BY MARCIE JOHNSON, MPA, PA-C
The first AMPHL member I met was Chris Moreland, an internal medicine physician. In early 2010, I was lucky to shadow him (paired with his designated interpreter, Todd Agan) in clinic multiple times over the course of several months prior to applying to PA school. While I had no qualms about accommodating, even incorporating, my deafness in my career, others expressed their doubts. (“What about stethoscopes? Pages? The OR? How can a deaf person be a health care provider?”) Yet here—in living proof!—was a deaf clinician, successfully shattering that glass ceiling. While I have observed many clinicians in my training and career, to this day, Chris remains the clinician I most wanted to emulate.
Chris encouraged me to attend the next AMPHL conference, which I did in August 2011, in Portland, Oregon, a few weeks prior to starting PA school. Any uncertainty or shyness I might’ve had all melted away when embraced into this inclusive community. My early impressions were lasting ones.
The value of getting to talk in physical presence with a fellow trailblazer is immeasurable. At dinner one night, I randomly sat next to Wendy Eastman, a pediatric neurologist, who patiently answered every question I had (and I had a lot). She shared not only her own advice and experiences, but also what she had learned from others via her longtime involvement in AMPHL.
Ambassadors like Chris and Wendy, both of whom demonstrated exemplary leadership on the AMPHL board and in life, evolved from mentors of mine into colleagues and friends. They set the tone for what was yet to come.
I hit it off with many people at the Portland conference, bonding over laughter and the mutual understanding of what it’s like to be deaf working in health care. (“None of my fellow hearing colleagues get it.”) I put faces and personalities to names I had read online in social media or in snippets of articles and posts. Chris introduced me to Megan Jack, who stuck with me first as a conference roommate, and later as a dear friend and co-Chair extraordinaire, together overhauling AMPHL’s website and digital platforms into the incarnation you see today.
The intimacy of this community is complementary to the breadth of its people: from a rural Alaskan veterinarian to a health policy advocate in DC, from a disability rights lawyer to a certified deaf interpreter, from a Canadian Metis dermatology resident to a nurse who works in the ICU for a major medical center, from an ENT surgeon to an audiologist who consistently gives one of the best presentations at our biennial conferences.
We are diverse. We are born deaf or deafened later in life. We use sign language, or cued speech, or spoken language, or a mix. We use hearing aids, or no hearing devices, or cochlear implants, or a mix. We call ourselves deaf, or Deaf, or hard-of-hearing, or whatever term we identify with (cyborg jokes abound regarding cochlear implants).
Each person I’ve met imparts their legacy, unifying us all via shared stories: celebrating both our daily personal victories (“My visual stethoscope caught a murmur that the hearing physicians and nurses didn’t notice!”) and the larger battles of those fellow comrades who took one for the team (Argenyi v. Creighton, Searls v. Johns Hopkins).
Attending subsequent conferences cemented me into the community. The benefit of returning to conference at each new stage in my career is that I gained nuanced advice and insight that I couldn’t have obtained online. Catching up with old friends while making new ones allowed me to widen my network and, with a few people I’d have never met otherwise, deepen the bonds of lasting friendships—which I’d be a fool to decline.
The comradery enrichens with each conference experience—which brings me back, time and time again. I envision this will never grow old.
The final day of my first conference in 2011, I expressed these positive impressions of the community to veterinarian Danielle Rastetter. At the time, I didn’t know I was chatting with an AMPHL legend—one of the original founders, and the person from whom, over the next few years, I would sponge up the inner workings of our organization. Danielle handed me an application to the AMPHL board—an invitation that I now see as an unquantifiable gift of personal growth.
Because, the inexorable truth is: this community—friends, comrades, colleagues, mentors, trailblazers, and legends—all teach me what it is to be extraordinarily human. (Even a bit cyborg.)
For that, I’m grateful.