Meet Brianna Cobb, Deaf Flight Paramedic

Bri Cobb Deaf Flight Paramedic

Meet Brianna Cobb, Deaf Flight Paramedic

Brianna (Bri) Cobb is working with CareFlite as a deaf Flight Paramedic. When she was born, she experienced a high fever which caused a large part of her hearing loss. During her first job as a lifeguard, she realized she was being treated differently by management when management assumed she could not do certain tasks due to her deafness.  She began to advocate for herself and overcame the stereotypes about those who are deaf.Bri Cobb Headshot

Cobb has always had an interest in medicine, beginning in the third grade when she dressed up in scrubs, gloves, and a lab coat for career day. She was able to do an internship in high school with her local fire department and loved every minute. Her interest in aviation EMS occurred after college when she was able to do ride-outs with Flight Paramedics. “I learned aviation EMS services see the sickest of the sick and that is what I wanted to do,” said Cobb. In February of 2019, she became a Certified Flight Paramedic (FP-C). In June of 2019, she was hired by CareFlite.

Overcoming challenges in her life is normal for her, especially moving to a new field. She had to learn new aircraft, what is normal versus abnormal (vibrations, sounds, etc.), aircraft safety, and a whole new vernacular. In the aircrafts, paramedics wear a helmet with a built-in headset.  This helmet reduces aircraft noise, but Cobb stated hearing was still difficult.  

Cobb worked with her audiologist to add a program to her processors that cuts out the background noise of the aircraft and only lets her hear the electronic transmissions of the headset communication.  To this day, she still struggles to understand radio traffic from other pilots; however, CareFlite’s pilots are good to repeat and let her know when she needs to be looking for something specific and where. Her partner can point and/or gesture for Cobb if needed, or repeat communications for her to lip-read.

CareFlite is a competitive program to work for and Cobb could not believe she was hired.    She experienced nervousness when explaining her hearing loss to the Field Training Office (FTO).  “I had never flown as a flight paramedic before, so I did not know what accommodations I might need.  About 3 weeks into my orientation, my FTO sat down with me and told me that I was not progressing as expected,” said Cobb. All of the examples the FTO mentioned tied back to her hearing loss. 

Cobb was able to acquire the best accommodations she needed and has not looked back since.  Cobb personally uses the Communicator™ masks and so do her partners. She is thrilled to be able to see her partner’s lips to improve communication. “One thing I have learned about the aircraft is that it is loud and everyone struggles to hear unless they are hearing over the headset.  Lip-reading is actually an advantage, as I can often ‘hear’ what my patient is saying when others cannot,” said Cobb. Since Cobb has been adapting her entire life, she can recognize situations in-flight that her hearing co-workers do not even pick up on, due to subtle visual clues. 

More accommodations include her stethoscope. Thinklabs One stethoscope connects by Bluetooth to her ears. There is a program on her phone that allows her to see the heart and lung sounds. Live Transcribe is another program Cobb uses which captions conversation for her in real time.

 “My advice for anyone with a hearing loss is that the sky is the limit.  Barriers and limitations are often something we place on ourselves.  You know your abilities and limitations better than anyone and you are your best advocate.  Even when things seem impossible, generally there is a way,” said Cobb. 

Cobb recommends the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses (AMPHL).  This Association is comprised of individuals with all types of hearing loss and communication preferences in virtually every healthcare field out there. Follow your dreams!