By nature, nursing is among the
most physically, mentally and
emotionally challenging professions. Even the strongest and smartest nurses face difficult care situations and demanding work schedules.
For these reasons, the contributions of disabled nurses are all the more remarkable.
This isn’t news to the nursing community. Published surveys have shown that the general nursing population overwhelmingly supports and vouches for the productivity of disabled nurses on health care staffs. However, surveys also reveal that most nurses feel that having or disclosing a disability would affect a nurse’s employability and consequently many disabled nurses keep their conditions secret.
That isn’t the case for Craig Hospital’s Terry Chase, ND, RN. Chase is patient and family education coordinator for the Englewood hospital that specializes in rehabilitation of severe spinal chord and brain trauma.
A highly respected and professionally accomplished nurse, Chase has learned to deal with the stigma attached to disabled people, particularly nurses. She uses a wheelchair.
“The challenges I face are societal attitudes toward people with disabilities and our ability to be productive people,” Chase said. “Even with my background and education, I still am confronted by these attitudes.
“I went through nursing school using the wheelchair and still participated in all rotations. I do have some restrictions about lifting and carrying, and have always been aware of safety both for myself and for the patients,” she said.
Chase teaches group classes to people with spinal cord and brain injuries, and helps create and revise education materials including videos, books and classes.
“I counsel patients and families regarding their injuries and the issues that arise,” she said.
Chase holds a doctorate in nursing from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. For her involvement in promoting wheelchair tennis, she was recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Award from the Colorado Tennis Association. In addition to wheelchair tennis, Chase is also active in hand-cycling, swimming, kayaking, cross-country skiing and other athletics.
In spite of the additional social and physical challenges she has faced, Chase has enjoyed tremendous success in her career and is a role model for both nurses and patients at her hospital.
“I am fortunate to have had much success and abundance in my life,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to have my position at Craig Hospital and to be involved in providing education and encouragement to newly injured people.”
In total, more than 50 million Americans are disabled. Statistics about disabled nurses are not widely available, and aren’t likely to be accurate because of underreporting.
Because nursing is such a demanding job, virtually any disability can create a significant hurdle. For example, hearing problems that aren’t of serious concern to other professionals have forced nurses and technicians to come up with creative solutions.
Most hearing aids don’t amplify sounds in the low frequencies where heart and breath sounds are made. Engineers have designed computer-based stethoscopes to digitally transpose heart sounds to higher frequencies where auditory thresholds are lower and dynamic range of hearing is broader. Stethoscopes have also been altered with amplifiers, transmitters and cochlear implant speech processor interfaces.
Besides technological and equipment advances, disabled nurses and health care workers have contributed to the development of legal precedent that protects the disabled. This is particularly true in a controversial area of disability law – weight discrimination.
The case of Russell v. Salve Regina College nursing school developed after administrators at Sharon Russell’s Rhode Island nursing school forced the junior-year student to sign an agreement to lose two pounds a week for the rest of the school year. Russell was expelled when she didn’t comply.
While many of Russell’s original charges were dismissed during the course of her trial against the school, she eventually did win on a count of breach of contract and was awarded lost tuition and other expenses. Russell’s victory was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and the verdict was ultimately upheld in the fall of 1990. Though the court’s finding wasn’t based on weight discrimination, the case did a lot to draw attention to the issue of size discrimination in education.
A review of the case published in the Journal of Professional Nursing suggested that nursing schools, like other educational institutions, must be aware that they should outline what is required of all students in order to graduate and work with disabled students on an individual basis to ensure their privacy.
The Russell case was among the first to demonstrate that institutions are not immune from contractual challenges and must demonstrate respect and consideration for students’ personal concerns and privacy.
by Mike Liguori