Areas of Study

Task Force Aimed At Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Members of the Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community hosted a series of focus groups on November 4 and 5 in hopes of learning about the needs of current and future students considering careers in health care.

Fifteen members of the Task Force met at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Most — but not all — Task Force members were from four partnering institutions: NTID; Gallaudet University; the National Center for Deaf Health Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center; and Rochester General Health System.

Task Force members from Gallaudet who participated in the meeting were Dr. Irene Leigh (co-chair), Dr. Kathleen Arnos, Dr. Henry Snyder, Dr. Daniel Lundberg, and Dr. Caroline Pezzarossi. Also in attendance from the University were Donald Beil, chief of staff in the Office of the President, and Dr. Barbara White, a professor in the Department of Social Work.

Members attended a focus group of medical professionals who are deaf or hard of hearing and working as doctors, pharmacists, lab technicians, or nurses to better understand the barriers they overcame to have and do their jobs.

Several said they faced attitudinal roadblocks when they even contemplated working in the health care field. Others said they were repeatedly passed over for job promotions.

Directly using the telephone was a requirement for some jobs, they were told. A pharmacist could only take a prescription request from a doctor, even though he couldn’t hear on the phone. Privacy laws hindered others from relaying confidential medical information at times.

Access was also a major issue for many. Having a qualified interpreter–and deciding who pays for it–was debated in their experiences. Some panelists suggested having a national funding pool to pay for educational interpreters, much the way relay calls are funded.

These medical professionals also talked about their motivation to enter such a challenging field. A paramedic from Tennessee said he simply grew up around ambulances because his father and mother worked in that field. Others entered the field because they want to help people.

Nghi Lu, a medical resident in radiology at Rochester General Hospital, was born in Vietnam, where her parents talked about extreme suffering. “I just want to help the suffering. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to become a doctor,” she said.

Panelists also talked about challenges in the workplace. It can be hard to hear in a busy trauma room in an emergency department when oxygen is hissing, monitors are beeping, and several things may be said by several people. One emergency room worker said he sometimes brings in a technician to tell him what is going on in the chaos.

A focus group of students eager to enter a medical career also spoke about access issues, difficult testing procedures, and acceptance into college programs when it might cost a college $200,000 per student to pay for interpreters through their medical school experience.

“We collected a lot of data in terms of personal stories and experience which is very important to complement the statistics which we have gotten,” said Rose Marie Toscano, co-chair of the Task Force. “We’ve started to grapple with some of the implications of the recommendations that we would like to make. And we discussed the importance of maintaining a national focus in the work of the Task Force.”

The Task Force will convene next on January 25 and 26 at Gallaudet University.
Note: Except for the inclusion of names of individuals from Gallaudet who participated in or attended the meeting, the information in this story comes from Greg Livadas, director of media relations, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology.

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