The challenges of being deaf as a practising vet/vet nurse

Eva with dogs Charlie and Rory

Eva’s story

Although none of my family works in the veterinary profession (my mum was a human nurse and my dad a civil engineer) I knew that I wanted to be a vet from the age of four. I have always loved and been fascinated by animals, and couldn’t think of anything better than being able to help them. When I first told my parents about my ambition, they were worried. It’s certainly not the easiest profession to choose when you’re almost deaf.

I have a 95 per cent hearing loss and rely on lip reading. My parents thought that office work would suit me better, as it often involves less contact with people and not having to listen so much. It’s true that having to concentrate on conversations adds an extra tiring element to the job. It’s been a tough journey getting to where I am now, but it has also been very rewarding. I love what I do and I’m very passionate about it. For me, it’s all about meeting people and their pets and doing my best to help them in any way I can.

In one way, my ambition to become a vet was easier as I have always had to set myself goals. My first goal was to achieve the grades I needed to be able to get into vet school, then to pass the exams and qualify as a veterinary surgeon, which I did in Sweden in 1998. In lectures, the teachers used a microphone so that I could hear what they said, but I always had to sit on the first bench to be able to lip read. A fellow student was a brilliant note taker, so I got copies of her notes which helped me ensure I hadn’t missed anything. It was five-and-a-half years of hard work, but it was enjoyable too. Qualifying was the proudest moment of my life.

"I had to train to lip read in English, which is quite different from my native Swedish"

Having to concentrate on listening and lip reading many different people can be incredibly tiring; I would say that it’s the hardest part of my job. I also had to train to lip read in English, which is quite different from my native Swedish.

As a veterinary surgeon, I like the mix of medicine and surgery. Doing surgery is a chance to “switch off’ my ears for a bit and concentrate purely on the procedure in hand. However, my colleagues often come in to ask a question, so it’s never a complete rest. Having qualified, my next goal was to keep learning to become the best vet I could be. This is an ongoing objective! Another of my ambitions was to get my own practice – somewhere I could provide a friendly, compassionate service caring for pets and their owners.

With the help of Vets4Pets, I have achieved my dream and I’m now the proud owner of Trafford Park Vets4Pets. The group’s support office has always backed me and my dreams, which is something I’m very grateful for. They never made me feel like it was something I couldn’t do. Our team at Trafford Park is fantastic and I am proud to call them my colleagues. They are very supportive; if I need any messages or results relaying to a client, they are always helpful. The clients are great too and I’ve never felt that my hearing disability has affected our relationship. In fact, the team and the pet owners make sure they talk clearly, so it is easier for me to hear what they say. I couldn’t ask for more.

Bethany’s story

Bethany with 3 puppiesI was born deaf, with a 70 per cent loss of hearing in both ears and I wear two digital hearing aids, but that didn’t stop me becoming a registered veterinary nurse. At the age of 14, I spent two weeks doing work experience at a veterinary practice near my home in Heysham, Lancashire, which proved to be inspirational. I really enjoyed watching the nurses carrying out their roles and helping out where I could. After completing sixth form studies, I enrolled with Myerscough College to do a veterinary nursing foundation degree course. Every day was a challenge as I was learning new clinical terminology and meeting people. I used my veterinary dictionary every evening – looking up the new veterinary words that had been used during lectures.

During lectures the tutor wore a radio FM system – a microphone that connected to my hearing aids to allow me to hear clearly. I also had a teaching assistant with me and she would type up lecture notes to help me. Nevertheless, it was still tiring, it’s hard for deaf students to listen and concentrate at the same time. My veterinary tutors were supportive, providing one-to-one sessions on anything I was unsure of. Failing a few exams in my first year was tough, but my passion and hard work paid off. My teaching assistant helped me with techniques in writing exam answers and I did well in my final year. 

I began my first veterinary nursing job at Vets4Pets Lancaster in August 2014, the month after I graduated and I’m still there. The favourite part of my work is consultations involving puppies and kittens. I also enjoy working with clients who want to become good owners and have healthy pets. The most challenging part of my job is answering the phone. I have a Roger Pen radio aid that connects the phone to my hearing aids. It cuts out background noise, such as dogs barking or people talking. I am a good lip reader, but of course that’s not possible over the phone; however, I’ve massively improved and I’m now able to hold conversations with clients. Our receptionist, Cath, helped me with my first phone call in practice and has supported me throughout. I also have a good set of headphones attached to my stethoscope to help me monitor the patient’s heart rate during surgical procedures.

The Vets4Pets team are great people to work with. They are aware of what I can and can’t hear and are good at tapping me on the shoulder when they need me. They support me through my good and bad days.

I couldn’t do my dream job without the support of my wonderful colleagues.

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