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"A job that's sheer magic" – audiologist at Sonova

Sarah at work with a cochlear implant recipient

Deeply involved: Sarah Downing is an audiologist and works as Senior Manager of Clinical Development and Education at the Advanced Bionics headquarters in Valencia, Southern California. She helps with the development of innovative cochlear implant systems for Sonova's Advanced Bionics brand. 

A job that involves helping people is exactly what Sarah has always had in mind. She started out by getting a masters in audiology at Illinois State University. After graduating, she worked in a pediatric hospital in Chicago on a well-known cochlear implant team. Then she received an offer from Advanced Bionics of an exciting new opportunity: help develop new products and maintain close contact with implant recipients. With the ability to have a positive impact on other people's lives, Sarah accepted the position of product development audiologist with Advanced Bionics – and she also agreed to relocate from Chicago to Valencia for the new position. That was seven years ago. Today, Sarah and her husband live in the suburb of Valencia, not far from the metropolis of Los Angeles – and she couldn't imagine having a better job. Every day gives her a new chance to make a little bit of the American Dream come true. She helps develops cutting-edge cochlear implant technology at Advanced Bionics where innovative hearing solutions are always in progress. Thanks to these new developments, people with severe-profound hearing loss have the opportunity to perceive clear, high-resolution sound no matter how noisy the surroundings are – and they can even enjoy music.

Sarah Downing is an audiologist and works as Senior Manager of Clinical Development and Education at the Advanced Bionics

There is a lot we can develop ‘on the bench’, or simulate to better understand the benefits of our products, but there is something magical that happens when we stimulate the hearing nerve and brain of our individual recipients using the cochlear implant.  We learn so much more by including our recipients in our development process.

"I am working for a company where I can create change," Sarah explains. "I'm a member of a team that is always innovating to help people who are struggling with hearing loss." Sarah is involved in developing and producing solutions; she helps to push the technological limits and she plays her part in redefining the future of an entire industry with the ultimate goal of providing the best possible hearing. In everything she does, the recipients always come first. "My work has a direct impact on the lives of the people that I try to help. This is an enormous privilege, but it's also a special responsibility."

As well as skilled craftsmanship, cochlear implant production calls for cutting-edge technology, and it must meet the highest international safety standards for sterile medical products. Inspectors regularly come from all over the world to examine every last detail of the production operation. Certification by leading Notified Bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Germany’s Technical Inspection Association (TÜV) are required for distribution of the products.

As a trained and certified audiologist, Sarah gained the opportunity to become responsible for product development and evaluation.  Each year, hundreds of recipients come to Advanced Bionics from every part of North America to test the latest developments under real-time conditions.

Sarah hears recipients report their experiences at first hand. David Davis is a recipient who has participated in various development efforts with Advanced Bionics. Sarah has been working with him for over seven years; his feedback has helped with the ongoing development of functionalities and accessories for cochlear implants.

She enjoys the technical side of her work, but it is the interpersonal contact that Sarah finds most rewarding: "Our work as developers depends on highly individual needs and perceptions. And time after time, it's a fulfilling experience to see at first hand how recipients react to a brand-new product."

Sarah was impressed by the many positive responses from recipients during the development of Neptune™, the world's first and only swimmable sound processor. Thanks to Neptune, recipients can hear in water; they can wear the processor in the sea, in a lake, river or a swimming pool, as well as under the shower or in the bathtub. Sarah is proud to have played a part in developing the world's first swimmable cochlear implant system: "It was gratifying to test the product, and to watch as children were able to respond for the first time when their parents called out to them. It really is moving to know that we can help to change people's lives here!"

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