Areas of Study

Challenges Facing Deaf Students in HealthCare

Gallaudet University has entered a partnership with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Rochester General Health Systems to increase job opportunities in the health care profession for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

A 17-member Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, made up of representatives from the four institutions, was announced by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) at a May 19 press conference held at the U.S. Capitol.

The task force begins its work this summer and is expected to put out a detailed set of recommendations in 18 months for increasing participation by members of the deaf community in medical school, nursing, and other healthcare-related fields. The initiative is national in scope concerning the schools and programs students are recruited from, and the health care facilities where graduates are placed. Primary training sites will be based in Washington, D.C., and Rochester, N.Y., but internships will be established throughout the country, incorporating both on-site and remote learning.

“We have just completed a successful effort to broaden and reform our health care system,” Slaughter said. “One of the major challenges facing us now in fulfilling the demands of this recently passed legislation is the critical shortage of health care specialists at all levels of training to care for the citizens of our nation. This challenge coincides with another, much lesser-known serious challenge–the limited opportunities for qualified deaf and hard of hearing individuals in this country to pursue careers in health care.”

Contributing factors to the underrepresentation of deaf and hard of hearing people in the health care field, said Slaughter, include limited educational opportunities, widely held perceptions among the general population that health care careers are not appropriate for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and an insufficient number of deaf and hard of hearing health care professionals to serve as role models and to advocate for the needs and promise of people with hearing loss.

Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, RIT President Bill Destler, NTID Interim President James DeCaro, and University of Rochester Medical Center Associate Dean for Faculty Development-Women and Diversity and task force member Vivian Lewis were present when Slaughter announced the task force.
“Gallaudet University is delighted to join this strong partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester Medical Center to create more opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people in the health care fields, and to ultimately improve the lives of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people around the country,” said Dr. Hurwitz. “The University is pleased that faculty members from a variety of our programs can contribute their expertise to this vitally important effort.”

“RIT is proud to be on the ground floor of this unique partnership,” said Dr. Destler of the institution’s involvement. “Future students who are deaf and hard of hearing will have access to more state-of-the-art training, more hands-on experience, and more career choices than ever before. We couldn’t be happier to help make this happen.”

DeCaro concurred. “This unprecedented partnership with institutions that have had decades of experience in this field will open doors for deaf and hard of hearing men and women entering the health care professions, be it as physicians, nurses, technicians, or physician assistants,” he said. “And the deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing communities they serve will be better for it.”
“The University of Rochester Medical Center is committed to developing and expanding partnerships with the deaf community and other leading institutions that share our goal of reducing health disparities,” said Dr. Lewis.

“Since 2003, the University of Rochester has been at the forefront of research into the health of deaf and hard of hearing people, through the Rochester Prevention Research Center: National Center for Deaf Health Research, funded by the Centers for Disease Control. The University of Rochester relies on a robust collaboration with the deaf community and both local and national experts to conduct this research into how to alleviate the health disparities that affect deaf and hard of hearing individuals. This task force promises to solidify those collaborations and put us closer to the goal of improving the health of the deaf community.”

Six members of the task force are from Gallaudet: Dr. Irene Leigh, chair of the Department of Psychology, who will also serve as co-chair of the task force; Dr. Kathleen Arnos, chair of the Biology Department and director of the Genetics Program; Dr. Caroline Kobek-Pezzarossi, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology; Dr. Daniel Lundberg, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics; Dr. Raymond Merritt, assistant professor in the Department of Biology; and Dr. David Snyder, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. Gloria Wilder, MD, President/CEO CORE Health, who works as a consultant with Gallaudet University, will also serve on the task force.

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