June 15, 2012 | Samuel R. Atcherson, Ph.D., credits an audiologist he’d gone to for new hearing aids for altering his career path.
Atcherson said he knew early in life he wanted to work in health care. He was afraid his hearing loss would prevent him from working directly with patients, so in college he was aiming toward a career in the laboratory sciences.
“He asked me point blank if I’d ever considered a career in audiology,” Atcherson said. “It took a nudge from another audiologist in the same practice to convince me, but it was the best decision of my life.”
Atcherson is now an assistant professor of audiology in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology hosted jointly by the UAMS College of Health Related Professions and the College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Since joining the UAMS faculty in 2008, Atcherson has earned kudos for his teaching with a Chancellor’s Faculty Teaching Award for 2010-2011.
Also in 2011, he received the College of Health Related Professions’ Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Scholarship awards. It was the first time in the college’s history that one person received both awards in the same year.
“Sam is a dynamic team player, committed to excellence in academia,” said Nannette Nicholson, Ph.D., an associate professor and director of audiology in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. “He excels as a teacher and scholar and serves as a role model for involvement in service activities at the local, state and national levels.”
Perhaps inspired by his career-altering experience, Atcherson encourages those with hearing loss to consider a career in health care. His involvement with the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses turned him into an advocate.
“As an educator, I don’t want anyone who wants to go into health care to be deterred, even if they have a hearing loss,” he said. “There are many technologies out there – from amplified stethoscopes to clear facemasks that allow for lip reading – that can enable someone with a hearing loss to care for patients.”
As director of the Auditory Electrophysiology and (Re)habilitation Laboratory, his research is focused on studying how the brain perceives sound and how that perception is different for those with normal hearing, those with hearing loss and those who have experienced some type of brain trauma like an injury or a stroke. Like an EKG measures the electrical activity of the heart, he said, there is equipment to measure brain waves in response to sound.
“I want to know what the brain is doing with that sound,” he said. “The hope is that we can find out how the brain’s response to sound changes if we provide some intervention, like a hearing aid or implant.”
Atcherson believes that understanding could improve therapy methods for stroke or head injury victims or treatment for patients with hearing loss.
His own hearing loss began when he was about 3 years old. He was diagnosed with large vestibular aqueduct syndrome, an abnormality in temporal bone growth in the ear that resulted in progressive hearing loss throughout his childhood.
Atcherson had a hearing aid by age 4. He learned speech before his hearing loss reached profound levels. He also learned sign language in middle school to communicate with peers.
“I think that being able to learn speech and language made a difference for me,” he said. “It didn’t mean that I didn’t need speech therapy while growing up but I think it kept me progressing and moving forward in my communication skills.”
While his hearing loss didn’t drive him to enter audiology, he considers it a motivator. “I think it gave me a sense of purpose,” he said. “I can be objective when talking to a patient, but also can share a personal side.”
He sees teaching as another way he can help patients with hearing loss. “I may not be able to help everyone, but I can help train 20 to 25 students each year who will go on to see patients,” he said.
Atcherson is author of several studies in the field of audiology. His most recent work is a textbook on Auditory Electrophysiology, set to be published in June 2012. He said it was written with graduate students in mind and hopes it is a fresh look at the study of the electrical activity related to hearing.