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Navigating unchartered waters: A glimpse into the life of a deaf pharmacist

My inability to hear with my ears does not define what I can do. It is my persistence, my grit, my, my will, and my curiosity that makes me who I am—a capable person with a “unique-ability.”

The task before me seemed overwhelmingly daunting—and understandably so. It is uncommon to hear of someone with hearing loss working in the healthcare profession. Pharmacy is no exception. I was nervous when I applied to pharmacy school. I did not know any deaf individuals in the pharmacy profession. In fact, I felt like the odds were against me because there was a deaf medical student at another university going through a legal battle due to violations of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.  It is rare that individuals who are either born with hearing loss or lose their hearing during childhood go on to pursue advanced degrees beyond high school.

I was the first deaf student to attend the pharmacy program at my university. To be quite honest, I nearly missed my opportunity. The admissions department was unfamiliar with Video Relay Services (VRS), which is a type of telephone service available for individuals with hearing loss that communicate via American Sign Language (ASL). Many hearing-abled individuals are not familiar with the device and often mistake it for a telemarketing call or a scam. Every time I would call, the admissions department would hang up! To get around this, I had to enlist the help of my mother. She called the university to inform them that I was trying to return the call via VRS and that I was deaf. The Dean of Student Affairs personally addressed my call. He admitted to me that this was a new experience for him as well as the Pharmacy department. I was granted my interview and I offered to bring an interpreter on my own because I knew it was a foreign concept to them. The staff was dumbfounded when they met me. I could tell by their reactions that they were not expecting me to be able to speak. Unfortunately, society has this perceived misconception that if someone is deaf, then he/she is dumb or mute. 

I was granted admissions into the university. It wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies. It was an adjustment for the entire faculty and staff. It certainly was an adjustment for me. You see, I completed my undergraduate studies at a university that totally met my needs. I didn’t have to fight for them. It was readily available.  However, pharmacy school was the opposite! The biggest hurdle was ensuring I had the appropriate accommodations in place so that I could be successful in the program. The pressure I felt to succeed was unreal! There were still quite a few skeptics who did not believe I belonged in the program. I felt the need to prove myself and no matter how well I did, it never seemed to be enough. Nonetheless, I am grateful for my experience because it taught me how to advocate for myself and strengthened my understanding of my rights as an individual with a unique-ability.

I thought getting through pharmacy school would be the proof I needed to show that I earned a seat at the table in pharmacy. Boy, was I wrong! Securing a job post-graduation was frustrating and challenging. It took me 16 months to land my first job as a pharmacist. It didn’t matter that I had the credentials to do the job. Hiring managers were getting hung up on the fact that I could not hear. Many companies that I applied to just could not see beyond my unique-ability. I intentionally call my deafness a unique-ability rather than a disability. I CAN hear. I just can’t use my ears to do so. I simply use my eyes. My inability to hear with my ears does not define what I can do. It is my persistence, my grit, my, my will, and my curiosity that makes me who I am.

Read: The kids aren’t alright: CAPSI survey finds pharmacy students are struggling with mental health issues

My life experiences and journey through pharmacy school and post-pharmacy school has equipped me with the knowledge I need to advocate for a unique community – the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. For many of my fellow pharmacy colleagues, I am their first up-close and personal encounter with someone in the deaf community. Today, I use my expertise as a deaf woman and deaf pharmacist to bridge the gap between the barriers that plaque this unique community. It is my hope that society will stop hiding behind the fear of unfamiliarity and embrace this community. After all, deafness should not be viewed as a DIS-ability but rather a UNIQUE-ability.

About the Author

Ashley Walker, BSc, PharmD

Dr. Ashley R Walker is a pharmacist, entrepreneur, and an advocate. Dr. Walker holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and a Bachelors of Science in Biotechnology from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has been a pharmacist in retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, and long term care pharmacy.for seven years and recently transitioned into full time entrepreneurship. Under her business Med Max Consulting, LLC, Dr. Walker can advocate for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community as well as offer medication counseling services to help this unique community maximize and optimize their medication therapy. Since her high school years, Dr. Walker has been an advocate for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. She spends time speaking to students in elementary, middle, and high school encouraging them to never let their hearing loss be a reason not to dream big and go after their dreams. As a deaf person herself, she also helps business owners and healthcare professionals make their businesses/practices inclusive to members of this unique community. Dr. Walker enjoys reading, traveling, going on walks with her family, and attending festivals.With her personal experiences as a deaf pharmacist and advocate for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community she aims to remind the world that deafness should not be viewed as a DIS-ability but rather a UNIQUE-ability.
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