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Jacob Blaschko-Iveland ’19, a doctor of audiology student at University of Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, helps a patient try on an assistive listening device.

Jacob Blaschko-Iveland ’19, a doctor of audiology student at University of Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, helps a patient try on an assistive listening device.

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Pacific News

The audiologist can hear you now

Own hearing loss drives students to become audiologists
Nov 21, 2017

Personal experience with hearing loss inspired Jacob Blaschko-Iveland '19 and Monika Sharma '18 to pursue careers in audiology.

"I've known I wanted to be an audiologist for a very long time," said Blaschko-Iveland, a doctor of audiology student at University of the Pacific's Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. When his third-grade teacher attended his high school graduation, she brought his time capsule that included an assignment for which Blaschko-Iveland had written that he wanted to be an audiologist when he grew up.

When Blaschko-Iveland was 3 years old, he was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. Many of his family members have similar hearing impairments.

"I grew up with a hearing loss," Blaschko-Iveland said. "I interacted with doctors growing up. I know what I liked, what I didn't like and what I wish could have been different for me."

Monika Sharma '18, a doctor of audiology student at University of Pacific's Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, speaks with a patient.

Sharma's episode with hearing loss was brief, yet carried with it a life-altering impact. She was living in India at the time and was completing a bachelor of arts degree in Hindustani classical music. A persistent ear infection led her to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, who referred her to an audiologist.

"They found I had a minor hearing loss," Sharma said. "At the time, it terrified me."

These experiences have affected how Blaschko-Iveland and Sharma interact with their patients.

"Even though I don't have any hearing loss right now, I have the memory of having hearing loss," Sharma said. "It shapes my experiences with patients. I remember to be thorough. I remember what they are experiencing and I can put myself in their shoes."

Blaschko-Iveland emphasized that a person's hearing is only one facet of their life and it cannot be isolated or compartmentalized. By working with the patient, an audiologist can develop a plan to address the hearing loss that best suits the patient's lifestyle.

"I want to be able to treat the patient as best I can, really meet them at their level and understand the situation they are in," he said.

He uses his own hearing impairment to connect with his patients in a tangible way. Audiologists administer several tests to establish the nature and extent of the patient's hearing loss. In one type of test, patients are prompted to say a specific set of words.

"The audiologist has to listen to the patient speaking. With my hearing impairment, that isn't always the easiest thing for me to do," he said. "I will actually ask the patient to wear an assistive listening device. The fact that I have them wear it can help me later on when I counsel them."

He finds that introducing them to an assistive listening device in this way helps to normalize a device that patients can find intimidating and are often hesitant to use for themselves.

His own experience with hearing loss caused Jacob Blaschko-Iveland '19 to study to become an audiologist.

Both students see the need for more widespread understanding of the importance of regular hearing tests. Visiting the optometrist or dentist once or twice a year is routine for most people and Blaschko-Iveland hopes that by raising awareness about the vital importance of regular hearing tests, they also will become a habit

"I wish people knew that getting your hearing tested is just as important as an eye exam or a teeth cleaning," Blaschko-Iveland said. "Even if you have normal hearing, you should get those tests done."

Establishing a baseline is important, Blaschko-Iveland explained. Without a baseline, an audiologist is unable to know the degree to which they have improved the individual's hearing compared to what it was before the patient experienced hearing loss.

"A lot of people have normal hearing at low pitches," he said. Clarity of sound comes from the soft pitches, as well as the high pitches. "Hearing loss is not just when you can't hear someone, it is when you can't understand them."

From her interactions with patients in the clinic, Sharma has been struck by the number of individuals who waited years before seeking the help of an audiologist. "I was honestly surprised by how long people waited before addressing their hearing needs," she said. "It is never too early to get your hearing checked."

This story originally appeared it the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences 2017 alumni magazine, Interactions.