Julie Brinton is the Joint Head of the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre, located in the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR). A typical day in her working life includes teaching, managing, assessing hearing potential and playing with children.
Julie is Joint Head of the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre
Julie manages a team of about 20 staff, including two surgeons who have their outpatient clinics in the centre. ‘Because we have lots of part-time staff and lots of women, we are very family friendly and have lots of flexible time schedules,’ she says.
The Centre opened in 1990 when the Government provided funding to test the efficacy of hearing implants. As an outstation of the Institute of Hearing Research was based at ISVR, it received some of this funding and performed implants in two adults that year. ‘The service developed from there and now we carry out about 30 implant surgeries a year – an equal number of children and adults,’ says Julie.
A major part of Julie’s job is assessing profoundly deaf children and adults for suitability for implants. Rehabilitation follows the surgery. As a speech and language therapist, Julie provides auditory training to help the new hearer adjust to the new sounds.
‘With the implant, the sound is computerised. The inner ear is stimulated in a new way with electrical impulses – it may sound a bit like Donald Duck. But the brain adjusts quickly to the new signal and just carries on improving,’ explains Julie.
‘Adults who are deaf from birth are unlikely to benefit from an implant unless they have had good use of hearing aids. Implants work better with adults who had hearing but may have lost it through accident or disease. But for children who have been deaf from birth, implants can provide great benefit. Their brains just soak up language at that age,’ she says. The Centre provides outreach and Julie goes on the road to provide therapy with children in homes and schools, either assessing or giving support.
‘It is so exciting to see deaf children start to hear new things,’ says Julie. ‘Their parents just well up the first time the kids actually turn around in response to hearing their name called.’
Julie came to Southampton some years ago when she and her husband undertook a ‘role swap’ where he looked after their two children and she worked as a speech and language therapist. Travel, riding her daughter’s horse, swimming and keeping fit are Julie’s favourite pastimes, as is visiting art galleries on her travels.
Outside work, Julie has recently become the first woman and first speech and language therapist to serve as Chair of the British Cochlear Implant Group (BCIG). This is an organisation of about 300 professionals across a spectrum of professions, including speech and language therapists, ENT surgeons and audiologists. ‘BCIG has one academic meeting a year, works on quality standards, lobbies where appropriate, (e.g. for funding), and offers PR work. I am excited about the two years I will serve as Chair to see what new challenges it brings,’ says Julie.
‘With my co-head colleague – also called Julie – the team here continues to develop. We are looking forward to our new building at the University which will be completed next year. With purpose-built clinical space, it will be exciting to take possession and move in. The Centre has a good reputation for its clinical provision and its research. The patients are very complimentary about the care they receive. It is a constantly rewarding job,’ concludes Julie.