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How Can a Nurse Who Has Developed a Disability Continue to Practice?

Thinkstock | Steve Hix/Fuse

Whether you have developed carpal tunnel’s syndrome over the years, or are dealing with diabetes, a nurse with their own medical needs gives a unique perspective when providing care to patients. Don’t allow a so-called disability deter you from practicing. Your commitment to patient care and own experiences, turns it into an enviable ability.

If you live with a physical or mental impairment, there are an abundance of nursing career opportunities available. Certain non-profit organizations such as ExceptionalNurse.com are devoted to providing resources and advice to nurses with disabilities. It makes no difference if this is a disability you have adapted to over your lifetime, or something new due to an accident or illness, you will be able to find a way to develop a rewarding nursing career.

Is a Nurse With a Disability Covered Under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not inclusive to any certain group of industries. All fields of employment are covered under the act, including the medical field and nursing.

With the ADA, it is important to understand that not every illness is considered to be a disability. Enforcement of the act is restricted to those cases where a nurse has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more of their major life activities. If you have developed a permanent condition that is making it difficult to complete a task that you previously had no problem with, than that condition would fall within the ADA guidelines.

Nurses in the Workplace With a Cognitive Impairment

A stroke, depression, traumatic brain injury and other illnesses could result in cognitive impairment, where there is a disturbance in one or more brain functions. The severity of the impairment will determine your future role as a nurse, but for most there are still opportunities to stay active in the medical field. With slight adaptions, you could even continue with normal patient care.

For example, a nurse who has developed memory deficit may be allowed to record meetings or be provided with written checklists to help them in retaining important information. If the impairment affects reading or writing skills, you could specialize in an area where the need for that is decreased, such as an operation room nurse. Speech recognition software can help you in dictating notes when that need does arise.

Nursing With a Motor Impairment

There are dozens of ways in which a disability can cause motor impairment, and even more causes of the way in which it may develop. Yet if you are finding yourself limited at work due to back, arm, knee or head pain, accommodations can be made that will enable you to continue with you normal activities. Height adjustable exam tables, one hand syringes and lowered hand washing stations are all designed to assist medical professionals who have limited motor skills.

Adjusting work environments for the physically impaired has gone far beyond installing ramps next to a stairwell. For example, a nurse who has developed debilitating pain in one of their hands from arthritis can ask for IV poles and syringes that only require the use of one hand. This allows you to still continue with regular nursing duties without compromising patient care.

Being Honest With Your Employer

The best way to ensure that you can continue to practice as a nurse when you have a disability is by talking with your employer about your limitations. By being honest about your symptoms and the possible implications it could have on your performance, a plan or system can be put into place to help you in your job.

If back or leg pain from fibromyalgia makes it difficult to make it through a whole shift, you could have more breaks added to your schedule. In some instances you may even be able to use a scooter to reduce the amount of walking as you work. There is a solution to working with just about any type of disability, so long as you don’t hold back on the type of assistance you need to make doing your job as before possible.

If you do find that your particular disability is interfering with a job task and neither you or your employer can find a solution, check this site before giving up. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is dedicated to making employment possible for everyone. The Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) is a system they have developed that enables you to explore options for job accommodation solutions for a number of fields and disabilities. This includes nurses in all types of medical environments.

As the median age for nurses continues to rise, it is to be expected that some will develop impairments that could potentially affect their ability to work. Before you allow a disability to prevent you from doing what you love, speak with your employer and explore all of your options. Where there is a will to work, you will find a way to continue to do so.

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