighton four years ago while he was still in medical school. Here, he met students who attended Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and he learned about the large local deaf population.

Nationally, about 1 percent of a population is deaf, which would equate to 7,367 deaf people in Monroe County, according to the Center for Governmental Research. That doesn't factor in a larger deaf population in Rochester because of NTID and the Rochester School for the Deaf.

McKee also found a greater awareness by the public about deafness, including many people who know basic sign language. When a job opportunity opened with Lifetime, he quickly applied. The practice was designed to be accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. Staff members know sign language and how to use text telephones or a video relay service. Examination rooms have flashing strobe lights that activate when a doctor, who would otherwise knock, walks into the room.

"Now I'm really happy to be here and to help," McKee said.

His deafness rarely is an issue to his new patients who have normal hearing. Occasionally, he'll gently ask them not to talk to him if his head is turned away.

"It's no big deal," McKee said. "I'm very open."

Dr. Carolyn Stern, a Brighton physician in private practice, drives a car with "DEAF DOC" personalized license plates, which she says helps educate a few people who seem surprised deaf people can even drive a car, let alone become a doctor.

"People said I couldn't do it. But did I listen? No," Stern said, smiling.

She communicates easily with her patients — about 30 percent are deaf — by speaking or using sign language. She rarely uses an interpreter. At their first meeting, she tells her patients about her hearing loss.

"I don't think they think of me as deaf," Stern said. "That kind of falls to the wayside as long as communication is happening."

Stern has been, and continues to be, a role model to medical students. McKee and Earhart spent time working with Stern in a clinical rotation four years ago when Stern was with Lifetime Health. As a result, Rochester was Earhart's first choice for her residency.

Stern also keeps busy consulting medical groups, associations and agencies about accessible health care. Those visits have taken her as far away as China.

Dr. David Siegel, chief of pediatrics at Rochester General Hospital, was looking for a doctor to fill a vacancy in the hospital's pediatric developmental behavior unit. An acquaintance told him about Dr. Scott R. Smith, who happens to be deaf.

While Siegel didn't set out to hire a deaf doctor, he said Smith's deafness "is an added bonus for us. We're actually thrilled to have Scott involved in the department. This allows us to grow in our own diversity in wonderful ways."

Smith works alongside an interpreter, who accompanies him on his rounds, at faculty meetings and with most interviews with patients; almost all his patients have been hearing patients, so far.

"We expect as he becomes known, that this will be a site deaf families will feel comfortable with," Siegel said. Since Smith knows sign language and understands the issues concerning deafness, he hopes to also work with NTID and Rochester School for the Deaf in the future.

Siegel isn't the only one who thinks deafness has advantages.

"Because I can't hear, I depend on lip reading for cues to what is being said — and thus notice teeth with cavities," said Dr. Christopher Lehfeldt, a dentist who moved to Rochester in 1991. "Dentistry, then, is perfect for me as a career."

A native of Russia, Dr. Bess Veyberman, who graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School in 2001, considers herself hard of hearing. She calls her hearing loss "a great benefit in terms of patient care because I listen more attentively." Veyberman, who became deaf as an infant and moved to Brighton with other family members, hears well enough with hearing aids to use a phone and speak, and she hopes to learn sign language. She plans to join West Ridge Family Practice in January as a family physician.

"I think it is simply great that we have an outstanding cadre of highly qualified and competent deaf doctors in Rochester," said Alan Hurwitz, who heads NTID and serves as chairman of the National Advisory Committee of a community prevention research center targeting health care for the deaf.

"I use some of their services and find it so easy and convenient to communicate directly with them. They understand what it is like to be deaf and make every effort to put us at ease when we discuss the complexities of our health conditions," Hurwitz said.

Matt Starr, director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program for DePaul Innovative Solutions (formerly The Health Association), said Rochester can use more deaf doctors.

"Hearing people have a lot more choices than if a deaf person wants to go to a deaf doctor," he said.

Dr. Timothy Malia, who works with McKee at Folsom, agrees.

"If we have more doctors that are advocates for the deaf in Rochester, it's going to improve the care for the deaf and hard of hearing community," said Malia, who is hearing but signs fluently. "The deaf community still needs more doctors who are accessible."

About 300 people — including nurses, medical staff and interpreters — belong to an online discussion group associated with the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses. A national convention is planned for next year in Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit http://amphl.org.

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
 

burton117

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Dr. Christopher Lehfeldt
Age: 43.
Born: Washington, D.C.
Deaf: At birth. Received a cochlear implant in October.
Residence: Rochester; arrived in 1991.
Employed: Dentist at Elmwood Dental Group, Brighton; Rushville Health
Center, Yates County.
Education: B.S. in chemistry, Georgetown University, 1983; D.D.S.,
University of Maryland School of Dentistry, 1987.

Dr. Carolyn Stern
Age: 40.
Born: Smithtown, Suffolk County.
Deaf: At birth. Received a cochlear implant in 1991.
Residence: Brighton; arrived in 1998.
Employed: Family physician, private practice, The Deaf Doc, Brighton.
Education: B.A. in biochemistry, Case Western Reserve University, 1986;
M.D. from Northwestern University Medical School, 1990.

Dr. Angela Earhart
Age: 29.
Born: Des Moines, Iowa.
Deaf: At birth.
Residence: Rochester; arrived in 2002.
Employed: Third-year OB/GYN resident at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Education: B.S. in biology, Duke University, 1997; M.D., University of
Texas, Houston, 2002.

Dr. Kim Dodge
Age: 31.
Born: Frederick, Md.
Deaf: At age 8, after a gradual hearing loss.
Residence: Rochester; arrived in 2003.
Employed: Veterinarian at Animal Hospital of Pittsford, in Brighton.
Education: B.S. in zoology, Michigan State University, 1995; D.V.M.,
1999.

Dr. Scott R. Smith
Age: 34.
Born: Winston-Salem, N.C.
Deaf: Diagnosed at age 1.
Residence: Rochester; arrived in July.
Employed: Pediatrician, specializing in developmental and behavioral
problems, at Rochester General Hospital.
Education: B.S. in biochemistry, East Carolina University; M.D., Brody
School of Medicine at East Carolina University; M.P.H., Harvard School
of Public Health.

Dr. Michael McKee
Age: 28.
Born: Tampa, Fla.
Deaf: At birth. Received a cochlear implant in 2003.
Residence: Rochester; arrived in July.
Employed: Family physician, Lifetime Health at Folsom Center, Brighton.
Education: B.A. in history and political science from Lynn University,
Boca Raton, Fla., 1997; M.D. University of Florida in Gainesville, 2001.
 

burton117

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Anybody out there ever come across any health care providers who were deaf or anything like that?
 

lulubean

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ucsd offers a very intensive and hands on program that teaches ASL to 12 med students per year and places them in clerkships in deaf communities. sounds pretty cutting edge.
 

kaikai128

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I think it would be neat to rotate through or shadow in a deaf community. I am semi-fluent in ASL after studying it for a few years and was moderately involved in the local deaf community while in undergrad. I spent many hours and days accompanying people to doctors/dentists/lawyers offices volunteering as an interpreter.
 

medicEZ

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burton117 said:
Anybody out there ever come across any health care providers who were deaf or anything like that?

Yes, but I am in Rochester, so there you go. :)

A friend of mine is an ASL major (and already accepted into U of R Med) and he shadowed a couple of those doctors for a while.
 

maia

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burton117 said:
Dr. Carolyn Stern, a Brighton physician in private practice, drives a car with "DEAF DOC" personalized license plates, which she says helps educate a few people who seem surprised deaf people can even drive a car, let alone become a doctor.

"People said I couldn't do it. But did I listen? No," Stern said, smiling.

:D
hey! thanks for this thread...it's great to know that there are actually deaf people practicing medicine.
keep this up! :thumbup:
 

burton117

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lulubean said:
ucsd offers a very intensive and hands on program that teaches ASL to 12 med students per year and places them in clerkships in deaf communities. sounds pretty cutting edge.

Wow... :wow: sounds awesome.. Do you know which communties they place them in or anything like that?

Do you have a link or any more information about programs like this specifically geared toward "deaf community medicine," for lack of a better term.

I'd love to find out if there is anything else like this out there...
 

MoosePilot

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Cochlear transplants? Wow. I'm not sure I'd be willing to take anti-rejection meds in order to hear if I'd grown up deaf.
 

doc05

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implant, not transplant. you don't take anti-rejection meds for a cochlear implant.
 

FrauBlucher

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Hey, Burton, what did you think of 'the sound and the fury'? (a documentary about cochlear implants if you guys haven't seen it - which you should!) You said you're coda, right? (sorry if i'm remembering wrong). I thought the arguments brought up were really interesting (pm me if you want). Also, do you have any suggestions for volunteering in a medical setting with the deaf? I dunno if you've done it before. I'm not going to school near rochester, but I figured that can't be the only place with deaf doctors treating deaf patients. thanks! :)
 

MoosePilot

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doc05 said:
implant, not transplant. you don't take anti-rejection meds for a cochlear implant.

Ah, thanks. I missed that.
 

parasiteatwork

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burton117 said:
From the newsroom of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester,
New York, Wednesday, December 15, 2004 .....

Echoes of caring in 6 deaf doctors

Greg Livadas, Staff Writer

In Rochester, home to one of the largest deaf populations in the country, it's not surprising to find a doctor who also happens to be deaf working here. What might be surprising is that Rochester has become home to six deaf doctors, including four physicians, a veterinarian and a dentist. All were deaf as children, and all know sign language.

"Here, people don't stare because you are different," said Dr. Michael McKee, who moved to Rochester in July to work as a family medicine physician with Lifetime Health. He estimates a third of his patients are deaf.

While no statistics exist on the number of deaf medical doctors in the country, those here say their clan is in the dozens but probably fewer than 100.

Cliff Andrews, 55, of Brighton recently visited McKee for an examination. Andrews, who is deaf, sat at a table directly across from McKee and answered his questions. Both patient and doctor used sign language to communicate. Before coming to Lifetime Health, Andrews used to visit hearing doctors and communicated by writing back and forth.

"I understand this better," Andrews said in sign language.

Local deaf doctors specialize in their fields of choice. Each has also made adjustments to make sure he or she can work as well as hearing peers can. McKee last year got a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted device he received in his right ear that enables him to hear well enough to use a traditional telephone. It also allows him to plug an amplified stethoscope into a processor he wears on his belt to hear his patient's lungs and heartbeat. The processor sends the sound to his implant and allows him
to hear the heartbeat without putting anything else to his ears.

Dr. Kim Dodge, a veterinarian, relies on a device that visually displays a heart rhythm on a handheld screen.

And Dr. Angela Earhart, an obstetrician and gynecologist resident at Strong Memorial Hospital, has an interpreter at her side. In the operating room, the interpreter puts on a mask with a clear face so Earhart can better read lips.

The Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses was formed in 2000 as more medical students and professionals realized they had common concerns that could better be addressed collectively. Should a medical profession even be considered if you are deaf? When should a prospective medical school or employer be told you are deaf?

"We have unique barriers from other professionals," McKee said.

Solutions to problems are offered on the association's Web site: "All of us want to be judged on our merits. ... You can do anything you want to do. Never let anyone else tell you that you cannot do something because of your hearing loss. You should be the one to decide what your limitations are, if any."

McKee spent a month working at Lifetime's Marion B. Folsom Health Center in Brighton four years ago while he was still in medical school. Here, he met students who attended Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and he learned about the large local deaf population.

Nationally, about 1 percent of a population is deaf, which would equate to 7,367 deaf people in Monroe County, according to the Center for Governmental Research. That doesn't factor in a larger deaf population in Rochester because of NTID and the Rochester School for the Deaf.

McKee also found a greater awareness by the public about deafness, including many people who know basic sign language. When a job opportunity opened with Lifetime, he quickly applied. The practice was designed to be accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. Staff members know sign language and how to use text telephones or a video relay service. Examination rooms have flashing strobe lights that activate when a doctor, who would otherwise knock, walks into the room.

"Now I'm really happy to be here and to help," McKee said.

His deafness rarely is an issue to his new patients who have normal hearing. Occasionally, he'll gently ask them not to talk to him if his head is turned away.

"It's no big deal," McKee said. "I'm very open."

Dr. Carolyn Stern, a Brighton physician in private practice, drives a car with "DEAF DOC" personalized license plates, which she says helps educate a few people who seem surprised deaf people can even drive a car, let alone become a doctor.

"People said I couldn't do it. But did I listen? No," Stern said, smiling.

She communicates easily with her patients — about 30 percent are deaf — by speaking or using sign language. She rarely uses an interpreter. At their first meeting, she tells her patients about her hearing loss.

"I don't think they think of me as deaf," Stern said. "That kind of falls to the wayside as long as communication is happening."

Stern has been, and continues to be, a role model to medical students. McKee and Earhart spent time working with Stern in a clinical rotation four years ago when Stern was with Lifetime Health. As a result, Rochester was Earhart's first choice for her residency.

Stern also keeps busy consulting medical groups, associations and agencies about accessible health care. Those visits have taken her as far away as China.

Dr. David Siegel, chief of pediatrics at Rochester General Hospital, was looking for a doctor to fill a vacancy in the hospital's pediatric developmental behavior unit. An acquaintance told him about Dr. Scott R. Smith, who happens to be deaf.

While Siegel didn't set out to hire a deaf doctor, he said Smith's deafness "is an added bonus for us. We're actually thrilled to have Scott involved in the department. This allows us to grow in our own diversity in wonderful ways."

Smith works alongside an interpreter, who accompanies him on his rounds, at faculty meetings and with most interviews with patients; almost all his patients have been hearing patients, so far.

"We expect as he becomes known, that this will be a site deaf families will feel comfortable with," Siegel said. Since Smith knows sign language and understands the issues concerning deafness, he hopes to also work with NTID and Rochester School for the Deaf in the future.

Siegel isn't the only one who thinks deafness has advantages.

"Because I can't hear, I depend on lip reading for cues to what is being said — and thus notice teeth with cavities," said Dr. Christopher Lehfeldt, a dentist who moved to Rochester in 1991. "Dentistry, then, is perfect for me as a career."

A native of Russia, Dr. Bess Veyberman, who graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School in 2001, considers herself hard of hearing. She calls her hearing loss "a great benefit in terms of patient care because I listen more attentively." Veyberman, who became deaf as an infant and moved to Brighton with other family members, hears well enough with hearing aids to use a phone and speak, and she hopes to learn sign language. She plans to join West Ridge Family Practice in January as a family physician.

"I think it is simply great that we have an outstanding cadre of highly qualified and competent deaf doctors in Rochester," said Alan Hurwitz, who heads NTID and serves as chairman of the National Advisory Committee of a community prevention research center targeting health care for the deaf.

"I use some of their services and find it so easy and convenient to communicate directly with them. They understand what it is like to be deaf and make every effort to put us at ease when we discuss the complexities of our health conditions," Hurwitz said.

Matt Starr, director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program for DePaul Innovative Solutions (formerly The Health Association), said Rochester can use more deaf doctors.

"Hearing people have a lot more choices than if a deaf person wants to go to a deaf doctor," he said.

Dr. Timothy Malia, who works with McKee at Folsom, agrees.

"If we have more doctors that are advocates for the deaf in Rochester, it's going to improve the care for the deaf and hard of hearing community," said Malia, who is hearing but signs fluently. "The deaf community still needs more doctors who are accessible."

About 300 people — including nurses, medical staff and interpreters — belong to an online discussion group associated with the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses. A national convention is planned for next year in Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit http://amphl.org.

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
wow!!!! :thumbup:
 

burton117

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Here's another article I found...

In America’s largest deaf community, Dr. Carolyn Stern’s disability has turned out to be one of her greatest assets

Brian Sanfield’s sinuses are so stuffed, he tells the doctor, that he can hardly breathe during the day and snores thunderously all night. “And I can’t hear,” complains Stanfield, 43. “I have to ask people to repeat themselves. It’s frustrating.”

Without missing a beat, family practitioner Carolyn Stern deadpans, “Gee, Brian, I wonder what that’s like.” The patient bursts out laughing-and so does 37-year-old Dr. Stern, who happens to be deaf. It’s not the first time Stanfield has overlooked that detail. “Her deafness has never been an issue for either of us,” he says.

To Stern’s deaf patients, however, her handicap is a huge factor-in her favor. One of a dozen deaf doctors in the U.S., Stern practices medicine in Rochester, N.Y., home of the 1,200-student National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the country’s largest technical college for the non-hearing. Since the school’s founding 37 years ago, Rochester has attracted the largest non-hearing population per capita in the nation-90,000 of the city’s 350,000 residents. “People with disabilities have the hardest time finding good medical care,” Stern says. “I came here to change that.”

She already has, says Brett Elliot, an interpreter for the practice Stern shares with Timothy Malia, 36, a hearing physician fluent in sign language. Of their 600 patients, 30 percent are deaf. “They say, ‘I’m finally able to express myself,’” says Elliott. “If Dr. stern is busy, a deaf patient will say, ‘I’ll wait.’” Their patience is rewarded, says Wendy Sells, 37. “Before, I’d have to write notes or try to explain the problem to hearing doctors,” says Sells, using sign language. “With a deaf doctor, it’s so much better. And she’s not just a deaf doctor, she’s a great doctor.”

Her office also is deaf-friendly: staff know sign language, and flashing lights alert patients when someone is about to enter the examination room. But those who know her testify that Stern’s success has less to do with amenities than with her compassion. “Being deaf made her a survivor and an idealist who wanted to change the world for the better,” says her mother, Barbara.

Now 62 and a former teacher in Maryland, Barbara contracted German measles fro her engineer husband, Robert, 62, when she was pregnant with Carolyn. Still, the baby-the first of three girls-seemed healthy until the age of 14 months. Then, on a family outing, her great-aunt blew a whistle and Stern was the only one who didn’t turn around.

“The doctor told my parents that I’d never amount to anything and to send me to a deaf school,” says Stern. Because she had some hearing in one ear, they had her fitted with hearing aids, hired audiologists and speech pathologists and sent her off to public school when she was 5. The first lesson she learned was that people can be cruel to those who are different. “I was teased mercilessly,” she says

In 1974 the family moved from Smithtown, N.Y., and eventually settled in Potomac, Md., where the school district had a mainstreaming program meant to help disabled students attend regular classes. Still, the new sixth graders had trouble finding playmates. “Everyone had already formed cliques,” she says. To counter her loneliness, she excelled academically, even taking up the violin. “We put yellow tape on some of the strings so I would know the notes,” she says.

Stern got an inkling of her future calling from a science teacher at Winston Churchill High School who suffered from a disability of his own: epilepsy. It was Stern who ran for help whenever he suffered a seizure. “I became fascinated with how the body works,” she says. “Finally, I saw where I fit in.”

After graduating in 1982, she attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, majoring in biochemistry. But she had difficulty keeping up-she couldn’t follow the lectures and take notes at the same time. “I stood up and asked if anyone would be willing to have their notes carbon-copied,” she says. “It took three nerve-racking days before one student finally agreed to help me.”

But college was also where she made friends who accepted her deafness as a quirk like any other. One night, for example, her roommates started receiving calls from a heavy breather. They demanded that Stern put in her hearing aids and answer the phone the next time it rang. Then they watched, giggling, as she defeated the culprit. “I kept saying, ‘Can you speak up? I’m deaf,’” she recalls, laughing. “He must have hyperventilated and passed out because he never called back.”

Stern graduated cum laude in 1986 and headed to Northwestern University Medical School. Her professors agreed to wear a microphone that transmitted directly into Stern’s hearing aids, and the school provided a sign-language interpreter to help her follow class discussions. But two years later, citing cost concerns, the administration announced that it would no longer pay for interpreters. Fearing she would fall behind, Stern sued. “Just what I wanted to be doing with my medical school,” she says ruefully. “But I though, ‘If not for me, I’ll do it for other deaf students.’” After a two-year struggle, the school agreed to continue the service and the suit was settled.

Then came a more daunting challenge. Shortly after starting her residency at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., in 1990, Stern realized while examining a patient that she couldn’t hear a thing through her amplified stethoscope. To her doctor’s bafflement, she had gone completely deaf. The loss gave Stern a sense of mission. “That’s where I knew,” she says, “that I was meant to work with the deaf community.” But it also added a fresh burden: she was about to get married. But when she did, the union floundered. “I got very depressed,” says Stern, who was divorced in 1993, “but I tried to keep my sense of humor.”

The following year was better: Some of her hearing was restored after she received a cochlear implant, which delivers electrical stimuli to the auditory nerve. She also met her future husband, Alan Spanjer, 42, a hearing man with deaf parents. Following their first date a smitten Stern asked him, “Would you ever marry a deaf woman?” He would, and did, in May 1994. By then Stern had joined a practice in Chicago where 300 of the groups 2,000 patients were deaf. But she decided that she belonged in Rochester with Malia, whom she had met in 1996. “He wanted a practice that was completely accessible to the deaf,” she says, adding slyly, “but we don’t discriminate. We see hearing patients too.”


From the moment she moved to Rochester in 1998, Stern felt at home. “I would walk into a gas station to ask for directions and someone would give them to me in sign language,” she says. She and Spanjer, a part-time printing broker and full-time dad to Zipporha, 6, and Benjamin, 3, are renovating their three-bedroom home, built in the 1920’s. The couple are expecting a third child at any moment.

But that hasn’t slowed her down. She still goes into the office. After sharing a laugh with Brian Stanfield she places her supercharged stethoscope to his chest and listens. She diagnoses a severe sinus infection and recommends that he see an allergist. The, with a reassuring pat, she hurries him on his way. After all, there are 23 other patients waiting to see the doctor today.
 
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burton117

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Another one...

Deaf doctor hits stride in rising to challenges: Ob-gyn resident at Strong hailed for communication

Dr. Angela Earhart is in the middle of a 15-hour shift at Strong Memorial Hospital's obstetrics unit when she takes a call from a patient at home, complaining of pain.

"Have you been able to eat anything?" she asks the patient. "Is the pain worse than yesterday?"

Earhart, 28, looks to Kim Kelstone, not for advice, but to find out what the answers are.

Kelstone, a sign language interpreter who is wearing a headset and is listening in on the conversation, signs the patient's answers, and Earhart immediately asks her next question into the phone receiver.

It may be an unorthodox phone conversation, but it is second nature to Earhart, who is one of perhaps 40 deaf physicians in the country.

"So far, I haven't found anything I can't do," Earhart said. "There may be certain challenges to face, but I always find ways to overcome them. I compensate through the use of interpreters, lip reading, special equipment and having an open personality and a strong desire to do my best."

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Earhart - who said her grandfather was a distant cousin of aviatrix Amelia Earhart - was born profoundly deaf to a hearing family who fought for opportunities for her.

"They instilled the belief in me that I can do anything and encouraged me to be involved and do things as any average child would do," Earhart said.

She had interpreters throughout college and graduated from Duke University in North Carolina with a bachelor's degree in biology, spent a year in research medicine at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, then enrolled at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, from which she graduated. In June, she was featured in a medical reality television show, Houston Medical.

In medical school, she thought she would be a family practice physician. It wasn't until her fourth year that she decided to become an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Lingering doubts

"I wasn't sure if it was really possible," she said. "It was something I knew I wanted to do, but I didn't know if it was possible. I was scared to death of being in the operating room. How was I going to be able to communicate?"

In June 2002, she married Gabriel Ianculovici, a native of Romania who works as a sign language interpreter.

"He's pretty good about bringing food and coffee every night," Earhart said. "It's nice to know he's always there."

It was encouragement from her husband that helped Earhart decide she could do anything her hearing peers could do, even if it meant doing it in a different way.

"I really enjoy working with women and the miracle of life," she said. "I like the diversity of ob-gyn - clinic, surgery and a little of primary care. I enjoy doing hands-on in the (operating room). I also enjoy the challenge of high-risk obstetrics."

During college, Earhart spent a month on clinical rotation with Dr. Carolyn Stern, now a private practice physician in Brighton. Stern is also deaf.

"She wanted to make sure first that Rochester was the place she wanted to be and secondly, that she could handle the office setting," Stern said. "She's a really neat person, I really like her. I think she'll do well in whatever she does."

In the little spare time she has, Earhart enjoys traveling and remodeling her home near the hospital. She will be at Strong until her residency ends in June 2006. After that, she doesn't know where she will live.

A small club

Stern, who for years was the only deaf physician in the area, would happily welcome Earhart as the second deaf physician in town if she decides to make Rochester her home after her residency. "I don't think there's enough, personally," Stern said.

The American Medical Association does not keep track of the number of deaf doctors in the country, but Dr. Kim Dodge, a board member of the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss, estimates there are at least 40 deaf physicians in the country, most of whom are in residency like Earhart or have completed their residencies within the past five years.

Dodge, who moved to Brighton in July, is a veterinarian at Pittsford Animal Hospital.

Earhart, who can hear some sounds with the help of two powerful hearing aids often covered by her hair or a surgical cap, seems at ease visiting various patients when making her rounds. She immediately identifies herself to her new patients.

"When I first go in I say I have a hearing loss, I have a sign language interpreter and I read lips," she said. "I'm there to help them and they're there to get helped."

Proving herself

Earhart recently checked on Tracy Germonto, of Honeoye Falls, who had delivered a daughter, Shannon, the day before. As Earhart left the room, Germonto signed, "Thank you" to her.

"Deaf awareness in this city is amazing," Earhart said.

Germonto, who recalled seeing Earhart on television, said she wasn't surprised to be treated by a deaf doctor because she knew Rochester has a large concentration of deaf residents.

"She was wonderful," Germonto said. "She's not only intelligent, but also personable. The hearing was not an issue."

Kelstone said she's had patients ask her afterward why she was even there because the patients understood Earhart just fine. They didn't realize Kelstone was needed to tell Earhart what the patients were saying.

Just as she proves her hearing loss isn't an issue to her patients, Earhart had to prove it to her co-workers.

Dr. Kara Eastwood, Earhart's chief resident, recalls easily conversing with Earhart on their first meeting, without an interpreter. "She's just so communicative," Eastwood said.

But she admits she initially had reservations about the ability a deaf doctor would have, especially in the operating room where everyone's focus is on the patient, not on the sign language interpreter dressed in scrubs.

"At first it took some getting used to," Eastwood said. "She's an excellent surgeon and excellent at picking up nonverbal cues." Strong support

Earhart said Strong has been very supportive in providing whatever assistance she needs to get the job done. Earhart uses a vibrating text pager and an amplified stethoscope, and her interpreter wears a clear surgical mask so her lips can be read in the operating room. She always has an interpreter - usually Kelstone or Deb Cooper - accompany her, and the interpreters usually work in 8-hour shifts. While they have no specific medical training, Kelstone joked she could probably deliver a baby if she is ever stuck in an elevator with an expectant mother.

"She's becoming family," Earhart said about Kelstone during a quick submarine sandwich dinner recently.

Strong is paying thousands of dollars for Earhart's interpreters. It was a cost officials knew would come with Earhart when they accepted her residency.

"Given the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for any organization to make a decision based on disability as opposed to the merit of an individual," said Kathy Parrinello, Strong's chief operating officer.

"It's the right thing to do. We do eat quite a bit of the cost, but that's our mission. She was a bright individual. Our responsibility was to make the accommodation. We obviously knew she had that handicap, but it didn't affect our decision," Parrinello said. "We chose her based on many factors, including her interview, references, how she did in medical school. She got a high ranking."

The only time an interpreter isn't needed is when Earhart can communicate directly to a deaf patient. Several deaf patients have requested her.

"That's wonderful," Earhart said. "There is always an advantage when you speak with your patients in their first language. I often find that my deaf patients have many questions that have gone unanswered. They often have misunderstandings that need to be clarified. I feel that for the first time in their lives, the deaf patient can be completely open and obtain the information they need. That's very rewarding for me, and I think the patients like it, too."

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
 

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Deaf-friendly doctors coming

(March 7, 1998) -- Deaf patients normally have to rely on lip reading, written messages, body language or interpreters to communicate with their doctors.

But two physicians proficient in sign language are gearing up to open a "deaf-friendly" practice in Brighton on March 23.

Dr. Carolyn Stern, one of about 25 deaf physicians in the United States, is moving to Rochester from Chicago, where she's worked since 1990. She's teaming up with Dr. Timothy Malia of Rochester, who is finishing his residency at Highland Hospital.

"Carolyn's arrival is real important," said Robert Pollard, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical School. "The addition of each new sign-fluent health care provider in the community is a large addition."

Pollard said deaf patients may feel a closeness to a deaf doctor, even though UR has several programs that teach medical students deaf culture and how to interact with deaf patients.

Stern and Malia practice family medicine and will treat anyone, although they are targeting deaf and hard of hearing patients.

Their office will be equipped with TTYs, or text telephones, and receptionists are being hired who know sign language.

Examination rooms will be equipped with flashing lights that will be activated when a doctor is ready to enter the room. Traditionally, doctors knock on the door before entering an exam room.

"The positive thing is the communication," said Howard Mann, special services coordinator for Group Health Medical Centers. "Now there's a place to go where there's a doctor who can communicate with the deaf."

Stern, 33, a graduate of Northwestern University, specializes in obstetrics.

"We will do the full spectrum of family medicine," she said. "We will deliver babies, take care of infants, all the way up to seniors."

Her deaf patients who know sign language will be comfortable talking with her. But she is also sensitive to those who have lost their hearing later in life and do not know how to sign. She will use her voice to speak with them.

"Communication will not be a barrier," she said.

Malia, 32, graduated from Albany Medical College. His interest in deaf culture began 10 years ago with the "Deaf President Now" movement at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. He completed two intensive American Sign Language courses at Gallaudet and serves on a task force that tries to improve health care for the deaf.

"Not only do patients have barriers to care, but providers have barriers to provide that care," Malia said. "Most doctors and staff don't have an idea of how the deaf use a telephone."

The doctors' offices will be in Folsom Medical Center on Brighton-Henrietta Townline Road. Folsom is targeting deaf patients because of its proximity to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, said Cynthia Kesselring, medical center manager.

"The deaf population has been underserved, and having doctors who knew sign language was a need in the community," she said.

Dr. Christopher Lehfeldt, a deaf dentist who moved to Rochester in 1991, said Rochester is now the only city he knows of that has a deaf dentist and deaf physician targeting deaf clients.

"I'm just thrilled that Carolyn is moving here from Chicago as I was always frustrated that several patients of mine would need medical attention but have no clear understanding of their situation due to an inability to communicate well with a physician," Lehfeldt said. Mann said there are no other physicians in town who use sign language. Stern worked most recently at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., where about 300 of her 1,600 patients were deaf.

Although a deaf physician is a rarity, she said there's almost nothing she can't do as well as her hearing counterparts.

She has an amplified stethoscope and plans to get one that records sound digitally. Her biggest problem is taking notes and listening -- by looking at her patient -- at the same time.

"I can't understand on the phone, but really, there is much I can do," she said. "I truly listen to my patients and I care about them and I look at them. I think that's what people like."
 
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