Nursing with a hearing loss: Yes you can!

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    Does hearing loss automatically mean you can’t become a nurse? Or, end a career in nursing? The answer is often “No”. Read on to learn more about nursing students and nurses with hearing loss; and technology and supports that help them practice in a variety of settings.

    Nursing with a hearing loss: Yes you can!

    Have you ever found yourself asking a colleague to repeat something? Or, have to take a little longer than usual to assess heart or lung sounds? Ever have difficulty hearing someone on the telephone.

    Hearing Loss
    According to the American Academy of College of Nursing (2011) there are more than 3 million licensed nurses in this country. If hearing loss statistics for nurses are similar to the 15 to 17% prevalence rates of the general population, there are approximately 450,000 to more than half a million registered nurses who are working with hearing loss (Spencer & Pennington (2014).

    So, why are we surprised to learn that a nursing colleague has a hearing loss? Is it part of the stigma associated with invisible disabilities? People can be born with a congenital hearing loss or acquire a hearing loss due to infection, medications, trauma, aging or noise.
    Some may ask, "Are students with hearing loss being admitted to nursing programs? And, "Can nurses with hearing loss find jobs"? The short answer is, "yes"!

    Nursing students with hearing loss are increasing in number, moving on to graduate and finding positions. Nurses with hearing loss work in a wide array of settings-hospitals, schools for the deaf, camps, case management, long term care and mental health. They also teach in nursing education programs.

    Technology has done much to improve the lives of people with disabilities including nurses with hearing loss. Amplified and electronic stethoscopes are available. Choice of a stethoscope will depend on many factors including degree of hearing loss and if hearing aids (in the canal, totally in the ear, behind the ear) are used. There are different types, so selection should be made in consultation with an audiologist familiar with stethoscope use (Bankaitis, 2010).

    Pagers that beep codes that mean different things can also help. One nurse made modifications to her workplace by using a master alarm with a remote receiver, and placing a receiver on IV machines to alert her with flashing lights when alerts went off. She also got help from her coworkers. The "ward clerk or other nurses alerted me if a patient was ringing for me.... other nurses made my phone calls and we used a 'barter' system in supporting each other" Maheady (2006 p.60).

    A nurse with moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss wears bilateral behind- the-ear hearing aids and teaches nursing in Pennsylvania. Her master's degree thesis examined the lived experience of the hearing-impaired nursing student. She serves as a nurse professional leader for the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss and created a "Guide to requesting vocational rehabilitation services" for nurses and nursing students with disabilities (Machemer, 2014).

    During an interview for an ICU position, a nurse who has cochlear implants stated, "I made it very clear to them that if having cochlear implants was an issue for them, to please let me know NOW because I did not want to waste their time or mine....The supervisor smiled and said, "It's not a problem for us. We would love to have you work with us" (Keyes, 2014 p.134).

    Appointed to the governor's Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a nurse with a genetic hearing loss works tirelessly as an advocate for people with hearing loss. As a nurse, she works as a Quality Improvement (QI) Delegation Coordinator for a Health Plan in Wisconsin (Schwarz, 2014).

    In New York, a nurse is studying to be a family nurse practitioner. "I go into the patients' rooms with confidence, introduce myself, tell the patients that I am deaf and will rely on interpreters as needed," she says. "I have been able to make it work effectively (Rochester Institute of Technology).

    When a nursing home opened their doors to the deaf and deaf/blind community, they hired deaf CNA's to communicate with the residents. "Now we have the young deaf taking care of the elderly deaf and it's a beautiful thing" (Therapy Center, 2013).

    The University of Salford in the United Kingdom began the first nursing program for deaf students. One of their first graduates went on to work as a staff nurse at the National Centre for Mental Health and Deafness (University of Salford, 2009).

    These examples demonstrate that nurses with hearing loss are practicing in many different settings and making valuable contributions to patient care.

    Do you work as a nurse with a hearing loss? Do you work with a nurse or CNA with a hearing loss?

    Do you use an amplified or electronic stethoscope? Do you or a colleague receive reasonable accommodations (Interpreter, amplified telephone)? Is there team support? Is technology helping?

    Love to hear about your experiences.


    Exceptional Nurse provides resources and mentors for nurses and nursing students with hearing loss.

    The Association of Medical professionals with hearing loss provides extensive information about workplace supports and amplified and electronic stethoscopes

    The Department of Labor Job Accommodation Network provides information about reasonable accommodation for nurses with a wide range of disabilities Accommodating Nurses with Disabilities

    The UK Health professionals with hearing loss group offers resources and connections to other nurses and nursing students with hearing loss in the United Kingdom UK Health Professionals with Hearing Loss


    Bankaitis, A. (2010). Audiology Online. Amplified Stethoscope Options for Professionals with Hearing Loss. Accessed on July 29, 2015 Amplified Stethoscope Options for Professionals with Hearing Loss A. U. Bankaitis Hearing Aids - Adults Assistive Devices 860.

    Keyes, L. (2014) in D. Maheady (Ed.) The Exceptional Nurse: Tales from the trenches of truly resilient nurses working with disabilities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

    Machemer, C. (2014) in D. Maheady (Ed.) The Exceptional Nurse: Tales from the trenches of truly resilient nurses working with disabilities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

    Maheady, D.C. (2006). Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses working with disAbilities. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.

    Rochester Institute of Technology. Health Care careers for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Accessed on July 28, 2015 Lauren Searls | Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community

    Spencer, C., Pennington, K. (2014). Nurses with Undiagnosed Hearing Loss: Implications for Practice. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Accessed July 21, 2015 Nurses with Undiagnosed Hearing Loss: Implications for Practice

    Schwarz, E. (2014) in D. Maheady (Ed.) The Exceptional Nurse: Tales from the trenches of truly resilient nurses working with disabilities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
    Therapy Center (2013).

    Amelia Manor Nursing Home Opens Doors to the Deaf and Deaf/Blind. Accessed on July 28, 2015 The Therapy Center | Amelia Manor Nursing Home Opens Doors to the Deaf and Deaf/Blind

    University of Salford (2009). Salford student becomes first deaf male nurse. Accessed on July 28, 2015 Salford Staff Channel-Home | University of Salford, Manchester.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '18
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  2. Visit Donna Maheady profile page

    About Donna Maheady, MSN, EdD, NP

    Pediatrics is my love and passion. I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and have been practicing and teaching nursing for over 35 years. I am the founder of a nonprofit organization for nurses with disabilities,, author of three books and numerous articles about nurses and nursing students with disabilities as well as other topics. In addition, I am an autism mom/warrior and dog lover!

    Joined: Sep '06; Posts: 165; Likes: 319
    Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator, Author, Blogger, Founder of nonprofit organization for nurses and nursing students with disabilities; from US
    Specialty: 38 year(s) of experience in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities

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  3. by   TheBlackDogWaits
    I am so thrilled that someone has showcased this issue!

    Although my hearing loss is not a new development, I can't express how frustrating it is to go into a field where hearing can make or break your career.

    I didn't realize this until I brought my very first $25 stethoscope to clinicals in my first semester of nursing school. I honestly thought it was broken. My classmates were so tickled with the lub dubs and breath sounds, and all I could hear was a diminished AP, at best.

    So, my HoH journey took on a life of its own. I was very fortunate to have a clinical instructor who was also hearing impaired. She introduced me to the magnificent electronic stethoscope, which I could not afford. Of course, up to that point I had never been treated, either, since most insurance companies don't cover treatment related to hearing loss.

    I won't lie, I sailed through a lot of assessments on shoddy luck. It was just such a terrible feeling, I can't even convey it to those with no trouble hearing. Like, what if I miss something???

    Ive spent a lot of nursing moments guessing, and relying on the breadth of my other assessment skills. I have even gone as far as asking for assessment support, but who has time for that?

    I have been fortunate to acquire a set of Bluetooth hearing aids, which can tune in to other devices - but I am very interested to know how a bedside nurse with hearing loss could function without this technology.

    OP, thank you for this article...
  4. by   Donna Maheady
    Thanks so much for responding! You are not alone...
    Are you finished with school? Working?
  5. by   TheBlackDogWaits
    Yes, working six months now. Still a baby nursling.
  6. by   RedInScrubs
    I have some moderate hearing loss in both my ears from a bad infection as a baby that caused eardrums to burst. I didn't realize that it affected me much until I went into nursing school, because I could NEVER hear bowel sounds properly or quieter, lower-pitched lung sounds well with my stethoscope. High pitches like wheezes I could, but I sonorous or distant sounds were ones I couldn't pick up. I assumed I was just not very good hearing them, like some people just aren't good with IV starts, so I muddled through and pretended that yup, I could hear tinkling or crackling or whatever else when we had to listen.

    Turns out when I bought myself a cardiology stethoscope that's more equipped to handle lower tones, I can hear most sounds a lot better. I still have to take extra time and sometimes close my eyes, but the lower tones and frequencies were something I realized that was my problem. So now I have to my have specific stethoscope with me, even in contact rooms, and I sanitize it between use, because the isolation scopes are useless to me and I can't hear anything through them.

    Once I realized that, I started to think about other ways that I've compensated. I was a music major, and played flute as my primary instrument, so I could obviously hear and match tones, because I had to be in tune to play or sing with parts. But I could never pick out base lines in songs, and I struggled to tune to lower frequencies a LOT. I also realized that I can't hear people well when I'm in restaurants and it's noisy, because the background noise drowns out the lower tones most people take when they're conversing at a normal level, because I ask people a LOT to repeat themselves when I'm in a crowd.

    Funny, how we compensate and are able to do so much until something silly like bowel sounds comes along and shows up otherwise.
  7. by   Donna Maheady
    I say this so often about nurses with a wide range of disabilities....there are ways to compensate.

    Thanks for sharing some specific ways you compensate...I'm sure it will be helpful to others.
  8. by   trudeyRN
    Trying to learn auscultation, I assumed I might have a hearing impairment I hadn't known about before nursing school. I was immediately panicked that I might not be able to perform (if nothing else, a nurse must be capable of assessment).

    My instructor borrowed a steth with electronic amplification. To my surprise, this was much worse!

    Turns out my hearing is a little too good, and blocking external ambient noise was the issue (corrected by better ear pieces). So for a brief time I worried about this. I'm glad you are addressing it because it occurs to me there could be many excellent nurses/aspiring nurses who need this to achieve their potential.

    Also- shout out for neurodiversity . I'm a former teacher of students on the spectrum. As a group and as individuals, I really appreciated their take on things.
  9. by   mercurysmom
    This probably sounds a bit strange, but losing my hearing has actually improved my career as a Nurse Educator.

    In 2006, I developed pneumonia (multi-drug resistant pseudomonas) and required an extended course of IV Tobramycin. I have a maternally-inherited progressive neuromuscular disease, and my medical team knew that I was extremely sensitive to the ototoxic effects of aminoglycoside ABX. I had to make a choice between risking my hearing or my life, so what could I do? Anyways, six months after that, I had a profound bilateral SNHL in the 100 dB+ range in all frequencies. However, I was alive! Can't complain too much about that.

    What can a person do when given a six month life expectancy and they exhibit "failure to die?" Return to college and start a business, of course! I became certified in Deaf Studies and started taking classes towards my MPH. Unfortunately, I had to give up my goal of becoming a Public Health Nurse because I'm technology-dependent (power chair, vent, long term PN and IV hydration, etc.). So, I'm working towards a M.Ed focusing on Technology and Distance Learning in Adult Basic Education, specifically as it affects individuals in the Deaf community. While receiving Hospice services, I let my teaching license lapse, so I'm retaking the licensure exams this fall. Fortunately, I kept my RN license active. There's no way I would be able to complete a refresher course with a practicum in my condition.

    I'm self-employed educator and advocate. I am contracted by area colleges as a guest speaker. I lecture about communication, disability awareness, and health literacy. In addition, I offer on-site continuing Ed workshops for Early Intervention programs, primary and secondary schools, and LTC facilities. I have been contracted by several non-profit groups to provide information about a variety of topics through webinars, articles, and lectures. I am fluent in ASL, and I teach English literacy and numeracy to Deaf adults. Sometimes, I'm contracted through my state Voc Rehab to provide short term tutoring for Deaf HS and college students, or clients involved in vocational programs, including CNA courses. I have experience with assistive technology that could help d/D/HH nursing students succeed in the classroom and clinical sites. Feel free to PM me for info regarding AT and scholarships.

    Mercury's Mom
  10. by   Donna Maheady
    I am speechless about your accomplishments!!! You go girl!

    Important message for others....DO NOT Give up your nursing license!!
  11. by   AshXCTF
    Hello! I stumbled upon the article and found it interesting! I have moderate hearing loss- mixed. I 'lost' my hearing unexpectedly around the age of 5. I recently became a nurse at the age of 22 and have not had any issues (luckily) with hearing alarms, listening to lung/bowel sounds. When I started nursing school, I researched different stethoscopes and settled with the Littman Cardiology amplified steth. It has done wonders for me! With a normal stethoscope I can hear *some* sounds. With the amplified stethoscope, everything is so clear. They now make bluetooth capable stethoscopes and I think they can be compatible with bluetooth hearing aids. The only downside I have experienced in my one year of being a bedside nurse so far is that I have to take my hearing aids out to use the stethoscope. So I may miss something the patient is saying to me (But I read lips really well so I can usually catch up).
    This article is great. At first I was a little intimidated when I began nursing school but there are resources out there and technology improves everyday! I have never had a negative experience with a coworker (A lot of them didn't know I wore hearing aids for months) or with a patient.
  12. by   AshXCTF
    Your accomplishments and perseverance are so inspiring! Go you!
  13. by   Donna Maheady
    Thanks so much for responding! Your example will help so many others!
    Did you work with your audiologist to select the best stethoscope for you?
  14. by   annie.rn
    Hi! Thank you for your excellent article. I have almost complete right sided sensorineural hearing loss with tinnitus caused by an acoustic neuroma. The hearing loss has been gradual over the last 13 years so I feel like I have adapted fairly well. I do not require any assistive devices at work. I adapt by using my left ear to talk on the phone, having co-workers stand on my "good" side when giving report, etc.

    My biggest workplace challenges are locating where sounds are coming from and hearing clearly in situations with a lot of background noise. The worst is when someone calls my name from a distance. I will hear my name but not know where it came from. I then spin around in circles (literally) trying to find who is calling me : -)

    Unfortunately, as my hearing is getting worse I am finding my co-workers less and less tolerant. There is one person in particular who has outright accused me of having "selective hearing". She has made several not so nice comments to my face so I can only imagine what she says behind my back. I might be overly sensitive but I do feel less respected as a nurse since my hearing has declined. I feel like some co-workers think I'm a huge airhead who walks around in la la land when in reality I just can't hear them. I feel like they do little to meet me half way even when I repeatedly remind them of my hearing difficulties.

    That's the hardest part for me because I've always taken pride in being respected by my peers for my clinical practice.
    Last edit by annie.rn on Aug 4, '15