The journey of a doctor as a speech pathologist and audiologist

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There are a number of disorders, which is not being addressed by many professionals. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock Images)

By Sheema Zehra

A Fulbright Fellow, Dr Bhanumathy is an Associate Professor at the Department of Otolaryngology, PGIMER. After completing her studies in 2009, Dr Bhanumathy joined as a faculty member in PGI in 2011. Her research areas and expertise include childhood apraxia of speech, swallowing disorders and cochlear implants. Dr Bhanumathy talks about her journey as a doctor.

Life as a Doctor

My passion has been in the field of research. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s in five years and then I did my doctoral degree in three years and postdoctoral for a year at UMASS, Amherst and opted not to take a break in my educational pursuits. My family, especially my parents and sisters were a big motivation for me, and they suggested that I pursue the areas of speech and hearing. At PGI, Prof. Naresh K Panda, HOD, Dept of ENT, has been a constant source of encouragement.

I am a speech pathologist and audiologist, as these are my areas of concern. There are a number of disorders, which is not being addressed by many professionals. Every hospital should have a speech pathologist, but there are not enough qualified people. Many centres in India have appointed diploma holders and the quality of service goes down. To offer quality service, I feel all professionals have to upgrade themselves with a doctorate degree, focus on research in their field and explore the unexplored. We need to increase our research calibre and need to be at par with developed countries.

Treatment in PGI

Once patients with hearing and speech problems are operated upon, they come for rehabilitation post-surgery, where we focus on auditory therapy which is a form of natural communication and natural interaction. For children a little older than two to three years, we do structured auditory training, which goes on for five years. We don’t want gestural form of communication, they need to listen and then speak and for that we create communicative intent in the rehabilitation.

Also we do screenings for newborns and use auditory brainstem response and otoacoustic emissions to examine auditory functions. Once any risk is found, the baby is referred for diagnostic hearing evaluation. Late identification can prove to be less useful and can’t be cured as well.

World Hearing Day

WHO observes World Hearing Day every year on March 3 as part of an awareness programme for timely and appropriate intervention of people with hearing loss. Every age group is covered by the program and every year the theme keeps changing. This year the theme is ‘Hearing for life, don’t let hearing loss limit you.’ Communication and hearing health is very important for a person to be part of the community, for connecting with others and better mental health, especially in a developing country like ours. Every institute takes this issue as a big responsibility and conducts events for World Hearing Day. This year, AIISH, Mysore has released a video clip which is being screened at all theatres for 10 days on World Hearing Day.

Children, especially newborns are diagnosed with hearing loss in large numbers and this number keeps escalating every year. Universal newborn hearing screening is mandatory for every newborn in every hospital for facilitating early identification and rehabilitation.

Technological Breakthroughs

Computerised speech labs are now fully functional. For patients with voice problems, we do multi-dimensional voice program analysis and try to check their fundamental frequency, intensity, loudness. The department has developed the infrastructure for speech and voice analysis, procuring instruments for aerodynamic measures and spectral analysis. Apparatus for swallowing analysis for assessing patients with dysphagia is in the pipeline.

Message for Parents

Parents, without using any home remedies need to come to the hospital for check-ups. Auditory cortex matures quickly and neural networking gets saturated before the age of two. Also, parents need to speak to the child so that she\he learns how to speak and communicate. As per research at PGI, electronic gadgets are extremely harmful to a child and can affect a child’s IQ levels and can damage communication abilities.