Louise Hickson receives Queen’s Birthday Honours

By Helle Gjønnes Møller

This week, we celebrate Professor Louise Hickson, Associate Dean at the University of Queensland, President of the International Society of Audiology, and Chair of the Ida Institute Advisory Board, who earlier this week added the prestigious Queen’s Birthday Honours to her long list of remarkable achievements.

Hickson was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her significant service to tertiary education and audiology associations. We asked her what this recognition means to her and what led her to where she is today.

The Queen’s Birthday Honours are awarded to a mix of health leaders, athletes, and volunteers. In other words, a scope that far exceeds the realm of hearing healthcare. What does this acknowledgement mean for you personally – and for hearing healthcare in broader terms?

“I feel incredibly honoured to receive the award because it’s not something you nominate yourself for – and I had no idea it was coming. So, for me, that made it very special. Also, it’s not a hearing award, but an award for service to Australia and the community at large – and it was lovely to see hearing recognized and valued by the people who decide these things. Sometimes, working in audiology, you feel you’re in a small specialist field – and maybe others don’t realize that what we do is important. So, I was really amazed.”

Looking back on your career, what three specific events have shaped your work? 

“Well first of all, there’s the reason why I got into audiology to begin with. When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my aunt who had a terrible hearing loss. Nowadays, there would be so much that could help her, but back then, there just wasn’t a treatment. She had an operation and hearing aids – but she was never really able to function – in the family, at her workplace, or anywhere else. The hearing loss was debilitating. She was the loveliest person, but you could see the impact it had on her life. I think that really motivated me to help people like her. 

“Another thing was coming back to work at the university. I worked for 10 years in various clinics, but I’d always been interested in teaching and asking why things happen – which is what research is all about. So, I returned to the University of Queensland to start the Diploma of Audiology course with a couple of colleagues. This was when I decided to do my PhD – working full time and bringing up three kids in the meantime. And that PhD was a real game-changer, because it gave me greater recognition and a license to do more things. It was a hard slog, but I’m very glad I did it. 

“Another really big thing was when I started to work with the Ida Institute 15 years ago. That had a profound effect. I’ve always done a lot of research – but through working with Ida came the ability to translate research into practice. Being part of international collaborations around person-centered care —that changed everything. As a researcher, you often do great research work and then publish it in a journal – but who reads that journal in the end? It’s quite hard to have an impact. But working with the Ida Institute gave me, and many others, this avenue to a greater research translation, moving from theory to practice. I consider that absolutely profound. 

“I can still remember Lise Lotte [Ida Institute Managing Director, ed.] calling me when I was at a conference in the Netherlands and inviting me to join the Ida Board. The vision that she was describing and the work that I’d always tried to do were just so in sync, it was amazing.” 

In recent years, what developments have truly improved quality of life for people with hearing loss?

“Even though I’m not a hardcore technology researcher, I do evaluate the impact of hearing technology on people’s lives. And just imagine, to start a career at a time where you could barely give people anything to help them – and then fast forward to now, where aspects like the sound quality and the comfort have taken gigantic leaps. Today, if people accept and embrace technology, they have a chance of a massive improvement in their quality of life. 

“Then of course you’ve got to address the hurdle of acceptance. This is where the human factors come in. And fortunately, over time, there has been an increased awareness of this. So, while there are still challenges in helping people use and accept technology, there have been radical developments for the better in that area too. 

“A specific initiative which is also improving quality of life for people with hearing loss is the Active Communication Education program, which I’m proud to say I’ve developed. This program helps people who don’t have the technology – or wish to supplement hearing technology with something else. People who realize they need more help to be a good communicator. The program has been translated into about 10 languages and is used in many countries around the world. It is also a part of Ida's Group Aural Rehabilitation tool.”

What hopes do you have for hearing healthcare in the future?

“Looking ahead, I hope we’ll continue to see a growing emphasis on the person and the family at the core of what we do. There’s a lot of talk now about involving end-users; applying a ‘nothing about me without me’ approach, and engaging hearing loss associations. And I think that should just continue. For me, that would be a great hope for the future, to see this collaboration flourish even more.”