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My Story and My Vision of China: Interview with the Director of Audiology at Macquarie University, Professor Catherine McMahon

(People's Daily Online)    14:53, September 21, 2018

Professor Catherine McMahon explains the theory of the anechoic chamber. (People's Daily Online/ Jingyan Liu)

Sealed with hundreds of sponges with no echo can be heard at all, the only anechoic chamber in the southern hemisphere -- “the quietest room in the world” is located in the Australian Hearing Hub at Macquarie University in Sydney.

We were very fortunate to have visited this place with the guide of Professor Catherine McMahon, Director of Audiology and Director of the Centre for Hearing Education Application Research at Macquarie University. As Professor McMahon introduced, the anechoic chamber is used for hearing diagnostic research, and performing hearing tests and hearing aid assessments by simulating real world listening conditions within a highly controlled environment.

Macquarie University has established itself as a global leader in Audiology education, research and clinical service delivery. With over 16 years of experience as a clinical researcher and a teacher of audiology, Professor McMahon is now a renowned professional in this area. Apart from teaching at Macquarie University, she is also a senior scientist and project leader of the HEARing Co-operative Research Centre, the largest translational hearing research group in Australia, and an associate investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence, Centre for Cognition and its Disorders. She also works with the World Health Organisation to develop the evidence-base for the World Report on Hearing, which will be released in March 2020.

In recent years, Professor McMahon’s clinical research mainly focuses on better understanding the relationship between hearing cognition and hearing loss, and measuring the benefits that hearing devices and hearing training can bring. Although audiology is a small field of study, she enjoys helping patients to solve the challenges they face, which is also the reason she chose this job.

“If I helped somebody who has a hearing problem who can then either hear better, or when they get home, they don’t feel as tired because of constantly listening hard to the conversation, it feels great!”, says Professor McMahon.

Professor McMahon went to China in 2005 for the first time, to help Capital Medical University set up the first audiology education program, when China’s audiology has just started. Since then she has been working with many universities in China in the area. Apart from doing research, she also teaches audiology and has quite a number of Chinese students. Her most impressive Chinese student completed her postgraduate and doctoral degree at Macquarie University, and now is a leader in audiology at Capital Medical University.

“I think it’s really important when you are doing good research to make sure your research is in incorporated back into the educational program so that people who are coming into the field are learning the newest techniques, are learning the best ways to design care pathways, because our students are our future leaders.”

Talking about how China and Australia can work together, Professor McMahon pointed out there are always opportunities to learn. One of the challenges Australia faces now is there are more and more people in the country speaking tonal languages, including Chinese. If we can collaborate with researchers and hospitals in China to develop and evaluate cochlear implant coding strategies for people with tonal language, the problem in Australia can also be solved.

“The other thing we have in common is that we have populations that are spread over greater areas. We need to design hearing healthcare pathways that will cater to people that don't live close to a clinic that delivers this service. So, designing remote care pathways will be important for both China and for Australia.”

Impressed by China’s tremendous change in the past decades, Professor McMahon thinks the profile of hearing research in China is also lifting. With the fast development of technology, everybody is connected. “In China, there are some very good researchers that have been trained not just within China, but also internationally, some of the world’s leading universities. The connectivity is very good. It allows people to really think and do things in a different way in China.”

“You know when I went to China, I’ve always been very well received. I feel like the culture in China is very welcoming. So that hasn't changed,” she added.

Professor McMahon believes the audiology research in China is improving, with more and more professionals and researchers emerging in the field, but a high-quality education program has to match with a high-quality research program. “In China, the relationship between universities and hospitals is very good. You can develop an educational program for the knowledge development in universities and the clinical program in hospitals at the same time, which is necessary for a clinical program.”

“I think there is a lot to do in China and in Australia to address hearing loss and a lot can be done by people working together to try to solve the problem. This is really important,” says Professor McMahon. (People’s Daily Online/ Meng Xue)

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