The University of Southampton: Reducing stigma and supporting students

By Judith Vonberg

The University of Southampton in the UK only became an Ida Institute partner in 2020, but their commitment to person-centered hearing care (PCC) is not new.

We spoke to Victoria Watson from the university’s Hearing and Balance Centre to find out how they infused their curricula with PCC and about a unique summer project to support the department’s international students.

This interview is part of a series on the Person-Centered Hearing Network, a collaborative group of organizations around the world working together for a world where person-centered hearing care is the norm. Read more about the network here.

How do you and your organization work towards making hearing care more person-centered?

We recently created an Audiology only BSc program, moving away from the Practitioner Training Programme which had a broader focus on other, related healthcare science topics with minimal focus on Audiology until the second year. 

We used this opportunity to re-design our curriculum, so that it was infused with PCC elements from the very start. To do this we chose a framework that resonated with us (the Calgary-Cambridge model) and developed a range of program level and module level learning outcomes. 

We redesigned our placement learning workbooks and practical teaching workbooks to better align with these new learning outcomes and supported our clinical educators in their teaching of these principles.

What three words would you use to describe your organization?

Innovative. Research-led. Patient-focused.

Tell us about a project you’re working on that excites you.

We know from experience, and from the literature, that international students who don’t have English as their first language face additional challenges and barriers in learning and adopting person-centered communication skills.

We have recognized for some time that there is a need to address the specific challenges faced by this group, so we are running a six to eight-week project during summer 2021, developing and then delivering weekly sessions to support international students with their PCC skills before they start clinical placement. 

We will work with colleagues from the Academic Centre for International Students to help students improve their language skills in the context of PCC, through online and in-person sessions involving simulated patients and role play activities. The project is funded by the Centre for Higher Education Practice at the University of Southampton.

Why did your organization join the Person-Centered Hearing Network?

We recognized the unique opportunity to work with and learn from other organizations who are also passionate about PCC. 

Membership of the network has given our work credibility and given us regular opportunities to focus on building and enhancing our current offering to students. This is particularly valuable in the current pandemic where other pressures and challenges continue to make demands on our time.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for hearing care in the next decade?

Hearing care will continue to be challenged by a lack of resources, notably a workforce that is not increasing at the same rate as patient numbers. Recruitment of students to Audiology programs continues to be a challenge. Raising the visibility of the profession is a key focus of professional bodies, but more needs to be done. 

There is huge scope for delivering effective, person-centered remote hearing care but there is a lag in the availability of robust tools we have available to us to do this (particularly in the NHS). 

‘Hearables’ could become more mainstream, with audiologists possibly required to understand other health data in future. This would then have implications for our curricula.

In one sentence, what is your ideal vision of hearing care in the future?

Where individuals are supported to have good hearing health throughout their lifetime, reducing the stigma associated with hearing loss and help-seeking.

Image: University of Southampton Audiology students at work in the clinical skills lab in the Hearing and Balance Centre.