July 2020 Gainesville Sun
UF College of Medicine student Jessica Williams hopes to help those navigating the world without hearing. She plans to become a psychiatrist.
Jessica Williams always knew she could pursue a career in medicine. “One of my biggest strengths is self-advocacy, so it never occurred to me that medicine was something I couldn’t do,” she said. Pneumococcal meningitis left the now 25-year-old medical student profoundly deaf as a toddler. She received a cochlear implant when she was 2 years old, and through intensive auditory-verbal therapy and extra support from her parents, Williams said she was able to attend mainstream school, ballet and gymnastics.
Now, the rising fourth-year College of Medicine student at the University of Florida said she wants not only to represent deaf or hard-of-hearing people in the medical field, but to serve similar patients who are navigating the world as she did. Williams spent her college years volunteering with deaf children at the Central Institute for the Deaf during her undergraduate years in St. Louis, Missouri. She’s since decided on becoming a psychiatrist.
“I’m really hoping I can serve them,” she said. “Just being deaf or any kind of hearing loss regardless of having a cochlear implant, it’s very isolating to be in a hearing world. Coupled with a minimal number of providers who are deaf or know sign language, I really want to fill that gap.” Williams is the only deaf College of Medicine student, and has also found lifelong friends at the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss group last summer. She said she finally “found her tribe” among the fellow medical providers who attended the conference.
Sarah Crosson, a cochlear implant audiologist who consults with UF Health’s audiology team, said she met Williams three or four years ago at an annual cochlear implant walk at UF Health, and was struck by her story. “She’s a really special person,” Crosson said. “She will bring a unique perspective to her patients, and has a special passion with what she does.” Crosson said many people take hearing for granted, and said it’s powerful to see patients receive an implant and discover an ability they’ve been missing.
Williams said she had copious support from her parents growing up, and abundant accommodations during her medical schooling such as captioned lectures or face masks with a see-through mouth opening to clue in on someone’s words, but she thinks of those who may not have those foundations in place. Having been both a patient and provider, she said having a doctor with a similar background truly strengthens the doctor/patient relationship.
That, and hearing from pre-med students who write and ask how she underwent medical school while deaf, is why she continues to share her story. “I don’t think anyone would ever look at me or talk to me and say you can’t do medicine.’” she said. “And that’s really from having all those teachers and family showing me that I could.”