Deaf Medical Student A Standout At UVM


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Apr 18, 2004
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Deaf Medical Student A Standout At UVM - News Story - WPTZ Plattsburgh

Liz Abernathey took a short walk from her chair to a stage and back Friday, but those few steps celebrated a much longer journey. "I'm excited!" she beamed.

In a ceremony inside the University of Vermont's chapel, Abernathey and her fellow first-year students from UVM's College of Medicine got the white coats they'll wear when they shadow physicians on their rounds at Fletcher Allen Health Care. Vermont's largest hospital is affiliated with UVM.

Abernathey is Deaf. A congenital disorder caused her hearing loss. She predicts years of going to her own medical appointments will help her be a more compassionate physician. "I think I have a sense of what it's like to be on the other side," she said. "And I think I'll be able to relate to patients in that way."

In the Jericho, Vt. native's classes, sign language interpreters help her follow the often grueling lectures and questions from other students. "Sometimes it can be a challenge to watch the interpreters, the PowerPoint [presentations], and take my notes," the student explained. "It's a lot to manage all at once, but I have a system down."

The medical school's associate dean for student affairs, Dr. G. Scott Waterman, said he can't remember ever meeting a Deaf physician. By some estimates, there are only a few dozen practicing in the entire country. "The kinds of assumptions that have long been made that certain kinds of people simply cannot accomplish certain kinds of tasks cannot be concluded with certainty," Waterman said.

Medical school is difficult for all students, Waterman noted, but hearing loss can add an extra layer of challenges. "Impressive would be an understatement," he said. "We always have to maintain open minds about the extent to which people can do that which they set out to do."

Liz Abernathey has found she does okay communicating with people one-on-one in quiet spaces where she can see their faces. She does wonder, though, if she'll need an interpreter for some work when she's out with doctors on their rounds.

Abernathey is just at the very beginning of what she expects will be a career of caring, but this standout student certainly looks the part, now that she's got her prized white coat. "There's still a long process after this," Abernathey said, smiling. "But one step closer at least!"
Way to go, Liz! The first two years of med school are hard, but everything gets better in the clinical years! Best of luck!
Wonderful! This inspires me to go back to college to get my M.D as I planned many years ago.
I just may now that I've read this. I was worried if I'd be accepted to a medical school since I am Deaf but since she got in I'm sure I could too. Just need to get the undergrad work out of the way.

Congrats Liz!!!