Health & Well-being16th March 2014

Making A Difference Through Hearing Therapy

Hearing Therapist Nicola George brings an approach to her work that really defines public service!

by Sarah Lawrence

Whether you are Deaf, Deafened or Hard of Hearing, or the parent of a deaf child, involvement with audiologists and hearing therapists are likely to be important to you. Whilst seeking to place the SLFirst magazine in every audiology unit throughout the UK, I came across one lady who impressed me greatly because of her approach to her duties. She was bubbly, all smiles, energetic and very passionate about her role, and I thought her patients were probably very lucky to have her as their Hearing Therapist. She was an excellent communicator to boot. I was so impressed I vowed to return to find out more about her and her role. This is the story of Nicola George, a Hearing Therapist at the University Hospital Wales.

Let me start by saying that whilst Nicola agreed to the interview, she is actually a very humble and modest lady, is not one to make a fuss, and was reluctant to share some of the positive feedback she has had in the 11 years she has being doing this job.

As a Hearing Therapist in a busy city hospital, Nicola’s duties cover a wide range of hearing related issues, including, all ear related disorders (hearing within normal limits to profound hearing loss; ear diseases; balance; surgery support; education; teaching; deaf awareness; communication support [lip-reading, sign language, deafblind], environmental aids equipment, tinnitus, and hearing aids.

Previously an BSL/English interpreter, note taker and Lip-Speaker, Nicola was first introduced to sign language by a friend who was Deaf. The friend taught her British Sign Language (BSL). “She taught me BSL over the years and I became quite proficient,” Nicola explained. “She was a fantastic teacher. She always encouraged me to study formally and I went on to take my CACDP BSL exams after 10 years of fluent signing.” Nicola subsequently went on to study at Bristol University and Barry College before signing up with WCD and RNID as a Sign Language Interpreter.

Nicola went on to work in Infant, Primary and Secondary Schools interpreting lessons for deaf children as well as in colleges and universities note taking and signing for deaf students. Wanting to do more to support the independence of deaf people, Nicola returned to study Hearing Therapy at Bristol University learning about the causes of deafness. That led her to her current post, a job from which she gets a great deal of enjoyment.

“My job gives me great satisfaction,” Nicola told me, “I enjoy giving information and support wherever I can. I take a lot from seeing Deaf and Hard of Hearing people overcoming difficulties and achieving their goals.” For Nicola, the role she performs is a very important one as it helps people live with their deafness as successfully as possible. She also helps to break down barriers in communication and supports people to get the most out of their hearing aids.

Passionate about her work, it is no surprise to learn that Nicola receives thank you cards and personal messages because of the way she performs her role. I asked her to tell me the nicest thing anyone has said to her about the work she does. Predictably restrained, “That I helped change someone’s life for the better,” she replied.

As with most jobs within the public services, Nicola’s does not come without its challenges, with the need to deal with people’s expectations of hearing aids, close to the top of the list. In an attempt to deal fully with the issues a deaf person faces, Nicola also experiences a challenge when trying to get family members to adopt good communication tactics and in encouraging a deaf person to overcome the barriers they have encountered in the past with their hearing aids. Ultimately, Nicola’s greatest difficulty is one that comes from her own ambition to restore people’s loss of confidence.

Whilst the role Nicola performs is a crucial one, I was surprised to learn that her post does not exist in all hospitals, despite the high levels of patient satisfaction and the ‘life-changing’ nature of her duties. Interviewing her, it is clear that Nicola has skills and attributes that means she is patient centric, including the ability to laugh with people and make light of situations. Blessed with patience, a thorough understanding of hearing loss, counselling skills, a good understanding of today’s technology and life experience, Nicola is also a relationship builder, recognising that she can do the best for her patients, if she has a good contact within related agencies such as Social Services, Job Centres and the voluntary sector.

In case there was any doubt that Nicola is a thoroughbred in her role, interested and determined in regards to deafness, I knew that she had collected a few unused hearing aids. “I have collected throughout the years I have worked in the NHS,” she told me. “I have collected as many ‘old’ hearing aids as possible so that I can show progression throughout the years. They are displayed at events I attend. I even have hearing aids from the 18th Century. People just love them.”

Always looking to improve, Nicola feels that access to all the software on her computer would help her make the necessary adjustments to hearing aids. If money was no object she would also purchase duplicate equipment so that she could more readily loan people equipment to try it out before it is purchased without it disrupting the service she is able to give to other patients.

Keen to prevent the expected increase in deafness in the future, Nicola advises youngsters, “to listen to their parents when they say headphones are too loud.” She also cautions against standing too close to loud speakers at bars, clubs and at concerts and, “Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ears,” she adds with her usual sense of humour. For those who may be losing their hearing, and understanding the reluctance or denial many people have, Nicola suggests they should get to their GP straight away and get to see a Hearing Therapist as soon as possible.

Nicola, keen on reading, swimming, cycling and badminton, has welcomed the introduction of the All Wales NHS Standards on Communication with people with sensory loss that were introduced late in 2013, but she remains worried about the extent to which the standards will be adhered to.

Always looking for ways to provide her patients with advice and information, Nicola has placed copies of the SLFirst magazine in her waiting room, recognising it as a useful and interesting read for anyone who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Asked about the magazine, Nicola commented, “I personally love it and they fly out of the waiting rooms so I guess the patients love it too.”

For my part, I am just delighted for Nicola’s patients that they have someone so in tune with their needs, not only in delivery of her service, but in helping resolve problems that sit outside her direct responsibility. Ordering the SLFirst magazine and making that freely available in her waiting areas, is but one example of the comprehensive approach Nicola adopts in carrying out her duties.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Health & Well-being

16th March 2014