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Audiology Team Takes Humanitarian Trip to S. Africa


5 Students Help Professor Screen Children and Adults for Hearing Problems Sept. 3, 2009

Five UT Dallas doctoral students from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences spent 10 days conducting hearing checks in one of the poorest provinces in South Africa.


Since there are no hearing services available in most rural areas and because there are so few audiologists in South Africa, volunteers staff portable clinics that travel throughout the country.

This was the 12th year that Dr. Jackie Clark, a clinical assistant professor at the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders, has taken humanitarian trips in Africa and the 10th year that UT Dallas students have joined her.

"This trip provided an opportunity to test my clinical skills in a challenging environment," said Tonya Dornback, a doctor of audiology (Au.D.) student. "I gained a significant amount of practical experience in a short period of time and boosted my confidence in my clinical abilities."

Each summer, Au.D. students have the opportunity to visit third-world hospitals, see how they operate, acquire practical hands-on experience and provide hearing health care to underserved populations.

This was the first year students could also earn six credit hours in planning and providing humanitarian services during the trip, a benefit that only UT Dallas offers its Au.D. students.

While in the Mpumalanga province, the team conducted free hearing screenings for 397 children at three schools. The team also evaluated 23 children and adults at a hearing health clinic where donated hearing aids were dispensed.

"It's a very humbling experience to see what local professionals are able to accomplish with the right training and minimal resources," said Clark. "The long-standing presence that UT Dallas has in developing countries not only gives our students an opportunity to provide clinical services in challenging environments, but also allows us to share our knowledge and best practices with others."

Since there are no hearing services available in most rural areas and because there are so few audiologists in South Africa, volunteers staff portable clinics that travel throughout the country. If the students detect any significant problems during the screenings, the patients are referred to a hospital approximately 40 miles away.

"This program forces the students to think outside of the box and be flexible," said Dornback. "If you can perform audiology in the South African bush, you can do it anywhere."