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Interview with Samuel R. Atcherson, Ph.D.

Samuel R. Atcherson, PhD

October 2, 2006

Topic: AMPHL ---Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses
Ingrao: Hi Dr. Atcherson, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. You and I have known each other for many years, and I feel very fortunate to be able to share your story with the readers of HealthyHearing.

Atcherson: Hi Dr. Ingrao, thanks so much for having me. It's been a real pleasure to know you all these years.

Ingrao: Before we talk about AMPHL, can you tell our readers about how you became an audiologist?

Atcherson: Absolutely, but it's kind of a long story. I'll try to keep this one short. Back when I was a freshman in college, I needed a new set of hearing aids, and my mother took me to see Dr. Richard Wright, one of the local audiologists in town. I needed to have my hearing re-evaluated, and apparently, Richard was surprised at how well I communicated despite having a severe to profound hearing loss. Richard asked me what my major was in college.

After telling him that I was a pre-medical technology major in a not-so-enthusiastic tone, he asked me if I had ever considered becoming an audiologist myself. I think I laughed when he said that, and then I thought he was being ridiculous. I told him I wouldn't be able to conduct speech tests because I couldn't hear well. He responded saying that I had such excellent lipreading abilities, and because test words could be presented by tape or CDs, there was hardly anything to keep me from being an audiologist. I wasn't convinced until about a year later. Richard had hired a young audiologist fresh out of graduate school whose name is Kimm Carr. She basically said the same thing that Richard said to me earlier. Dr. Carr asked me to talk to a group of parents who had children with hearing loss. I was moved. Afterwards, Kimm asked me if I would fill out an enrollment application for the University of Georgia if she requested an application packet. I applied and was accepted, and there it all began.

Ingrao: Can you tell us a bit about your own hearing loss and what special challenges it caused you during your training?

Atcherson: I was initially diagnosed when I was around three years old at the hunch of a babysitter who thought I wasn't hearing well. She was right. I had a mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss that would get progressively worse over time. By the time I was training to be an audiologist, my hearing loss had progressed to profound levels. I had to compensate with powerful hearing aids and I grew quite adept at reading lips. In training, I had had speech therapy to learn how to speak clearer to patients, I had to use an assistive listening device when testing patients, and I had to make certain modifications to some test procedures so that my results would be reliable and valid. In 2000, however, I experienced a dizzying loss of remaining hearing that made speech understanding quite difficult. I questioned my abilities to be an audiologist, and decided to pursue a PhD in audiology. I did this so that I could teach audiology students and learn how to make research contributions to science. One year into the PhD program, my hearing function bottomed out and I began to struggle in classes. It was then I decided to pursue cochlear implantation. A CT scan during this time revealed the cause of my hearing loss: enlarged vestibular aqueducts. The cochlear implant opened many doors for me both personally and professionally, and now I'm able to practice clinically again.

Ingrao: On the flip side of that, I can imagine your patients really appreciate having someone on the other side of the desk who really knows what they are going through.

Atcherson: You know, Dr. Ingrao, my experience has been that my patients really do enjoy knowing that I have a hearing loss. When my patients learn that I have a hearing loss, I think that it helps them feel that they are not alone. Some of my patients are very interested in my own hearing loss history, and many feel safer about sharing their own. But no hearing loss experience or hearing abilities are ever exactly alike, and I try to be as receptive to that as best as I can. I think that my hearing colleagues are doing a fine job as well. As a field, I think we have come a long way in better understanding the needs of people with hearing loss. But better hearing is a two-way street. The patient and the audiologist have to work cooperatively.

Ingrao: I'd like to talk about AMPHL now. What is the organization and how did it get started?

Atcherson: Yes, AMPHL is the abbreviation for the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses. AMPHL is a non-profit organization that was established in 2000 by a small group of professionals and students in human or veterinary medicine with the goal of providing information, promoting advocacy and mentorship, and creating a network for students and healthcare professionals with hearing loss. I have had the privilege and honor of serving on the board of this wonderful organization as its webmaster, director, and Vice-President, and I have enjoyed seeing it grow. AMPHL's presence is mostly internet-based. We have a wonderful website stocked full of useful resources and our interactions take place on an online discussion forum that allows users to ask questions, exchange information, and offer support. We have students and professionals participate from all across the globe and from many different professions including human and veterinary medicine, nursing, fire/rescue, pharmacy, physical therapy, and audiology as examples. Our constituents range from the culturally deaf to those with late onset hearing loss. I think a lot of people are pleasantly surprised that there are such things as amplified and visual stethoscopes, and we are currently working with a manufacturer to produce clear surgical face masks for professionals and patients with hearing loss. Lastly, about every two years we have a conference with exhibits. This is a really exciting time for all who come as they get to listen to their peers and colleagues talk, they have an opportunity to network and share clinical strategies, and those who are interested can try out a variety of amplified stethoscopes. The website can be accessed at

Ingrao: Speaking of stethoscopes, has an article that might be of interest to some of your AMPHL members

What is the most frequent question your AMPHL colleagues ask you as the resident expert on hearing loss solutions?

Atcherson: When their hearing loss prevents keeps them from succeeding in school, keeps them from doing their jobs well, or even when hearing aids no longer seem to be working as well as they used to, many of my colleagues ask me about cochlear implants. For some of my colleagues, they were quite literally at the end of their ropes. Many were curious about cochlear implants, but they were scared for the obvious reasons: losing remaining hearing and potential risks of surgery. I use my own cochlear implant experience, stories of others I know, and I keep abreast of cochlear implants in the literature and in clinical practice to help answer questions. While my answer is not a solution per se, it appears to give them the comfort of moving forward with a little more confidence. Ultimately, I tell them, it is they who have to live with the decision, and they are typically glad they did.

Ingrao: Do you have any special advice for hard of hearing people interested in becoming medical professionals?

Atcherson: When it comes to healthcare, the safety and well-being of the patient is paramount. Hearing loss doesn't have to be an impediment to a great medical career, but I feel strongly that students must true to themselves in understanding their own skills and abilities and how they might interact with patients. If confident in moving forward, I would encourage the student to stay one step ahead of the entire educational process. This may mean finding the right schools or programs willing to work with them. It may mean locating and funding the necessary assistive devices well in advance of classes or clinical rotations. Upon graduation, it means finding the same needs at places of employment. Know your rights, exercise appropriate diligence, and seek every resource you can. Above all, believe in yourself.

Ingrao: Thanks again for your time Dr. Atcherson.

Atcherson: You're welcome, Dr. Ingrao. Thanks for having me.


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2019 NIHL Series | 4 advanced-level live webinars | June 5, 12, 19, + 26 | 12:00 pm EDT | Guest Editor: Brian J. Fligor, ScD, PA

samuel r atcherson

Samuel R. Atcherson, PhD

Assistant Professor, Vice President of the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses