Going back to work after a disability can be tough for anyone, and especially for nurses whose jobs are incredibly demanding. Returning to work can seem like an insurmountable obstacle on bad days, but don’t think about hanging up your stethoscope quite yet. There are plenty of legal and social resources for you to fall back on if you’re a nurse with a disability. Read on to discover seven strategies for nurses with disabilities who wish to return to work.
1. Know the Americans with Disabilities Act well.
Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in a variety of settings, including jobs, schools, and transportation. (Additional amendments went into effect in 2009.) Many different conditions may qualify as a disability if they significantly impair your ability to engage in one or more major life activities. Categories of disabilities include neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, immune, circulatory, lymphatic, skin, endocrine and more. In the U.S., the ADA is the single most important law for dictating how employers can treat employees during and after the hiring process, so study up on the ADA and get intimately familiar with what it means for you.
2. Learn your employer’s benefits package.
Beyond the ADA, your employer might also have certain benefits or protections that are relevant to employees with disabilities. For starters, see if your employer offers any short-term or long-term disability insurance. Your employer might also provide Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or stay-or-work or return-to-work policies in the context of employees with disabilities. If you have questions about what your employer does and does not provide, the HR department should be able to answer your questions. If you need accommodations in the workplace as a result of your disability, such as the use of a wheelchair, you’ll also need to discuss that with HR (they have a responsibility to work with you on accommodations under the ADA).
3. Seek out other nurses with disabilities.
No one will be able to understand your challenges quite like another nurse with disabilities. Even if they have a different disability from you, they’ll still be able to empathize about issues such as working with an employer to get necessary accommodations or understanding the ins and outs of the ADA. Ideally, you’ll be able to find an experienced nurse or two who can serve as a mentor and help guide you through the transition of returning to work with a disability. Even if the nurses aren’t experienced enough to serve as your mentors, you will still benefit greatly from building connections with others who know what you’re going through.
4. Build a support network for yourself.
Your connections shouldn’t stop with other nurses with disabilities. Other nurses, especially your immediate coworkers, can be a huge help as you transition back to your job. Of course, this depends on how supportive your company culture is, but your coworkers might be able to help you brainstorm small changes that you all can make together to make your return to work more seamless. (And if you need any accommodations or other changes, you’ll need to discuss them with your supervisor for sure.) If you have a spouse, partner or roommate, they can also help you with non-work tasks—like cooking and cleaning—to make your return to work less stressful as well.
5. Keep your license and certifications up to date.
State boards vary in terms of what certifications they require from disabled nurses, so look up your state’s guidelines and make sure that you’re in compliance with them. Wherever you leave and whatever the state requirements are, make sure that you renew your nursing license while you’re on active duty and that you keep up with any and all continuing education requirements. Keep in mind that sometimes additional training or refresher workshops may be necessary before you can renew your nursing license. Keeping your license current is important because you don’t want anything to jeopardize your standing with your employer and everything that goes with it (insurance, paycheck, etc.).
6. Get involved in professional organizations.
There are many professional organizations available for nurses, including the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND), which works to promote equality for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions in nursing through education and advocacy. Beyond NOND, there are plenty of other associations for just about every nursing specialty and issue available, so there’s bound to be something that connects with your interests. Participating in these organizations will help you build your network and advocate for nurses with disabilities within the profession. This network will be critical if you decide that you need to make a career change because of your disability (see the next tip).
7. Explore new specialties to find your niche.
No matter how accommodating your employer is, after returning to work with a disability, you might decide that it’s in your best interest to make a career change. If that describes your situation, start exploring other options. Perhaps you can find a job where you don’t have to be on your feet as much, or you can transition to a lower-stress unit that won’t cause your symptoms to flare as often. Reach out to your fellow nurses, especially those who also have disabilities, and ask them about the pros and cons of their positions and how accommodating their employers are. If you don’t feel like you have the right experience to make the career change you want, you can also consider going back to school for additional certifications or even an advanced degree to help you make the leap.
Putting on your scrubs and returning to nursing work after a disability can be daunting, but thankfully there are resources available for nurses in this exact situation. Do as much research as you can about the ADA and your employer’s policies, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice if you need it. Plenty of nurses with disabilities do meaningful work and take care of their patients very successfully, and even if you need accommodations, we know you can do the same.
Workplace culture can be a hard-to-define concept, but it nevertheless affects every minute of your working life. Culture encompasses elements such as business values, management styles, physical environment, and even dress codes. Each hospital has its own unique culture that you’ll have to adapt to whenever you start a new job. Here are eight tips to help nurses acclimate to a new workplace culture:
1. Pay attention during orientation.
At the start of each new job, you’ll probably have to attend some kind of orientation or training for new hires before you can grab your nursing bag and start seeing patients. Even if there’s not a presentation that explicitly describes the culture and values of your new employer, you should have a good grasp of what is expected by the end of orientation. While culture has many layers that go far beneath the surface—each nursing unit has its own individual way of doing things, for example—wrapping your mind around the facility’s overall culture will give you a good framework for figuring out what does and doesn’t trickle down into your unit.
2. Observe how others behave.
Especially during your first days on the job, keep a sharp eye out for your coworkers’ behavior and watch how they interact with each other and supervisors. Do they engage in small talk as they walk together, or is everyone all business, all the time? Are they warm and friendly with the nursing unit manager, or do they hang back and treat them with deference? While some of this will depend on the personalities of your individual coworkers, observing this behavior will give you examples to fall back on as you start to build relationships at your new workplace.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
However, sometimes you won’t be able to glean everything you need to know from observation alone. Maybe your coworkers act totally different with two different supervisors, or one person in your unit hardly talks to anyone else unless necessary for unknown reasons. When it feels natural, you can ask your coworkers for more details in a non-nosy way. This also goes for procedures and other non-people related matters. If the unit does things differently than you’re used to, don’t hesitate to clarify what the preferred process is. Better that you ask for clarification ahead of time than try to puzzle your way through and mess things up.
4. Try to withhold judgment and assumptions.
Every workplace, including hospitals and other facilities, have their quirks. Especially if you’ve worked in several other facilities before, these idiosyncrasies might seem annoying and downright strange—but there’s often a reason for them. Instead of dismissing these quirks outright or grumbling about them, try to withhold judgment at the beginning and seek out underlying reasons. Maybe that unsociable coworker is dealing with a sick parent or child, or the “high strung” supervisor is under a lot of pressure from higher-ups. Even the most off-the-wall behavior often has an explanation if you look deeply enough.
5. Don’t constantly compare things to your old job.
Speaking of comparing your new job to your old one, don’t do it–at least not out loud. It’s super annoying to have a coworker who won’t shut up about how great their old employer was and how they did everything much better than their new facility. This behavior is not just bad for unit morale, it also won’t do you any favors as you try to build relationships with your new nursing coworkers. Just like your mom used to tell you when you were a kid: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all.
6. Be judicious with vertical relationships.
Whether you’re a supervisor or a director report, vertical relationships can make or break your work experience. If you’re a supervisor, the performance of your team depends on your nurses. On the flip side, your supervisor holds great influence over your career as a nurse. Whatever position you will be in, try to figure out supervisor-direct report expectations early on in your new job. In an ideal world, your new employer will encourage close, supportive relationships between supervisors and nurses, but this isn’t always the case. The earlier you figure out the lay of the land, the sooner you’ll be able to start mapping out a plan for your career and your team.
7. Acknowledge your mistakes.
No matter how careful you are, you’re bound to make some slip-ups at any new job. When you do make a mistake, own up to it rather than trying to hide it and ask for pointers on how to do things better next time. See each mistake as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow as both a nurse and an employee. Apologize if necessary, and try to find humor in the situation when appropriate. Your coworkers will appreciate that you don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s no use crying over spilled milk or stained scrubs, so if the mistake is small in the scheme of things, try not to dwell on it and focus on moving forward.
8. Educate rather than accuse.
Sometimes, you’ll be on the receiving end of a mistake rather than the instigator. Maybe a new coworker calls you by the wrong name, or makes assumptions about you based on your appearance. While this isn’t okay, try not to assume the worst and jump to conclusions about ulterior motives. If you can, gently but firmly correct the other person while offering them an out like so: “I know names can be tough to remember sometimes, but just so you know my name is actually _____.” You won’t earn any points for being combative from the start, so do your best to be gracious and understanding when you start a new job, even if you want to be anything but.
Starting a new job can feel like entering a black box, but if you keep your ears and eyes open, you’ll quickly pick up on expectations and values. Follow these eight tips to help you adjust to a new work culture as you ease into your new nursing position.
’Tis the season to be jolly, and to have your festive follies land you in the emergency room. Holiday cheer can dissolve into tears after any number of seasonal accidents around Christmas time, from falling while hanging lights to cutting yourself with a knife while cooking. Below, we’ve rounded up eight major reasons for the seasonal injuries that often happen in the last few days of December. If you’re working in the ER on or around Christmas Day, keep these causes in mind as you put on your holiday scrubs.
Wrapping and Unwrapping Gifts
As mundane as these tasks seem, wrapping and unwrapping gifts is a major cause of injury around Christmas—and there’s a huge spike in cases on Christmas Day in particular. Knives, scissors, and box cutters can easily slip, resulting in lacerations. Even those awful hard clamshell plastic cases can pose a risk if you catch your skin on a jagged edge. Wrapping gifts can also result in lacerations and even major paper cuts if people aren’t careful. If this sounds silly to you, just wait until you work Christmas morning in the ER and watch the patients come through the door.
Decorating the House
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, but just be sure not to injure yourself in the process. Decorations pose all sorts of dangers. You can shock yourself while putting up lights, fall while hanging a garland over a door, or cut yourself on a broken ornament or figurine. In particular, children can get into a lot of trouble around decorations, such as swallowing small ornaments, hurting themselves on heavy stocking holders, and tripping over ground-level decorations. Keep that in mind when you’re decorating your house, or while you’re treating a patient who injured himself or herself doing these very things.
Hanging the Lights
Hanging lights inside or outside may be a time-honored tradition, but it’s also a dangerous one. Like decorating the house, hanging Christmas lights comes with all sorts of hazards. There’s the obvious risk of falling off a ladder or roof, resulting in bruises, broken bones, and/or a concussion. But you can also throw out your back while reaching up high or blow out your knee while climbing a ladder. Plus, there’s always the chance of cutting yourself on a broken bulb or shocking yourself with electricity when you plug in the lights. Around Christmas time, you may find yourself wishing your patients had simply put some battery-powered candles in the window and left it at that.
Trimming the Tree
Trimming a Christmas tree holds all the dangers of putting up decorations and hanging Christmas lights, all at once. If you manage not to throw out your back or pull a muscle while getting the tree into the house and setting it up in the stand, there’s still the possibility of falling off the ladder while you drape the lights or put on the tree topper. Of course, you can shock yourself while plugging in the lights as well. If you get through that unscathed, there’s still the chance that you will cut yourself on a busted ornament or lightbulb or trip on the tree skirt. Trimming a tree is all fun and games, until it isn’t.
Getting the Flu
Okay, so the flu isn’t related to Christmas directly, but December does fall right within the window for flu season. (The extended flu season for 2017-2018 lasted all the way from November to March and was the worst outbreak in the U.S. in almost a decade.) Flu viruses will already be circulating by Christmas, and the stress and travel of the holiday can wear down people’s immune systems, making them more prone to contracting the flu. Expect to see severe cases of the flu starting in November and continuing through the rest of the winter holidays, including Christmas—and be sure to encourage any healthy patients you see to get the vaccine!
Cooking the Food
Cooking that delicious Christmas dinner can also prove harmful to your health. Knife lacerations are a common injury around the holidays, as cooks are often distracted while chopping and inexperienced chefs find themselves pressed into cutting vegetables. Burns also happen often due to splattered oil or gravy, as well as brushing up against a hot pan or stovetop burner unknowingly. Less common are full-on cooking fires, which are thankfully more rare but more serious when they do occur. Come Christmas, you’ll probably find yourself patching up more than one overambitious chef, so brush up on your burn and wound care skills.
Eating the Food
You’ve managed to get through cooking all the food without burning or lacerating yourself, so you’re home scot-free, right? Wrong. Food poisoning can happen during holidays due to undercooked meat–which harbors salmonella–or any dishes left at room temperature for too long, which allows nasty bacteria to grow. There’s a high likelihood you’ll see patients with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and/or fever, all classic signs of food poisoning. You might also get some cases of more mild gastrointestinal distress (“mild” being relative) with symptoms such as severe gas, bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. Traditional Christmas dishes are full of fats, oils, sugars, spices, and other irritants, and many people overindulge on the holiday, leading to seriously upset stomachs.
Drinking Too Much
Just as many people overindulge in food over the holidays, so they also overindulge in alcohol. While alcohol-related incidents are a bit more common on New Year’s Eve, many people also imbibe to excess during other winter holidays, including Christmas. Drunk driving is obviously a major concern, but plenty of other minor mishaps can result from drunkenness, such as slips, falls, and injuries caused by sluggish reflexes.
While some of these resulting injuries might not be so different from ER visits the other 11 months out of the year, it helps to know the possible cases that might walk through the door, especially if you’ve never worked a holiday shift in the ER before. Keep these eight injuries in mind as you treat patients, and consider rewarding yourself with a nice Christmas gift, such as sturdy nursing shoes or a new stethoscope once you get through the craziness of holiday injury season.
In many people’s minds, the “typical” nursing student is an 18- to 22-year-old enrolled in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree program at a college or university. However, there are many degree options available for aspiring nurses at all stages of life—even if you’re a nontraditional student—and you’ll be graduated and putting on your scrubs before you know it.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a nontraditional student meets one of seven criteria: delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attending college part-time, working full time, financially independent for financial aid purposes, dependents other than a spouse, single parents, or those without a high school diploma. If any of these describe you and you’d like to go back to school to get your nursing degree, here are seven online programs that anyone from around the country can take.
1. St. Xavier University
St. Xavier has numerous online options for those looking to earn nursing degrees. It offers an RN-to-BSN program for currently licensed registered nurses who have completed an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited school of nursing and are looking to take the next step in their education. St. Xavier was also named the best online master’s nursing program by U.S. News and World Report, and it offers three master of science in nursing (MSN) tracks online: clinical leadership, executive leadership, and nurse educator. If you’re not looking for the full degree, St. Xavier also offers certificates in clinical leadership and nurse educators.
2. Medical University of South Carolina
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) offers an online RN-to-BSN program, which is a 12-month program that covers three consecutive semesters, allowing registered nurses to earn their bachelor’s degrees in just a year. The online program is designed specifically for working adults. MUSC also offers several online advanced degrees in nursing, including a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and a PhD in nursing science, though some of the courses may require a visit to campus.
3. Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins is an incredibly well-respected name in the medical community—and you can earn a graduate nursing degree from the university online. Johns Hopkins provides an MSN in health systems management both by itself and in combination with an MBA. It also offers a DNP in three specialties: adult-gerontological health clinical nurse specialist, adult-gerontological critical care clinical nurse specialist, and pediatric critical care clinical nurse specialist. You can also earn a DNP Executive Track, either on its own or in combination with an MBA. Finally, Johns Hopkins offers a couple post-master’s certificates for nurses looking for even more education.
4. George Washington University
George Washington offers a wide range of online programs for nurses of all experience levels. It has both RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN programs, as well as four other master’s programs for adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners, nurse-midwifery, and nursing leadership and management. Other options include three post-MSN certificate opportunities, two post-BSN doctoral degrees, and two post-MSN doctoral degrees, including a DNP degree.
5. The University of Texas at Tyler
The great state of Texas has equally great online programs for nursing students through the University of Texas at Tyler. Its RN-to-BSN track has a flexible schedule and graduation date, so you can proceed through the coursework at your own pace as your current job allows. Their graduate options include four MSN programs (administration, dual MSN administration/MBA, education, and family nurse practitioner), four certificate programs (post-master’s administration, post-master’s education, post-master’s family nurse practitioner, and post-baccalaureate health care informatics), two PhD programs (MS-to-PhD and BSN-to-PhD) and one doctor of nursing practice (DNP). As an added bonus, the University of Texas at Tyler was named the #1 most affordable online master’s in nursing program.
6. Duke University
Duke’s School of Nursing has been using distance-learning education strategies for more than two decades, and the school has honed its creative approach to distance teaching and learning over the years. Some programs do include a few short on-campus intensive sessions, usually two to three days in length, but the commitments are minimal. Duke offers a doctor of nursing practice as well as eight different nurse practitioner tracks for their master of science in nursing: adult-gerontology (primary and acute), family, neonatal, pediatric (primary and acute), psychiatric mental health, and women’s health. It also offers three systems MSN degrees in nursing and health care leadership, nursing education, and nursing informatics.
7. University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s reputation as a great online nursing school has spread: The school’s number of distance learners has been increasing, and the website boasts that more than 62% of the student body is now enrolled in online classes. Most of its graduate nursing degrees are offered completely online, though a few courses do have minimal on-campus requirements for clinical or lab work hours, so don’t forget to pack your nursing bag. The school offers four MSN specialty programs (adult-gerontological primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse midwifery, and women’s health nurse practitioner) as well as two post-master’s certificates (psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner).
If online classes don’t appeal to you, see if any schools in your area offer a nursing degree for working adults who usually rely on night and weekend classes in order to accommodate work schedules. And no matter how your get your degree, you’ll have to study for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) exam if you haven’t already and perhaps pass additional licensure requirements depending on your state.
Whether you’re a working nurse looking to take the next step or a young professional looking to switch careers, there’s a nontraditional degree program out there for you. Thanks to the recent breakthroughs in education technology, students can now attend nursing degree programs online anywhere, anytime, and these seven well-respected programs are a great place to start.
Working overnight shifts is a big change for many nurses, but it’s also extremely common. With the 24-hour demands of the bustling, modern health care system, there’s a good chance you’ll have to work the night shift at some point in your career, especially when you’re starting out. But don’t fret! There are many ways to ensure that the transition from day to night goes as smoothly as possible.
All nurses need to be on their A-game with technical medical skills and emotional resilience no matter what time of day they’re working. Night shift nurses have to shoulder even more burdens because they often work mostly or entirely alone for their shift. While there’s no one “right” way to adapt to the night shift, there are several common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid to build good habits.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Switching to the Night Shift
Going against your circadian rhythm is no small task. However, resorting to quick fixes will only make your shifts more difficult in the long run. Avoid these five common mistakes and you’ll adapt to the swing of a night shift quickly.
1. Not getting enough rest before starting a shift.
As a nurse, it’s important to always be sharp on the job. The staff at Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center emphasize that not getting enough rest is the number one mistake that new night shift workers make, and it’s one of the most dangerous. Since shifts are often upwards of eight hours long, there’s no safe way to “power through” on too little sleep. This goes for both on-shift work and driving when sleep-deprived.
How to Avoid It:
- Install blackout curtains where you sleep and get a fan or white noise generator.
- Turn off your phone, get a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and inform loved ones of your schedule.
- Staying up for a few hours to relax and take care of yourself may be easier for some nurses than going straight to bed at the end of a shift. You’ll figure out what works for you with time, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
- Take proper care of your legs and feet while on your shift, so you won’t be troubled by pain or soreness when you’re trying to sleep.
- Light soothing candles and practice stretches to relax yourself before bed.
2. Leaning on sugary foods, alcohol, or caffeine instead of proper nutrition.
It can be tempting to snack on chocolate or chug coffee to keep yourself going through your night shift. Keep in mind that, if consumed in excess, coffee can lead to jitters at first, followed by a crash. You’ll be far better off if you instead focus on getting more sleep.
How to Avoid It:
- Plan and pack your meals ahead of time to avoid relying on vending machines.
- Schedule your heavy meals so they won’t interfere with sleep.
3. Letting your personal life fall into disorder.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep your personal life in order while working the night shift. Errands, social gatherings, and childcare all battle for your attention when you’re not at work. This reduces your ability to get good sleep and, in turn, to focus at work.
How to Avoid It:
- Yoga and meditation help you relax and leave work behind so you can be present when you’re engaging with family or friends.
- Establish a schedule for sleep, chores, and activities. This will reduce the stress of missing out on things.
- Plan gatherings ahead of time with friends and family to ensure you can make it to fun gatherings.
4. Not asking for help or feeling like you have to “do it all.”
Yes, there are fewer resources available overnight at the hospital. This can lead to superhero-esque thinking, where you refuse or even genuinely forget to ask for help. Being honest about needing a hand is better than dropping the ball because you’re juggling while tired.
How to Avoid It:
- Get to know the others who work nights so you can trade favors.
- Get to know the resources available to you during your shift.
- Ensure that your roommates or family are sharing the load with you at home.
- Choose sleep over chores when possible at home. Others can help you with chores, but they can’t sleep for you!
5. Missing out on workplace bonding, training, or resources due to night shifts.
It’s easy to feel forgotten when working the night shift. Try not to miss out on opportunities for bonding, continuing education, or extra support because of your schedule. It can be hard to make time or schedule changes for these opportunities, but they’re integral to your career development down the line.
How to Avoid It:
- Check announcement boards and learn about opportunities available at your workplace.
- Make it known to your boss and coworkers that you’re interested in additional training, support, resources or team bonding even if you work the night shift.
- Ask if there are online resources available for any opportunities that you simply cannot attend.
Your job as a nurse is important. Don’t let working the night shift get in the way of providing the best care possible to your patients and yourself. Getting enough sleep is integral to your job performance and personal health, but that’s not always enough. You also need to make sure you’re practicing good self-care and focusing on your health along the way. With these great tips, you’ll adapt to the night shift in no time!