Deaf and Pre-Med

by Victoria Popov

What the mind can conceive and believe, you will achieve. All throughout my life this is what my father would tell me and it has become a large part in helping me achieve, and to continue chasing after, my dreams of becoming a surgeon. I am very passionate about my love for medicine and I have high aspirations in achieving my goals.

I was fortunate enough to be able to complete a ten-week co-op in research with the Kresge Hearing Research Institute (KHRI), at the University of Michigan’s Medical Center, and it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I have a very long and tedious road ahead of me, but each and every day holds a new learning opportunity and I know that whatever you set your mind to you can do.

I was diagnosed with a bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss at the age of two and a half. Not long after I was fitted with hearing aids and enrolled in an oral pre-school for the deaf, CCHAT. I underwent intensive speech therapy and my whole family was involved in my language development, by making sure they spoke visibly and clearly. CCHAT has created a strong foundation along with many life long friendships for both my family and myself and I feel that it has allowed me to excel in the hearing world. I was mainstreamed from kindergarten on and was always identified as the ‘deaf girl’, but I wasn’t going to let my peers think any less of me, so I tenaciously tackled everything I did. I have always excelled in my academics; however, my speech therapist noted that I would not respond when I couldn’t lip-read. With many sleepless nights and never ending research, my parents decided to go ahead and pursue getting me implanted with a cochlear implant (CI) when I was eight years old. Then later on when I was seventeen, under my decision, I received a second CI. For me, having a CI has opened a much larger spectrum in terms of what I understand and it has allowed me to be able to converse without having to constantly rely on lip-reading. My reason for getting a second CI was to improve my ability to locate where sound is coming from, such as when a person is calling my name from behind me.

In high school I embraced ASL, enabling me to communicate with those that use ASL as their primary means of communication. Knowing ASL has opened many wonderful doors and has allowed me to be able to create amazing new friendships. I am entering my third year of college in the fall of 2015 at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT); which is also home for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Understanding ASL has made coming to RIT that much more of an enjoyable experience because it has allowed me to be able to connect and see the diversity within the Deaf community on a much greater level. I love being able to have the versatility to speak and sign with others and chose whether I want to use both languages on their own or in correspondence.

I have always had an undeniable and burning passion to work in medicine. Initially, as a child, I wanted to become a vet because of my love for horseback riding and my many critters at home. However, later on in life I realized I couldn’t detach my emotions from my love for animals so I started to lean towards becoming a medical doctor. To confirm my passion I volunteered in the ER at a local hospital and shadowed a couple of surgeons and observed a few surgeries. Being in the operating room (OR) gives me an overwhelming sense of excitement for what my future holds. RIT has opened a limitless amount of doors for me, one that led me to being offered a co-op at the Kresge Hearing Research Institute, at the University of Michigan’s Medical Center. A co-op is another way of saying a funded internship. My co-op involved me doing research in a lab studying vestibular disorders by using a mouse model. Because of my deafness I have a natural interest in how the ear, specifically the inner ear, physiologically works in sync with the rest of the human body. Before my co-op I was more familiar with how the auditory component works, but I did not have much understanding of the vestibular system. Upon leaving I now have a greater understanding as to how crucial the vestibular system is in contributing to one’s sense of balance and spatial orientation. I am very grateful for this opportunity because it verified my passion and commitment towards medicine.

I strongly believe that you can accomplish anything you desire if you put your mind to it, whether you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, or even hearing for that matter. There is always going to be someone who has it easier and someone who may have it tougher than you, but no matter the obstacles, they should not be a deciding factor in whether you decide to chase your dreams or not. I realize that becoming a doctor is about helping people, but for me it’s also about creating a bridge between the deaf and the medical field. I want to inspire those like me to not be limited by societal assumptions.