From patient to practitioner

By Aimee Miller

Aimee Miller is a Doctor of Audiology student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions department of speech, language, and hearing sciences. When not conducting research, completing clinical rotations, performing newborn hearing screenings, attending classes, and trying to educate the masses on hearing protection, she works as an elementary school counselor in Gainesville, Florida.

This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of the Acoustic Neuroma Association (ANA) Notes newsletter. Reprinted with permission from the ANA.

May is a big month for me. My birthday is in May. And in May 2020, I was diagnosed with a vestibular schwannoma. May is also Brain Tumor Awareness Month. In May 2025, I will graduate as a Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.).

Pursuing audiology was not my dream. Before being diagnosed in 2020, I was blissfully unaware of the audiology profession, as many typically-hearing people are. Despite a hearing preservation surgical approach, however, I did not get the outcome I wanted and became single-sided deaf. I needed an audiologist.

Aimee Miller
Aimee Miller, Doctor of Audiology student

Unfortunately, those encounters left much to be desired. The audiologist failed to look at my post-surgical audiogram and I was asked, “Why are you here? You have perfect hearing.”

I was devastated and was left with a decision—I could get bitter or make the field better. That weekend, I began applying to AuD programs. In less than one year post-surgery, I moved to a new city and enrolled in courses at the University of Florida.

During my clinical rotations, I sometimes meet AN warriors. A few weeks ago, I was completing vestibular testing on an older gentleman. As a fellow AN warrior, I validated his experience with “wonky-headedness” by disclosing that I, too, deal with the same challenges.

We talked about strategies for compensating for balance deficits, shared our vestibular therapy exercises, connected over the safety concerns experienced by not having the ability to localize sound due to single-sided deafness, and discussed how often we get MRIs and the anxiety they bring.

The patient, who has been on a “watch-and-wait” treatment plan for several years, held my hands and hugged me at the end of our appointment. He had never met someone else with his type of tumor. I referred him to the Acoustic Neuroma Association. He told me I was brave and inspiring, and I told him he was, too.

“The best and most rewarding thing has been merging my previous career as an educator and counselor to fostering better relationships with patients. Patients deserve the utmost care and compassion!”

– Aimee Miller

Sometimes I get depressed and resentful about pursuing a career I didn’t know existed until I lost access to sound and balance. I remind myself that it’s okay to feel all these things. It’s okay to miss the stereo sound, the days before tinnitus, the ability to localize sound, the privilege of not fearing a fall or wobble, and the days before every loud sound was a threat to my only hearing ear. Yet, I remind myself that there is no easy way to do hard things. Because of these hard things, I can serve my future patients better.

Plus, it’s not all bad. I’ve had opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I got to make a video for social media educating students on how to wear earplugs at sporting events properly. I was able to present at conferences and conduct research with mice. And this May, I will move to a new city for the summer to conduct more research (with humans this time). However, the best and most rewarding thing has been merging my previous career as an educator and counselor to fostering better relationships with patients. Patients deserve the utmost care and compassion!

As an AN warrior in audiology, I can advocate for patients, empathize, offer compassion, and hopefully facilitate better experiences. In May 2025, I will go from patient to practitioner. Audiology might not have been my dream, but it is now my purpose.