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A Tough Job Made Tougher

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Amanda Mooneyham teaching a class

Eugene Richards

Medical student Amanda Mooneyham teaches anatomy to first-year students with the assistance of an American Sign Language interpreter (below).

The Med Student

Amanda Mooneyham, 26, has had 90-decibel bilateral sensorineural hearing loss since age three; reading lips and using hearing aids enable her to carry on conversations. Still, during her clinical rotations in medical school, she found herself struggling. When residents presented their patients, people talking over one another made it difficult for her to follow everything they said, and one professor wrote in an evaluation that she appeared “disinterested.”

Amanda Mooneyham's American Sign Language translator

Eugene Richards

With help from the Student Disability Center at UC Davis, Mooneyham got an American Sign Language interpreter to sign for her during clinical rounds. But when she moved on to surgery, she worried that an interpreter might not be able to hear surgeons mumbling without touching the sterile field. The solution: Clip microphones to surgeons’ scrubs and have an off-site transcriptionist relay their words in real time to an overhead monitor. Mooneyham also created clear plastic surgical masks that allowed her to read lips.

Mooneyham has also worked with ASL interpreters in other situations, such as in teaching anatomy to first-year students. She graduates in 2014 and plans to practice family medicine. Patients she has encountered treat her like any other doctor, Mooneyham says, though her ability to sign ASL has obvious appeal for some. “I’ve noticed a huge difference when working with patients who sign,” she says. “Many have asked me where I will be practicing medicine.”

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Perseverance in Practice

Three physicians embrace careers in medicine despite their disabilities.

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