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Deafness no object for budding PA

WILLIAMSPORT — Marissa Clopper has learned many lessons in her 27 years. Her advice to others? Follow your dreams, don’t let anything hold you back, and be the best you can be.

Taking that advice to heart, Clopper finds herself in a good place, despite the odds.

Clopper is deaf, but through determination and hard work she recently graduated from Philadelphia University’s physician assistant program. Even better, she learned in mid-September that she had passed the board exam, which means she is a certified physician assistant.

The next hurdle is to find a job (she would prefer to work in Frederick area, she said in an interview via e-mail). Her preferred specialty is primary care/internal medicine, which she indicated is a hard field in which to find a job.

Clopper is the only child of Darryl and Nina Clopper of Williamsport. She and her twin brother were born 11 weeks prematurely, on Mother’s Day in 1983.

Jeremy died seven months later due to underdeveloped lungs. Marissa was given several treatments of antibiotics to fight infections, and one of the medications resulted in total deafness.

She graduated from Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick in 2001, then attended Rochester Institute of Technology, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology, before heading to Philadelphia University.

The Cloppers lived in Hagerstown until Marissa was 4, then moved to Frederick to be closer to her school. They moved to Williamsport in 2005 to shorten the commute to Marshall Street School, where both of Marissa’s parents teach.

Clopper used hearing aids until she was 20, then had a cochlear implant in her left ear, which has allowed her to learn to speak. She knows developing her speech and hearing skills will be a lifelong process.

She had American Sign Language interpreters during her college years for both her undergraduate and graduate programs.

“My main mode of communication is ASL, but I am able to use my speech, although not perfect, with hearing people. My parents and I use total communication (ASL and speech at the same time) at home,” Clopper wrote in an e-mail.

In communicating with hearing patients and medical personnel who don’t know ASL, Clopper would need a sign language interpreter. She wrote that she uses an electronic stethoscope that plugs into a PDA with software that allows her to pick up heart and lung sounds visually.

Clopper has been interested in the medical field since she was in elementary school. Biotechnological research didn’t provide what she was looking for, so she attended a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses in search of information.

She met medical professionals with varying degrees of hearing loss, and the conference was a turning point. It helped her realize she could work in the medical health field even though she was deaf.

Clopper admits she had never heard of a physician assistant before the conference, but after meeting several PAs there, she did some research and discovered her skills and interests were well-suited to the job.

For her clinical rotations in Philadelphia, Clopper was able to demonstrate how capable she was, despite her deafness.

“I had a few health care professionals doubt my ability to perform my job due to being deaf and the communication mode that I use. After these experiences, they realized that my competence was not affected by being deaf,” Clopper wrote.

She added that she had several deaf patients who were grateful for a health professional who could communicate with them and was surprised by how accepting her hearing patients were of her.

“My ultimate goal is to help care for all patients whether they are hearing or deaf,” Clopper wrote.

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