Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How do some nurses with disabilities bloom where they are planted?

As an advocate for nurses with disabilities and 

founder of a nonprofit group, I am often asked 

what actions can help a nurse with a disability 

continue to work as a nurse. Why does one nurse 

continue to work and another struggle? How do 

some nurses bloom where they are planted?

Every nurse is different disabled or not…so “one 

size doesn’t fit all”. This is my best general 


Acceptance. Meet the challenge head on and learn compensatory skills. Get connected with other nurses with similar challenges. Find helpful resources and organizations and learn all you can. Research the nursing literature and read books and articles about nurses with disabilities. Get comfortable in your “own skin” and show up head held high.

Find a mentor. A nurse mentor with a similar challenge can offer help, provide support and offer suggestions. Over time, consider giving back and become a mentor to other nurses or nursing students.

Know your rights.  Study your rights to reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Become familiar with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Family Medical Leave (FMLA), U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment (ODEP), Social Security Disability and Ticket to Work.

Cast a wide net. When looking at career options, think outside the box. Consider telephone triage, case management, teaching CPR or Lamaze classes or teaching nursing as a clinical instructor or online, working as a school or camp nurse, legal nurse consulting, poison control call centers, parish nursing, home or public health, medical billing, coding and tutoring nursing students. Some nurses combine nursing with yoga, massage or Reiki and start a business. Still others write books, articles, continuing education programs or blogs. Nurses with disabilities have also invented health care related products. They have also produced podcasts and become hosts of radio programs.

Stay current. Stay up to date with computer technology and the Internet. Get involved in groups and with social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest).

Study. Return to school to obtain an advanced degree or certification. Advanced degrees and certifications can open more doors of opportunity.

Volunteer. Free clinics, non-profit organizations, schools, support groups, churches synagogues and mosques provide opportunities to volunteer. Use volunteer opportunities to learn new skills, maintain skills and network with others.

Join groups. Membership in professional nursing organizations can help with networking. Also, join organizations that support nurses and healthcare workers with disabilities.   

Ask for help. Recognize your limitations and don’t be afraid to ask for help from co-workers. In exchange, be a team player— eager to pitch in and help others when needed.

Consider disclosure carefully.

Disclosure is a difficult, deeply personal decision.

The decision can come with benefits and risks.

If you decide to disclose:

Document. If you need reasonable accommodation, make your request in writing.

Assist employers. Help your employer help you. If you need special equipment or technology (amplified telephone, computer software program), research the marketplace and present your employer with available options and price quotes.

Utilize resources. Contact your state vocational rehabilitation office.  A state vocational rehabilitation program may be able to fund equipment (amplified or electronic stethoscope), a return to school for an advanced degree or provide other services.

Share. Tell co-workers or prospective employers about your disability and ways to most effectively work with you.

Advocate. Toot your own horn when appropriate. Talk about your abilities, experiences and desire to work.  Become the “go to expert” regarding how to help people with disabilities. 

Persist. Don’t take “No” as an answer. Turn “NO” into an opportunity or challenge. Find another way.

At the end of the day, there is no “one” best 

approach. Every situation is different. 

Nurses with disabilities who continue to work try many approaches and find what works best for them. The good news is that it can be done!

Once a nurse….always a nurse.

Here's to more blooming nurses!



Maheady, D.C. (Ed.). (2014). The Exceptional Nurse: Tales from the trenches of truly resilient nurses working with disabilities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Maheady, D.C. (2006). Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses Working with disAbilities.
Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.     


  1. I found someone with similar disability who helped me get back on a career path. Grateful!

  2. Believe in yourself! If you don't, how can you expect anyone else to?!