Andrew Winters talks about the life-changing impact of his cochlear implant – both inside and outside of dentistry.
Please tell us about your own journey into dentistry
When I did my UCAS form application, I had medicine as my first choice. But after some discussions with many people and the odd occupational therapists, it was decided that dentistry might be a more appropriate career due to the communication side of things.
I am not a fan of tick-boxing people into certain categories and a firm believer that if anyone wants to do what they want, certain measures can be put in place to help.
I applied to several different universities across the UK and got accepted to Liverpool. It was around the time a new head of dean started, Professor Callum Youngson, who was a forward thinking and progressive person. I own a lot to the tutors and to the ‘prof’ for my opportunity.
As a recipient of a cochlear implant, how did you find the support at dental school?
The support was first class at University of Liverpool Dental School. All the staff made me feel settled from day one and I felt that I could seek any advice/support I needed. It is important to feel comfortable to approach anyone for advice and not to be ashamed of this.
There were a few things employed to help with my journey. They helped to employ a dedicated note-taker for when I went to lectures so I could attend and lip read everything, as I am heavily reliant on this, without worrying about writing down important information. In the first year, we used a non dentist for this. This became a problem as the person may not understand the dental terminology/language and this was reflected in the quality of the notes I received.
It was decided then to employ someone within my year to provide the note taking and it was a win/win situation. I got some decent notes, and my friend got some money for it. Any source of money is helpful to a student!
In third year, when the studies became more clinical based and patient-based learning began, I was designated a nurse/support worker to help with any communication issues I might have.
I received my cochlear implant just before starting my third year. I was a late recipient as I had put it off for as long as I could. It was offered to me as a young child. But I was stubborn and rejected the idea of having surgery.
I felt I was doing well by lip reading wearing my conventional hearing aids but by year two, it was recognised that I struggled a bit on the communication side of things and started to fall behind my peers. A prompt meeting was organised between the professor, several of the tutors, support worker and my mother.
Many ideas and suggestions were bandied about to find a way to try improving things. But the most drastic option suggested was cochlear implant to try to improve my hearing. I elected to go for it, and this was organised to be carried out during the summer holidays.
I had missed the first few weeks of third year but quickly caught up and never really looked back since. Since receiving the cochlear implant it has greatly improved the communication side of things. My speech got clearer, and I could hear more crisply and thus my quality of life had improved.
It is amazing to have such a technology available and see how it could change one a person’s senses.
What are some of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
Now, I would have a dental nurse in the surgery with me. I always let the patient know that if there are any problems/questions understanding me, that person can help. The most problems I had were my northern Irish accent coming out strong on a Friday afternoon.
However, albeit very rarely, you do come across a difficult person and this person may be ignorant of your deafness. These types of patients can be difficult in general. You will always come across such a person and over time you will learn through soft skills to manage them. A bit of patience and a self awareness to withdraw from the situation increases your handling.
Target-driven dentistry also affects the quality of what you provide as you are on a time limit and pushed to see more patients. This can be stressful as I may take a bit longer to speak to the patient. For example, I need to be in front of the patient so I can clearly lip read them to take in their history and relevant information.
It requires careful management of your diary and good organisational skills. This comes with experience.
How can dental practices be more accommodating for staff/patients with hearing impairments?
- Raising staff awareness for patients with a hearing impairment. You could introduce this into the practice policy folder and raise it at staff meetings when required
- Raising staff awareness that some patients may need to lip read and require full face with no obscuring with a mask or visor
- Some practices may be able to provide a hearing loop in the general waiting area
- There are plenty of training modules online on how to interact a person with deafness or hearing impairments and some staff could go further by learning British Sign Language (BSL) with different accredited levels. The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) provide fantastic free online resources.
Read more articles celebrating Disability Pride Month:
- Meet the siblings working in healthcare with impaired hearing
- Three tips to improve your social media accessibility.