Despite the pandemic and a global nursing shortage, landing a job as a nurse isn’t always easy. For Ryann Kress, it was especially difficult as she searched for a new position in nursing. She has 15 years of emergency medical experience under her belt, but says employers rejected her after discovering that she uses a wheelchair to get around.
“I was just so tired of hearing no’s,” Kress said.
But now, the Virginia native has finally made her dreams come true. She just got hired at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital after a long, painful journey.
Learning to Live with a Disability
Kress was 16 years old when she was first diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue. It usually results in overly flexible joints and elastic skin that bruises easily. As Kress puts it, the condition makes her collagen stretchy.
She says she used her condition to her benefit as a dancer. The added flexibility came in handy until she started experiencing mobility issues.
“It was hard,” Kress remembers. “It was very hard. It was scary. I was 19 or 20 and I thought I had my entire life planned out and suddenly, I have to pick something else to do.”
That’s when she caught the healthcare bug, so to speak. The treatments she received in the hospital inspired her to pursue a career in nursing and advocate on the behalf of those with disabilities.
Her condition eventually put her in a wheelchair. “About two and a half years ago, I began using a wheelchair full time, because my hips, knees and ankles are very unstable.”
She was even crowned Ms. Wheelchair Virginia, but she quickly ran into trouble when trying to get hired back into the field of nursing.
“Suddenly, I’m in a wheelchair and applying to do the exact same process and I’m getting zero callbacks,” she said.
Holding Out with Hope
She says she almost gave up after two years of trying to land a job.
“Two years of ‘no.’ Two years of nobody wanted to take a chance on me, being seen as a liability, or just being instantly Googled, they would find my name, see my wheelchair and say absolutely not,” said Kress.
She ended up applying to 18 different facilities, but the last application was the charm. “Then I said, ‘One last ditch effort,’ I saw the ad for a mother-baby position, and said, ‘Let me just try,’” said Kress.
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, the same hospital that used to treat her EDS, finally called her with a job offer in the maternal health unit. Dana Johnson, senior recruiter at the hospital, said she didn’t think twice about hiring Kress after looking at her resume.
Kress quickly realized that she landed the job after being interviewed on Zoom. “And I completely forgot that they couldn’t see my wheelchair at all during the interview. It wasn’t until I accepted the job, that I realized they had no idea I was in a wheelchair,” said Kress.
“She called me and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’m in a wheelchair,’” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Oh, wow that’s amazing. We’ll make it work.’”
Kress was more than excited, but still a little bit in shock. “I didn’t believe it was real and I didn’t tell anyone until I had my schedule in my hand,” Kress said.
After months of waiting, she starts work at the hospital today.
Kress has a message for anyone looking for work with a disability. “Keep coming back because someone is going to say yes,” she said. “Someone is going to see you and see through your disability and say, ‘We want you, we want you for your skills, we want you for who you are.’”
She says having EDS gives her a unique perspective in and out of the hospital. She will be that much more prepared when caring for individuals with a genetic condition or disability. “You know what, if I can put myself back together, I’m gonna put someone else back together,” said Kress.
Now, she knows that her disability wasn’t the problem. “I am still capable,” she said. “I can still do things in this wheelchair. My biggest hurdle is trying to learn a completely different form of nursing with these new body mechanics. But it doesn’t mean I can’t do it.”