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Careers in Health for the Deaf
Deaf people work in a wide range of health careers. They work as physicians, nurses, dentists, mental health counselors, pharmacists and other health care providers. Deaf health care providers face some challenges due to their hearing loss but with creativity and persistence can overcome these challenges. Deaf people use different forms of communication, including speechreading and sign language, and they must figure out how they will communicate with hearing patients and colleagues. Using speechreading, speech, sign language, interpreters, written communication and electronic communication like email and text messages are all options.
Deaf physicians work in many fields of medicine including obstetrics and gynecology, family medicine, pediatrics, surgery, radiology and psychiatry. Deaf physicians that have some degree of hearing may use special stethoscopes that amplify sounds much more than normal stethoscopes so they can hear heart, breath and bowel sounds. Those that cannot hear at all need to work in fields of medicine where listening to such sounds is not required when diagnosing and treating patients. If deaf surgeons rely on speechreading for communication, operating room staff can wear clear face masks so surgeons can still speechread.
Deaf nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices and clinics. They work with a wide range of patients, including children and adults. Deaf nurses that have some degree of hearing may use special stethoscopes that amplify sounds much more than normal stethoscopes so they can hear heart, breath and bowel sounds. Those that cannot hear at all need to work in fields of nursing where listening to such sounds is not required or work in facilities where other staff can take on those duties.
The inability to hear does not prevent dentists from performing procedures. If they rely on speechreading for communication, having staff use clear masks will facilitate communication during procedures. They may also find it hard to understand what patients say while undergoing procedures since their mouths may be open wider than normal or their lips may be numb from local anesthesia, so dentists may need assistance understanding patients during those times.
Deaf people work as mental health care professionals like counselors, psychologists and social workers. While they can work with both deaf and hearing clients, those that use sign language to communicate may find that some hearing clients feel uncomfortable communicating with their counselors with the assistance of interpreters.
The Hearing Loss Association of America suggests that deaf pharmacists may find it easier to work in a hospital or a large pharmacy where there will be other pharmacists or pharmacy technicians on duty to answer the telephone since patients and health care providers frequently phone in prescriptions. However, they can work in many different environments and handle most tasks in pharmacies. Getting medication orders in writing instead of verbally can help prevent errors.
Mike Andrews is a freelance writer and serial entrepreneur focused on small-business and entrepreneurship for average people. He holds a bachelor's degree in biblical studies and a master's degree in theology and has appeared in a wide array of print and online periodicals including "HiCall," "Mature Living" and "Caregivers Home Companion."