In the age of equal opportunity, should hearing loss be a barrier to medical school?
About 28 million people in the U.S., or about 20 percent of the population, are hearing-impaired. Historically, hearing loss has presented a barrier to entering the medical profession, because auscultation with a traditional stethoscope relies on intact hearing. Today, however, assistive technologies and devices such as the Thinklabs One are opening doors to many whose hearing impairment were once barred from the field.
Daniel Jensen is a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatric surgery at University of Missouri School of Medicine in Kansas City. He is a long-time fan of Thinklabs Digital Stethoscopes, having discovered Thinklabs in 2004—making him one of our first customers.
Born with moderate hearing loss in both ears, he was disappointed to find he could not hear anything with the conventional stethoscope that was gifted to students at the University of Michigan’s white coat ceremony. Although he appreciated the gift from the school’s alumni, he immediately had to start searching for an alternative.
“I found Thinklabs on the Internet. It was the answer to my problem,” Jensen says. “The medical school administration graciously purchased the Thinklabs ds32 for me, allowing me to participate in auscultation with the rest of my peers.”
Dr. Jensen says the first model had some limitations, like being a little bit too bulky to fit easily in his white coat pocket, but he absolutely loved the sound. He says it was critical in getting him through medical school.
“There’s a whole part of the physical exam that I wouldn’t have been able to learn without my Thinklabs amplified stethoscope,” Jensen says. Not only did he appreciate the stethoscope, the young doctor also appreciated the personal customer service that Thinklabs provided.
“Clive (Smith, CEO and Founder of Thinklabs) was always very responsive and interested in my experience,” he says. “He helped me figure out how to manage my hearing loss as a physician.”
Dr. Jensen entered the field of Otolaryngology in part because of his personal history with ear, nose and throat medical issues he experienced as a child. With a special affinity for children with similar issues, and a long-standing interest in caring for children, pediatric ENT was a natural fit.
As a specialist in pediatric airway disorders, Dr. Jensen uses the Thinklabs One on a daily basis, auscultating his patients’ airways, heart and lungs as part of each physical exam. He purchased his second Thinklabs stethoscope, the Thinklabs One, almost immediately after it came out. “I love my Thinklabs One. I love the portability. I love the clarity and strength of sound. I love the fact that I rarely have to charge it.”
His patients like it, too. “My patients’ parents love the stethoscope,” he says, adding that it’s a good ice-breaker. “They’re amazed by how small it is and they’re impressed that this little piece of technology allows me to care for their child.”
The Thinklabs One has broken down barriers for physicians with hearing loss, like Dr. Jensen. It also has much to offer for healthcare providers who are not hearing impaired. The crystal clear acoustics, widely adjustable volume, and ultra-portability make it a valuable, versatile tool for any provider whose practice includes auscultation.
Of course, the Thinklabs One is more than just a stethoscope. It’s a tool for patient engagement. Though he hasn’t tried it himself yet, Dr. Jensen is intrigued by the idea of using the stethoscope with a headphone splitter to share sounds with his patients and their parents. Using the One, perhaps one of his young patients, maybe even one like him who is hearing-impaired, will become a physician, too.