'I want to help other hearing-impaired people and inspire them...'
Audiologist, Bay Audiology
As New Zealand's first deaf audiologist, Melanie's own experience of hearing loss is what inspired her to help others with the same struggle.
'By becoming an audiologist I want to help other hearing-impaired people and inspire them to fulfil their potential,' Melanie says.
Melanie was 13 years old when she made a routine visit to the doctor who suspected that she might have a hearing loss. This was later confirmed by an audiologist. Melanie's hearing loss continued to worsen over the years until, at the age of 24, she had lost virtually all her hearing and was fitted with a cochlear implant (a small electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound).
Melanie believes that the years of trying to cope with profound bilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in both ears) will help her in her chosen career.
'It can be extremely lonely and isolating when you can't hear, as well as frustrating to try and explain your hearing loss to others, because unless they too have a hearing loss, they cannot possibly know what it is like. As I've been through all the stages of hearing loss – from moderate to profound, hearing aids and subsequently a cochlear implant – I feel that I can empathise with people and provide a greater level of insight, and effective suggestions to hearing impaired people, as well as their families.'
'While everyone's experiences are different, I think I can help people realise they can still achieve their goals in some way. It's all about perseverance, developing communication skills, and having the confidence not to be embarrassed about their hearing loss – although I appreciate that it can be really hard.'
In 2007 Melanie was awarded the National Foundation for the Deaf Quest for Excellence Scholarship. Marianne Schumacher, executive manager of the National Foundation for the Deaf, said at this time that Melanie is a wonderful role model for the 450,000 New Zealanders with hearing loss.
'Melanie is a very talented woman who must be applauded for overcoming a number of obstacles to get to where she is today, and for turning her personal struggle with deafness into something that is going to benefit so many others,' Marianne said.
Melanie previously completed a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and English at Otago University before deciding to pursue Audiology. Now she enjoys finding out about new technology and the latest developments in hearing treatment options as well as 'getting to work with people who have hearing loss just like me – where for a change I don't have to explain what it feels like to be deaf!'
Melanie's own deafness means she has the compassion for people that she believes is an important part of audiology. 'You need to care about people and try to be patient and understanding,' she explains.
Having completed her master's, the study didn't stop for Melanie as she then had to take further professional exams to become fully registered – all this while working full-time as an audiologist. 'It is hard work, and every day brings its challenges, so you never really stop learning despite finishing university. I'm still in contact with some of my lecturers and fellow students from University so it's always nice to know advice is only an email away if I have any tricky cases.'
For others considering studying Audiology she advises, 'be prepared for a challenging two years of study at master's level, but it's all worth it in the end!'