In 2018 Dana Cherri (BS '18) graduated from AUB with a degree in Medical Audiology Sciences and almost immediately afterward became one of a handful of Lebanese students studying Audiology at the doctoral level in the United States. She is a Ph.D. candidate in audiology at the University of South Florida.
Cherri who hails from Kherbet Selem, near Lebanon's southern border, first heard about audiology when she was 16. Her father, an optometrist, having taken a trip to Germany to learn about hearing aids, returned to Lebanon and decided to introduce her to the field.
“I wasn't interested in it at first, but then I read more about it," says Cherri. Particularly attractive to her was the opportunity to enter a nascent field in Lebanon that she could shape. “I realized when I was a senior in high school that there was an opportunity for me to be a pioneer in this field, to change something."
In 2015 she entered AUB, joining the second-ever class of audiology students; the program graduated its first class of five in 2017. Unlike universities in America, AUB allows students to train in audiology at the undergraduate level. During her third year in the program, she fit patients at AUBMC for hearing aids under the supervision of her professor, Dr. Fadi Najem. She also cites Drs. Kim Abouchara and Solara Sinno as long-term mentors.
“We did a fashion show in our third year to raise money for people who cannot buy hearing aids. Our focus was on children. We raised money and gave hearing aids to ten children. We worked with one child who couldn't hear well and was struggling in school. After being fitted with the hearing aids, her grades improved. She got A's."
At AUB, she gained clinical experience. Now, as a doctoral student, she's focused on research. She happily notes that the clinical experience she gained at AUB puts her on par with second and third-year graduate students, many of whom are older than she is. She's 21.
For her frist laboratory project, Cherri is currently working on treatment protocols for hyperacusis, a condition whereby sufferers' sensitivity to sounds is far greater than the average person to the point that the ambient sounds of a cityscape, a classroom, or a restaurant can become intolerable. In many cases, the condition leads to social isolation, and in the most severe cases, suicide. She spoke of a university student who had to stop attending classes because of the severity of the condition, and another man who needed more than a week of recovery time after traveling due to noise exposure.
Cherri and her colleagues are working to develop a treatment protocol that makes use of counseling and sound therapy that will help patients slowly recalibrate their perception of sound.
Her long-term doctoral focus will center on human and hearing aid processing of sound. She is firm in her desire to return to Lebanon to develop and shape the hearing aid practice.
“We deal with people's ears and brains. But some people are just setting up clinics to make money, just like any other business, and not treating the practice as a medical profession. There are some good clinics, but some don't know what they're doing, and there's nothing in the law that prevents them from operating."
The licensing body for audiology in the United States is the American Speech and Hearing Association. In Lebanon, there is no such licensing body. Cherri aims to create one along with her colleagues.
When not in the lab or class, Cherri spends time at Florida beaches, at concerts, the gym, or in front of her laptop watching TV shows and TED Talks. She recognizes the uniqueness of her experience and the challenges of being a young, foreign student in an American PhD program. “I've started writing about it, mainly about challenges, how Ph.D. programs force you to grow a thick skin, and what I think would be helpful for others to read. The goal is to help students adjust."