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South Asian Heritage Month: Dr Rohani Omar

South Asian Heritage Month runs from 18 July to 17 August and seeks to commemorate, mark and celebrate South Asian cultures, histories, particularly the intertwined histories of the UK and South Asian communities and how South Asian cultures are present throughout the UK.

In this piece, Dr Rohani Omar, Consultant in Audiovestibular Medicine at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and an honorary Associate Professor at UCL, tells us about her heritage, how it influences her work and more about the research she has been involved in.

What does 'audiovestibular' mean?

It is a medical specialty of hearing and balance disorders. Audiovestibular physicians investigate, manage and diagnose disorders such as hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, dizziness and vertigo.
Could you tell us a bit about your heritage?

I am of Malaysian heritage, born in Kuala Lumpur where I grew up and attended a local school in the Malaysian education system before leaving for the UK to pursue A-levels and subsequently medical school at the University of Cambridge.

Does your heritage influence you in your work as a researcher? If so, how?

I grew up in a very multicultural society where several languages are spoken, and my education growing up in Kuala Lumpur was predominantly conducted in Malay with English taught as a second language. I feel that having to adapt to a completely different curriculum and live in a different culture when I came to the UK was important in shaping a general curiosity to explore and investigate the boundaries of knowledge.

Does your work encompass working with those from minority ethnic backgrounds?

Working in the NHS and conducting research through UCL and UCLH allows me to work with people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Could you tell us a bit more about some of the research you have been involved in?

My main research area is the interface between hearing loss, dementia and cognition in older adults, and I run several research projects based at UCL and UCLH supported by the NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre.
We recently published a paper on current practice and views of UK audiologists and professionals working in memory services regarding management of cognitive impairment and hearing loss in older adults. I have a background in cognitive neuroscience and dementia research; as a Neurology Clinical Research Fellow at the Dementia Research Centre, Queen Square in central London, I was awarded a Royal College of Physicians/Dunhill Medical Trust Research Fellowship for research work on frontotemporal dementia and non-verbal cognitive processing, leading to an MD(Res). During my specialty training in Audiovestibular Medicine, I led on a study of paediatric genetic sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss caused by a lesion or disease of the inner ear or the auditory nerve) which is also an ongoing area of academic interest for me.

How has the CRN supported you?

The CRN has provided valuable practical support with my research studies including communications, recruitment and promotion through the NIHR CRN Ear, Nose and Throat and Dementias Specialty Groups, having access to a network of senior researchers and experts in these fields and keeping up to date with research gaps and opportunities.