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Nurse Uses Mentors to Reach Her Goals
Hearing Disabilities

From the time she was born, Molly Jenkins, R.N. of Columbus, Indiana had people she could look to for guidance.  Hearing impaired since birth due to a hereditary genetic hearing loss, Jenkins had her mother, also hearing-impaired, as both  audiologist and mentor.  Her mother guided her through the process of acquiring her first hearing aid when she was five, and her choice to use bilateral aids later as her hearing grew worse in college.

Having a hearing-impaired mother in the health care field made it an easy choice for Jenkins to pursue a career in the field herself.  Jenkins attended DePauw University's School of Nursing and went on to become a registered nurse.   In the DePauw program, Jenkins' main accommodations were simply the use of her hearing aids and ensuring that she got herself a front-row seat in class to enable her to better lip-read the instructor.  Jenkin's classmates and instructors worked with her to clarify any information that she missed.  The director of the nursing program allowed her to spend several hours with a hearing impaired nurse during one of her clinical experiences.  This nurse, who worked in cardiac care, acted as a mentor to Jenkins by giving her "a boost of confidence in knowing that [her] goals were attainable" and by showing her some adaptive equipment that she used on the job.  One such device was an amplified digital stethoscope.  This battery-operated stethoscope can be set to an individual's specific hearing needs.  Jenkins also took advantage of using written procedure instruction handouts in conjunction with verbal instructions when working with patients.  This was key when performing sterile procedures which may require the use of masks.  "I can actually hear better, when I have something written to follow along with," she explained.  She also experimented with the use of an FM system, which is an amplification system in which a speaker wears a microphone that transmits his or her voice directly to a receiver worn by a person with a hearing impairment.

After graduating in 1993, Jenkins took a
position at Columbus Regional Hospital on a Medical/Surgical floor.  She chose her position carefully, seeking a placement where her hearing wouldn't affect her job performance.  "I would not allow myself to work in an area that I did not consider safe.  Because of my hearing impairment, my reaction time would not be as quick, so I just wouldn't be comfortable in an emergency room or operating room setting."

Columbus Regional Hospital provided her with an amplified stethoscope and a hearing aid compatable phone.  She started on the night shift on Med/Surg, where she utilized lip reading and visual cues to communicate and assess her patients.  "I could use the hall light or a bathroom light at night if I needed to so I wouldn't have to turn on the light right over the patient," she explains.  She found that her reliance on visual communication as well as what the patient told her allowed her to assess their status more quickly and accurately than some of her hearing colleagues.  The nurses on her floor approached their work as a team, and although they each had specific patients, they were always available to consult with each other.  This was helpful for Jenkins at times when she did not immediately notice a sound.  Jenkins, in turn, was often called in to assist other nurses with difficult or disruptive patients because of her skills with visual communication and her ability to put patients at ease.

Jenkins now works as a home services nurse out of the same hospital.  She spends about 80% of her day caring for patients in their homes and feels that this is a good match for her abilities.  "I get to work with patients one-on-one without any distractions, such as call lights going off or doctors and nurses running around," she says.  Her communication skills and her ability to pick up on subtle visual and olfactory cues make her the resident expert on assessing whether a new client's home is a safe setting with which to provide home health care.  Jenkins patients, many of whom are elderly and also hearing impaired, find her easy to communicate with and a safe and comfortable person to have in their homes.
  Jenkins tells her patients that she is hearing impaired and has found only positive reactions.  "I think the patients are mostly curious and like to be educated about my hearing impairment.  They want to learn more about it."  Along with her knowledge and friendly demeanor, Jenkins credits her disability with her ability to put patients at ease.  "Doctors and nurses are often thought of as being on a higher level.  I think this is because patients often feel a loss of control when they are sick.  They see me as a little less than perfect, and they may see me as being more real to them." 
  Jenkins clearly believes that her hearing impairment brings added value to the quality of the care she provides.  As mentors with hearing impairments in her own life assisted her, she continues to advocate for others with disabilities to pursue a career in health care.  "Go for it," she says, "you need to experiment and be given a chance.  You don't know the true value of a disability until you are in the working world."
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