Diversity in the NHS- My Story

Growing up with a hearing impairment exposed me to many challenges along the way. I wear two bone-anchored hearing aids, which are screws inserted into the temporal bone, and a hearing aid anchored to transmit sound to the inner ear (as I have no ossicles). I have been plagued with continual disease since the age of 5 with a middle ear condition called cholesteatoma, bilaterally. I have worn many types of hearing aids along the way. I have had so far, for one reason or another, 27 operations to try and provide me with some normality in the “hearing world”.

This had a huge knock-on effect of not only adjusting and adapting to hearing loss, but missing school. Living with a disability is challenging for everyone but also provided me with hunger and determination to not let it rule my life. The difficulties of living with hearing loss meant I needed to learn to lip read and I self-taught myself quickly, so not to miss out on conversations and lessons. Anyone wearing hearing aids will describe what it is like, like when walking outside and it's windy they lose all direction of sound and this is an incredibly isolating experience (it is the same as talking to someone on a phone and they are in a windy place - you can’t hear!) or when you remove the hearing aids at night – deathly silent, but sometimes peaceful.

Whilst my hearing is seen as a disability, it has empowered me. I am extremely grateful and count myself as incredibly lucky to have been supported whilst at school not only by my family and friends but by my teachers. I was the only one at the school with hearing impairment. I overcame my isolating fears by joining the basketball team and Jazz band as the pianist, alongside my friends who supported me during all the operations around that time also. Studying with a hearing impairment, you need to work 10 times harder than most. From adjusting to sitting at the front of the class, using specialist hearing equipment, not only was time-consuming, but tiring and this gave me many headaches.

The exposure I had with my hearing loss, actually inspired me to try help others, considering I felt I practically lived at the hospital. I applied for medicine and was unsuccessful. I was gutted at the time as I had a few months out during my A-Levels for more surgery. Being too proud at the time, as head boy, and seeing my friends planning to go to University - I got into Cardiff to study Diagnostic Radiography. This was to see how well I could work/cope with my hearing loss in the hospital setting whilst learning some key investigative medicine. Honestly, this was a good experience, even though I was always geared for wanting to be a doctor, It opened my eyes to many people who are experiencing their own struggles with disabilities and how strong and brilliant they were at what they do, I realised I could do this also!

I took a year out after my first degree, did other things, and entered Medical School finally a year later at Cardiff as an undergraduate again – I wanted to do dissection. However, during this time is when my teaching exposure and opportunities kicked off, as I was lecturing my own year on applied radiological anatomy, having been watched by the professor of anatomy at the time. This continued throughout my training also.

Unfortunately, during my 3rd year, I was plagued again with Cholesteatoma on both sides and it was extremely demotivating, not to mention having to try and push through with studies, I ended failing an exam and decided to IOS to get my health sorted. I convinced my surgeon to do an exploratory on the right ear (the most troubling) and glad he agreed. It was a 7-hour operation that almost resulted in very serious complications. This prompted him to operate on the other side the following year, putting me back 2 years in medical school. One added bonus, however, was when I did return, I got to do my Erasmus in Italy.

Eventually, I finished and graduated and progressed to foundation training. I honestly can say I came across some of the nicest people to work with and some of my closest friends. My disability has had some hardships and many difficulties. There were always people I could count on and some went the extra mile to help me with adjusting with stethoscopes, pointing out which phone in the hospital I could use well (a big problem for hearing impaired students not having a phone without amplification) and genuinely being kind. However, I also encountered people who were also unhelpful along the way.

I am extremely happy having joined St. George’s - following my passions and dreams, as teaching is what I love (I do miss patients from time to time). I love what I do and seeing how students develop and progress. I believe all our students whether with a disability or not, will go on to do great things, with the right support, motivation, kindness, and compassion. Believe in yourself, you will have moments of doubt and hardship, this is normal, but talk to the people you trust the most and respect everyone. You will be amazed at what other talents you learn about yourself during times when you are out of your comfort zone or feel like you are rock bottom. Keep on going, be kind always, we all have a story to tell, this has been a snippet of mine.

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Dr. David Sunnucks 

Lecturer in Anatomical Sciences

Head of 1st Year MBBS5