Leading the way in hearing implants

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Toddler Arlo, a cochlear implant recipient, with her dad

RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program is Australia’s largest, and has been for some time. Read about how Australia and RIDBC are leading the way with hearing solutions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Australia leading the way

The cochlear implant was invented by Australian Professor Graeme Clark, with the first surgery taking place in 1978 after more than a decade of work.

In September 1984 our very own Clinical Support Officer, Sue Walters, became the first person to receive a cochlear implant in New South Wales. Implanted by Professor Bill Gibson, this was the birth of the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre (SCIC). Professor Gibson’s vision was to help children and adults for whom hearing aids were not providing access to sound. In the inaugural year, eight people received a cochlear implant from one location. What followed was an expansion into a network of sites and over 400 surgeries in 2019.

Australia’s largest cochlear implant program

In July 2014, SCIC and RIDBC joined forces to provide Australia’s largest and most comprehensive cochlear implant program for people of all ages, providing support well beyond the switch-on. But our history extends much further back.

Today, RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program supports more than 4,500 people each year. As well, more than 400 hearing implant surgeries are performed annually across the country by Australia’s most experienced Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeons.

One of those surgeons is our very own Clinical Professor Catherine Birman, the program’s current Medical Director, Dr Birman is a globally renowned surgeon who has completed over 2,000 cochlear implant and hearing restorative surgeries.

Photo of Catherine Birman Photo of Clinical Professor Catherine Birman behind a lectern. Professor Catherine Birman laughing with a baby CI recipient

“It is a great honour to be part of so many different people’s journeys to better hearing,” said Clinical Professor Birman. “Technology has come a long way since Professor Graeme Clark’s first cochlear implant recipient in 1978, with hearing through the cochlear implant getting better and better.”


Dr Birman has been the Medical Director for over six years, since taking the reins from the founding Medical Director Professor Gibson in August 2014.

Professor Gibson’s 30-year tenure with SCIC includes more than 2,000 individual surgeries. In 1995, he became a member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to improving the lives of people who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Photo of Dr Birman and Dr Gibson Professor Bill Gibson during CI surgery

More than surgery

In the minds of some a cochlear implant is implanted and then simply turned on. However, the cochlear implant journey is only just beginning at switch-on. A dedicated team of professionals at RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program provides expertise and ongoing support for recipients to ensure access to sound is optimised. It is this support that people cherish most and makes RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program an end-to-end solution for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Jane Brew with Geoff Photo of Jane Brew

Leading the way through research

RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program is underpinned by the latest research in cochlear implant audiology, ensuring processes are world’s best practice. As well RIDBC/SCIC staff are regularly invited to share their expertise on the global stage.

One such occasion was the Asia Pacific Symposium of Cochlear Implants and Related Sciences conference was held in Tokyo, Japan in November 2019 where we had an astounding six speakers – Clinical Professor Birman, Jane Brew, Philip Chu, A/Prof Melville Da Cruz, A/Prof Jonathan Kong and Dr WaiKong Lai.

A/Prof Jonathan Kong with his presentation Philip Chu with his presentation Clinical Professor Cathy Birman speaking at the APSCI 2019 conference

Sharing knowledge internationally

Recently, the program collaborated with cochlear implant experts who provide services at scale in China. In March 2019 RIDBC welcomed Shandong cochlear implant clinicians to Australia to learn about the success of the SCIC Cochlear Implant Program.

The international collaboration with Shandong ENT Hospital and Shandong Provincial (Cochlear Implant) Rehabilitation Centre is focussed on research and expertise in cochlear implant clinical practice and supported by Macquarie University and Cochlear Limited.

Photo of members of the SCIC cochlear implant program and the Shandong team

RIDBC Best Practice Leads Jane Brew and Kylie Chisholm travelled to China in November to present keynote addresses at China’s National Conference on Prevention of Deafness. Jane and Kylie’s presentations covered world-leading clinical processes, habilitation, telepractice and referral criteria backed by over 30 years of their combined experience. Their Chinese hosts service a local population of more than 100 million and supported 500 children with hearing loss the previous year.

Photo of Kylie Chisholm Photo of Jane Brew

Jane and Kylie in China with representatives of the local program Jane and Kylie presenting in China

Helping colleagues across the world

RIDBC’s SCIC Cochlear Implant Program team in Australia played a valuable role in the remote switch-on of a toddler in the United Kingdom after the country’s University of Southampton Auditory Implant Service (USAIS) approached RIDBC/SCIC for advice on remote programming of cochlear implants. The COVID-19 crisis in the United Kingdom meant in-person services were not possible.

“We recently shared our updated remote mapping procedure with Professor Cullington from the University of Southampton. Professor Cullington initially approached us for advice after seeing multiple presentations delivered by some of the team at international conferences,” said RIDBC Best Practice Lead – Cochlear Implant Audiology, Jane Brew.

“Professor Cullington later advised that their team performed a successful remote switch-on for a toddler. We were extremely proud, and Professor Cullington was equally grateful!”

Jane added that the RIDBC/SCIC program receives international recognition because of the commitment to research and development over a long time.

A solution for all ages

Something truly unique about cochlear implants is that it is a hearing solution for people of all ages. Pictured below are cochlear implant recipients Sean and Connor. But they are more than that – they are father and son. Access Sean and Connor’s story from 2018 on the RIDBC website.

Sean and Connor

In 2006 Rhonan was the youngest recipient at 3 months old and in 2018 Edward became the oldest recipient at 98 years old. Irrespective of age, cochlear implants provide access to sound and are an option to people when hearing aids are no longer enough. Recently, we shared a video that showcases how cochlear implants help people of all ages.

The people who benefit most

RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program has helped over 6,400 people to better access sound. From helping two-year-old Arlo to shine and being Djaan’s game changer to giving 100-year old Dorothy independence, the impact to our clients has been life-changing.

Behind our clients is an RIDBC team, committed and dedicated. Too many to name, but contributions over 36 years that have been metamorphic.

Toddler Arlo, a cochlear implant recipient, with her dad

The future of hearing implants

The team at RIDBC strive to improve on evidence-based clinical services and better the understanding of innovative hearing technologies. Our clinicians are actively involved in several leading research projects both independently and in collaboration with local and international organisations.

One such innovation, still in its infancy, was an auditory brainstem implant implanted in mid-2020. One of only a handful so far in Australia, this involved significant preparation for surgery by a team of audiologists, surgeons, and biomedical engineers.

The future of RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program

We will advance the RIDBC/SCIC experience by uniting under one brand. For now, you can access more information on RIDBC’s SCIC cochlear implant program on the website.

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