From hearing-impaired patient to audiologist
Published on 13 July 2023
As the only audiologist in Singapore with a cochlear implant, Ms Vernice Lim hopes to inspire others with hearing impairments to believe that they, too, can lead a fulfilling life.
When Ms Vernice Lim was growing up, she used to dread going for her audiology appointments with Dr Jenny Loo, Senior Principal Audiologist (Head), National University Hospital (NUH), Associate Professor, Audiology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine).
At the end of these sessions, Ms Lim would often leave Dr Loo’s office feeling frustrated, as her hearing continued to deteriorate.
“Back then, I really didn’t look forward to my appointments,” Ms Lim shared. “Every time I went to see her, I would have to do a hearing test. As my hearing got progressively worse, I would always ‘fail’ the test, leaving me feeling very defeated and disappointed.”
Ms Lim, who started wearing a hearing aid at the age of three, also did not understand the purpose of her sessions with Dr Loo.
“She wasn't convinced or understood why we had to do so many tests for her hearing,” Dr Loo explained. “She always thought that whatever tests that we did during the session did not reflect how she hears. This is because the tests are done in a controlled setting, but people with hearing impairment usually have more difficulty hearing in noisy environments.”
An introverted child
A shy child by nature, Ms Lim grew more introverted as her condition deteriorated to the point where even hearing aids no longer helped.
This was why, despite her initial reservations, Ms Lim eventually underwent cochlear implant (CI) surgery in 2014.
“Vernice’s ability to communicate was greatly affected due to her hearing loss, so she hardly spoke to people, and would close up, even with her family members,” Dr Loo recalled.
“Her condition was affecting the inner part of the ear, the cochlear, which cannot be fixed with medication or an operation. Hers was a gradual deterioration in hearing, the cause of which cannot be determined, unless she does a genetic test.
“Vernice’s hearing loss started from mild to moderate, gradually became severe, before becoming profound. Once someone hits the profound range, hearing aids are usually no longer beneficial, and they will have to go for CI.”
As the sound transmitted by a CI is electrical instead of acoustical, it took some time for Ms Lim to adapt to the implant. Once she did, however, Ms Lim began to come out of her shell, and grew more confident about communicating with others.
In the process, Ms Lim also finally understood and appreciated the key role that Dr Loo had played in her formative years.
Training to be an audiologist
Indeed, fuelled by her desire to help other hearing-impaired children like herself, Ms Lim decided to follow in Dr Loo’s footsteps and become an audiologist.
It is a profession that Ms Lim believes will allow her to make an impact on the lives of others, as she said, “Being hearing impaired, it is easier for me to understand what other people with the same condition are going through.
“When I was young, there were many times I got frustrated because I felt like nobody could comprehend what my struggles were.
“There are many things that people with regular hearing do not understand. The most common misconception is that just because we wear a hearing aid, it means that we can hear perfectly. But we still face difficulties with background noise, which affects how we hear words and sounds.”
Last month, Ms Lim finally graduated from the Master of Science (Audiology) programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Dr Loo, who founded the MSc Audiology programme at NUS in 2013 to meet the need for hearing services in Singapore, revealed that this is the first time that a patient has become her student, as she said, “I’m very proud of how far Vernice has come. The course itself is not easy, and it is the same for all regardless of whether you have hearing impairment or not.
“But I have to say that she has done quite well, and she is now able to understand the value of all the assessments and hearing tests that we went through as she was growing up.
“Nonetheless, I always tell her that she must be objective when she sees patients. Even though they may have hearing problems as she does, she should still have boundaries as a healthcare professional.”
Helping hearing-impaired children
Ms Lim, who has joined the Canossian Child Development Unit – which supports the holistic development of children with special educational needs – as an audiologist, aims to be a source of inspiration for her patients, empowering them to believe in their ability to lead fulfilling lives.
Through her work, she endeavours to instil hope and encourage her patients to embrace their potential.
“I’ve met patients who feel relieved after noticing that I, too, have hearing loss, because they know they are not alone,” Ms Lim said. “I always wanted someone to relate to when I was younger. Now, I can be that person for my patients, and share my experiences and perspective.”
Dr Loo added that Ms Lim was a prime example of how far the audiology profession has progressed through the years. She said, “Nobody really knew about us 20 years ago, but now we’re getting more recognition. To be able to even impact one of my patients to become an audiologist is something that is beyond what I had hoped for.
“Vernice is going to be part of the next generation of audiologists to grow the profession. I think she’ll do well – she has gone through the challenging audiology course, and can use her experience to help her patients. She’s a shining example of what people with hearing impairment can achieve.”