Disabled nurses part of the team
By Becky Phillips
“The biggest disabilities I have seen in nursing aren’t physical. They are character flaws that we all can possess, such as lack of communication, failure to follow protocol or failure to ask for help. Don’t give up.” — Susan Fleming
SPOKANE - When Susan Fleming first applied to nursing school she was turned down. Instructors questioned whether the young woman — who was born without a left hand and uses a prosthesis — could provide the competent care patients would require. Instead, they thought she might endanger them.
(Fleming has been a registered nurse since 1983. Photo courtesy of WSU ICN)
Thanks to the encouragement of mentors, however, Fleming persevered and became a registered nurse in 1983.
Today, as a clinical instructor at the WSU Intercollegiate College of Nursing (ICN), she and her colleagues have produced a DVD aimed at encouraging others with disabilities.
Within a few short months, “Nursing with the Hand you are Given: A message of hope for nursing students with disabilities” has reached a large audience throughout the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia.
Fleming said the program — produced in 2008 — has no formal marketing plan but stimulated intense interest via the Internet and e-mail.
“It has all been by word of mouth. We were shocked — we didn’t realize the giant untapped market for these kinds of videos,” she said.
The response to the DVD has been so favorable that the team is planning a second DVD intended as a guide for nursing faculty. Carol Allen, clinical associate professor at ICN, has been asked to present the program to faculty at the California state nursing meeting.
At a time when nurses are in short supply nationally, the DVD is especially relevant as a recruiting tool. Not only is the intent to recruit students with disabilities but also to retain those nurses who become disabled while working.
“It used to be that they would get rid of disabled nurses,” said Fleming. “Now the thought is to keep them — and even if they can’t do everything, let them keep doing what they can.”
For example, Fleming mentioned a blind nurse who works in an emergency room.
“He starts IVs and does a lot of palpation,” she said. “He has acute listening skills. He may only do 90 percent of what is required of him, but he does it so well that he’s really a part of the team. He gives more than he needs — and the staff loves him.”
Fleming also has seen deaf nurses working in operating rooms equipped with special voice-activated reader boards. And one student who used a wheelchair went on to become director of an organ-donor center.
“The key is to know your strengths,” she said. “In this nursing shortage, you need to be a team player.”
Fleming said inspiration for the DVD came from online collaborations with Donna Maheady, who co-produced the video. Both serve on the board of directors of Exceptionalnurse.com (a nursing advocacy site) and have provided assistance to disabled nurses and nursing students across the country for more than five years.
“The students kept asking if I could travel to their areas,” said Fleming. “They’d say ‘could you make a video or something?’ ”
To order the DVD, contact the WSU Intercollegiate College of Nursing Multimedia Laboratory at 509-324-7321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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