A hospital can be a pretty crazy place. Mark Leekoff, 33, knows this well. He’s deaf, and the constant hubbub makes it difficult for him to hear through his Cochlear implant. But as with any other obstacle, the third-year neurology resident at the University of Maryland Medical Center has developed a system to cut out the noise and concentrate on his patients.
Why did you want to become a doctor?
My father was a dentist, my grandfather is a dentist, my grandfather’s father was a dentist. So it was always between dentistry and medicine. But I always liked the intellectual challenge of medicine. When I was young, I was the kid always asking questions in class.
And I’m completely deaf. For that reason I’ve gotten a lot of medical interventions and I thought I should give back to medicine. I also have a unique perspective in medicine because I’m a patient myself. I’m able to understand my neurology
patients, although they don’t have deafness. A lot of them do have disabilities. I like to remove the “dis” [in my disability] and make it an ability, and I encourage my patients to do the same.
Does your experience make it easier to relate to your patients?
I draw heavily on my experience, and I’ve been told I’m very patient and empathetic. I know what it’s like when people don’t have patience, even with a deaf person like me. When I would ask a lot of questions and need people to
repeat, there were people who would get frustrated and I don’t want that for
What was it like growing up deaf?
I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. I wasn’t seen as normal by my hearing peers. Of course, I was made fun of. My parents were kind of my best friends growing up.
But that stopped in high school and in college. I finally had friends of my own and then I met my wife of two years who is hearing herself, so now I feel like I really hit the jackpot. I’m able to interact with the hearing and non-hearing community.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to deal with in the medical world?
In med school I had real-time captioning. Everything that the professor said would be [typed] on a portable computer so that I could take notes. As for residency, the big challenge was being on the stroke team my second year. Getting paged for acute stoke and everybody’s on the phone, there’s lots of noise, everybody’s scrambling. So I devised a system to streamline things. I use a microphone. It basically makes a virtual room where I only hear what’s close and kind of cuts everything else out.
What would you tell someone starting out in med school?
It’s not an easy journey but it’s very rewarding. The number one thing people have to realize is that you’re going to have to make sacrifices. You won’t be available for every event your friends or family have. But luckily, I haven’t lost any friends.
Also, you shouldn’t go to med school because you want to make millions of dollars. You have to love your job.
How do you interpret the constant political discussions around health care?
I’m not really big into policymaking. Honestly, for me it’s about my patients and the patient population. My goal is that health care should be accessible to everybody, I’ll leave it at that.
Have a suggestion for a You Should Know profile? Candidates must be ages 21-40. Tell us what makes that person so interesting: [email protected].