The melody to “Where have all the flowers gone?” by Pete Seeger could easily be sung with the words “Where have all the nurses gone?”
Part of the answer rests with nurses with disabilities who have left the workforce. Many are eager to return to patient care but are “scared silent.”
Hospitals have varied ways of supporting nurses with disabilities. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act has helped, but hearts and minds are slow to change.
How do I know this? Well, it all began with my daughter and a carpenter….
My daughter faces life challenged by autism. As a pediatric nurse, I found my advocacy surrounding her life evolving into research about the experiences of nurses with disabilities. I learned that nurses with disabilities often feel alone and disconnected from others who share a similar path.
One day a carpenter who was working at our house mentioned that he developed websites. I shyly asked, “Could you create a website for me?”
Soon after, the carpenter created a site which later became a nonprofit resource network for nurses with disabilities called Exceptional Nurse.
The site grew over the years and now provides support through:
- disability related organizations
- equipment, technology
- scholarships, employment opportunities
- message board postings, newsletters
- related articles
In one hospital a nurse with hearing loss works with an amplified stethoscope. The hospital purchased an amplified telephone and other nurses and staff alert the nurse when her call lights are on.
Another experienced nurse worked as a supervisor. She walked miles to cover all of her units. Arthritis and complications of surgery required her to use a scooter. The nurse presented a request for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She outlined the cost benefits of purchasing a scooter and compared it with the cost of advertising and orienting a new nurse.
The hospital purchased the scooter for her.
Helpful hints if you are or become disabled:
- Get connected with other nurses with disabilities
- Learn about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Maintain your license, certifications and computer skills
- Go back to school…the more education you have the more options available
- Network, get involved in professional organizations, volunteer
- Paint your paradise…try a new area in nursing
If you know a nurse with a disability, encourage him or her to return to work. Disability can present as mental illness, chronic pain or mobility limitations. Be a role model of acceptance and open the door of opportunity a little wider. Treat the nurse the way you would want to be treated.
Who knows, you may be able to write a new verse to the melody of Pete Seeger’s song!