Breast cancer prevention opens job opportunity for blind people

Two women touching a breast model
MTUs touch a breast model using a special orientation tape. This creates a grid with which MTUs can detect abnormalities and report them to the physician (Photo: Discovering Hands)

The profession of Medical Tactile Examiners (MTUs) is particularly attractive for blind women. With their highly developed tactile sense, MTUs detect the slightest abnormality on a female breast.

When Marie-Luise Voll became fully blind, she received a special gift in return: “As my sight got weaker, my fingers became more sensitive”, says Marie-Luise. She was able to turn her talent into her profession.

For two years now Marie-Luise Voll has been working as Medical Tactile Examiner (MTU). She learned to detect papules, tumours and any kind of abnormalities by touching a female breast with her fingers.

From a project idea to a new medical profession

Dr. Frank Hoffmann was the creator of the project idea „discovering hands©” . The gynaecologist from the German town Duisburg wanted to improve the early diagnosis of any cancer-related changes like carcinomas by employing Medical Tactile Examiners.

Marie-Luise Voll examines a patient’s breast with two hands.
Marie-Luise Voll does five to six examinations per day (Photo: Discovering Hands)

„Discovering hands©” was officially launched in 2006 as a pilot training. The first two MTUs graduated one year later. Since then, the cities of Düren, Mainz, Nuremberg and Halle (all in Germany) have been offering MTU training courses.

A clear win-win situation

The project, which is co-financed by the integration office of the Landschaftsverband Rheinland (LVR) and supported by various cooperation partners, is a clear win-win situation. “Blind women can develop their special tactile gifts in a medical profession which, in return, supports the social integration of people with disability”, says the project manager Ralf Esser.

Marie-Luise Voll and her 13 colleagues today are fully employed in their profession. Marie-Luise has been working in the medical practice of Dr. Hoffmann since 2008.

MTUs can either work in a gynaecologist practice or in a clinic. “The diagnosis is only performed by a physician since he or she carries the responsibility”, says Ralf Esser.

Training: conditions and costs

The profession of Medical Tactile Examiner (MTU) requires a professional training of nine months (internship included). The training costs are entirely covered by public rehabilitation providers (Reha).

Candidates must take the assessment test as part of the selection process. “Not every blind person is equally gifted which is why the candidates must take the practical assessment tests to find out if they are really qualified for this job”, says Esser.

Marie-Luise Voll advises candidates to get acquainted with the working day of a MTU during a taster day. The profession never lacks of interesting experiences. “Every day I can discover new things as every MTU treatment is unique, “says Voll.

Age is not a qualification factor in this profession. “MTUs must have their own standing in order to create and continually improve the mutual trust with the patient,” says project manager Ralf Esser.

Dr. Frank Hoffmann sitting in his office
Dr. Frank Hoffmann was the creator of the project idea „discovering hands©” (Photo: Discovering Hands)

Diagnosis: general framework and costs

Trust is a key factor for a successful tactile examination. An MTU works 30 to 60 minutes on a patient. “For many women the human contact is very important. They often need someone to talk to during the examination”, says Marie-Luise Voll. She is very popular among the patients of Dr. Hoffmann. “Sometimes I do five to six examinations per day. The maximum is ten.”

Voll advises women to have at least one examination per year. She charges 30 Euro per session, regardless of the time spent.

Currently, BKK Mobil Oil covers the costs for MTU examinations but discussions are under way with public health insurances. Private health insurances already cover the costs.

Presently, there are eleven MTUs working in gynaecological practices and clinics. “The demand is very high,” says Ralf Esser.

Ideally, MTUs should be established in every federal state of Germany but the south of Germany is still uncovered.

A bright future

At the end of the year 2010, the project „discovering hands©” should be turned into a limited liability company. Also a platform is intended to be established for MTUs to exchange ideas and experiences. The training course for MTU teachers has already begun.

This project is unique on the global scale and should make its way into other countries. Some countries are already examining the preconditions to establish this profession within their respective realms.

What the company cannot offer in the near future is a certification for MTUs. “Currently, this profession is only open to women, as they need to examine each other during their training. The presence of men is hard to accept,” says Ralf Esser.

Do you know of any similar project in your region or country? If so, please get in touch with us.


Text: MHA

Translation: Michel Benedetti
Photo: Discovering Hands