When Jenna Fenton, AuD ’20
, was at Salus University, she started conducting research on something called cochlear synaptopathy, also known as hidden hearing loss, for her Grand Rounds presentation. The name embraces the word “hidden” because when using traditional testing, results appear normal in some patients, regardless of complaints of hearing loss and tinnitus. It’s when audiologists begin digging a little deeper using new research methods that they find damage to the inner ear that wasn’t previously detected.
Along with her mentor Martin Pienkowski, PhD
, associate professor in the University’s Osborne College of Audiology (OCA), Dr. Fenton took a particular interest in hidden hearing loss, so much so that she wanted to find a job after graduation that offered her a chance to continue her research in that area.
And, that’s exactly what happened. After graduating in spring 2020, Dr. Fenton was offered a position at the Massachusetts Ear, Nose and Throat Associates, with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Dr. Fenton had expressed her interest in expanding audio logic services to include these patients during the interview process, and her new employer was open to letting her work with those patients.
“Since I’ve started, I’ve been able to put a lot of what I’ve researched and worked on in school into full effect with the patients here,” said Dr. Fenton. “There is still more research to be done on cochlear synaptopathy and tinnitus incorporated in hearing loss, but the goal behind it is to open our door to patients who haven’t really had anywhere else to turn to in the past.”
She said young adults that can fall into this category are being exposed to excessive amounts of noise, with activities such as concerts and headsets for example, and therefore there is an increase in tinnitus among that group.
“Because some of these patients are so young, it will help us create a baseline of data that we can monitor over time. The hope is to open up another branch of this field to help these patients,” she said. “We’re learning to look beyond the traditional test battery. And, there still is no set protocol for this because it’s not commonly tested for yet.”
Something from her time as Salus OCA — and something that University president Michael Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE
, always talks about — is utilizing a holistic approach to treating patients and clients. Dr. Fenton said that approach really comes into play when working with hidden hearing loss patients. “Reiterating to patients, ‘I hear what you’re saying and we are going to dig deeper because you’re struggling,’” said Dr. Fenton. This help can be through audiological services or teaming up with psychologists for cognitive behavioral therapy, for example.
The start of her professional life — like many new 2020 graduates — was delayed a bit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Fenton had begun interviewing for jobs before the pandemic hit in full force, and had secured the position at Massachusetts Ear, Nose and Throat Associates before the pandemic shut everything down. She had the job offer in March 2020 but her start date was delayed until September.
“Aside from extra PPEs, we’re still following best practices, and that’s something Salus has always ingrained in its students,” she said. “I’m really practicing the same as I’ve always been taught. Salus has always been great about doing that, not only when we were on campus learning, but also making sure that our clinical rotations off campus also followed those best practices.”
Her first job out of school has offered Dr. Fenton the opportunity to attain dual licensure in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as well as continue her interest in working with patients experiencing hidden hearing loss.
Although each of her days looks a little different – some are busy with diagnostic testing while others hearing aids and implants – after a few months of preparation, extended testing along with hidden hearing loss and tinnitus consultations are now up and running.
“My supervisor and team have been amazing and encouraging me to work with these patients,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to work in a practice that’s really supportive of it.”
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