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Study Examines Workplace Accommodations for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Physicians

Deaf and hard of hearing (DHoH) people must overcome significant professional barriers, particularly in health care professions. A number of accommodations are available for physicians and other health providers, such as electronic stethoscopes and closed-captioning technologies, but are these approaches making a difference?

A team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the University of Michigan surveyed DHoH physicians and medical students to determine whether these and other accommodations enhance career satisfaction and their ability to provide care. This research has important implications for DHoH medical students, educators, employers and patients.

hearing loss, doctors, hearing loss in the workplace, hearing aids, deafnessThe article, titled “Deafness Among Physicians and Trainees: A National Survey,” appears in the February 2013 issue of Academic Medicine.

“We found that many deaf and hard-of-hearing students and physicians are interested in primary care practice and have a special affinity with those who also have a hearing loss," said Darin Latimore, assistant dean for student and resident diversity at UC Davis School of Medicine and one of the study’s coauthors. “By enhancing training for a diverse range of physicians, we can improve quality of care and access for underserved populations, especially individuals who are deaf or have a hearing loss.”

The study showed that while DHoH physicians were aided by accommodations they spent significant amounts of personal time arranging for these tools. Institutional support was a critical lynchpin in determining job satisfaction among DHoH physicians and students. Prior to this study, little was known about DHoH physicians in the clinical workplace.

The team created an 89-question electronic survey that covered demographics, accommodations, job satisfaction and personal health. Recruitment was a big challenge, as there is no database for DHoH clinicians. To overcome it, the researchers adopted snowball sampling, in which participants recruit peers to take the survey. Ultimately, 86 medical students, residents and practicing physicians were recruited and 56 completed the survey.

Of the participants, 73 percent described their hearing loss as severe or profound; with all but one having bilateral loss, meaning both ears have a loss of hearing. The majority of the practicing physicians (68 percent) were in primary care, while 23 percent of trainees planned to enter primary care. On average, practicing physicians reported caring for DHoH patients 10 percent of the time. The majority of trainees were uncertain how many DHoH patients they would see.

“Our results confirm that deaf and hard of hearing medical students and physicians use a wide range of accommodations, implying that adapting accommodations to each individual's needs will be more successful than any single approach,” said Christopher Moreland, assistant clinical professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the study’s lead author.

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