Friday, May 5, 2017

Nursing students with disabilities: Faculty reflections from Access in Medical and Health Science Education Symposium

Michelle Hartman, DNP, RN, CPNP
 Duke University School of Nursing

As a faculty member at Duke University School of Nursing, I teach in an Accelerated Bachelor of Nursing Program. Teaching in this program affords me the opportunity to work with diverse individuals who are transitioning into the nursing profession. I am in awe of how students utilize and incorporate their ability and talents from their previous academic studies, jobs, and life experiences into the professional of nursing. I believe a more diverse workforce will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes. My personal definition of “diversity” is broader than the traditional categories of race, ethnicity, and gender; it also includes sexual and gender identity, as well as individuals with disabilities. 

As faculty, I am always looking for ways to support our diverse students on their journey to becoming a professional nurse. I had the opportunity in April to attend 4th Annual Access in Health Science and Medicine Symposium which is sponsored by The Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education. The symposium featured topics such as the student experience, psychological disabilities, documentation, international collaborations for inclusive campuses, assistive technology, and policy and legal updates.

The most compelling presentations for me were those done by students. By sharing their perspectives, I was able to see how burdened they often become by serving as the representative of students with disabilities. In this capacity as ambassador or representative, they are asked to serve on committees, start support groups, or work to resolve issues. As educators, the onus is on us to shift that burden off the students as the energies expended on these efforts shift their focus away from the inherent demands of health education programs. There were also thought provoking discussions on mental health disabilities in health and medical education settings and disclosure. A few other personal take home messages for me included:

·         The prevailing attitudes and cultures in medical and health education (specifically perfectionism and the use of the biomedical model) are the greatest barriers to the success of students with disabilities.

·        Sharing stories is crucial to changing the culture. We know that personal experiences and stories are far more influential than data in shifting mindsets. Reading the success stories of nurses and nursing students with disabilities is one of my favorite parts of the Exceptional Nurses group!

·        Get to know a contact in your Student Disability Access Office! They are excellent resources to faculty and students.

·        Be cautious of what and how you say something- our word choices can be interpreted as sources of microaggression by students experiencing disabilities. It's important that we maintain and open dialogue with our students, so they feel safe to share when they experience microaggressions. We must acknowledge our areas for growth and take accountability.

·        There are many forms of assistive technologies available to help students in the classroom and clinical setting. Although it can be overwhelming, Joshua Hori (Accessible Technology Analyst for Student Disability Center at the University of California) has a great Trello board that presents an overview of many available apps, software, and other programs: https://trello.com/b/rirGA3kZ/accessible-technology-software

I appreciate opportunities to attend professional development trainings which stretch me to think, teach, and act in different ways! I am looking forward to this upcoming semester when I can incorporate what I learned into my teaching practice.

With thanks to Dr. Hartman for this insightful guest blog post!

Please share your thoughts below,

Donna